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Updated: April 16, 2012 19:27 IST

Making opera accessible

Harshini Vakkalanka
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Ever evolving: Stephan Sanchez Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
Ever evolving: Stephan Sanchez Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Stefan Sanchez, the founder-producer of the European Chamber Opera, feels it bodes well that contemporary classical music is shifting from avant-garde to melody

Stefan Sanchez's passion for opera is not restricted to singing. He's a baritone trained at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and The Escuela Superior de Canto in Madrid

“I find everything about opera fascinating and I do everything from singing, acting, directing and producing, to teaching ,” he emphasizes. Stefan has been the founder-producer of the European Chamber Opera since 1992 and has recently started working with young Thai singers after becoming head of producer for the Bangkok Grand Opera.

The European Chamber Opera has given performances all over the world including United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Middle East and the USA. They performed in Bangalore over the weekend.

“Opera is basically emotional communication through the act of melody with the unique instrument that is the human body and in some ways, the soul. People generally sing when they are happy or sad and that's the essence of opera.”

Though opera continues to retain its popularity despite the emergence of musicals and broadcast media, its subjects have evolved since the opera's inception in the 16 century.

“Themes taken for operas then were mythological. Then they were historical. Now modern opera is taken from actual events.”

He feels that contemporary opera, like ‘Nixon in China' which is based on the historical meeting between Nixon and the Chinese President, has more scope to revive people's memories of events that happened 10 years ago. Stefan also feels it bodes well that contemporary classical music is gradually shifting from avant-garde to melody. “It makes modern opera more palatable, easy to understand and appreciate. Although there are great musicals like ‘The Phantom of the Opera', there is still tremendous interest in opera. In fact, it is impossible to get tickets for mainstream opera.”

Stefan believes opera is gradually becoming more accessible with the spurt in regional opera houses and mainstream companies offering better ticket deals, especially for the youth.

“It's important to attract youngsters because they will form the core audience when they mature. And now even countries that previously had no real connection with opera are finding more interest in opera.”

The European Chamber Opera plays a role in spreading the culture around the world.

“We have sung in Sri Lanka, all over Asia and the Middle-East. In all these places, we find that we get a good mix of locals and expatriates. Many of the local audience members are regular travellers and go to the opera,” he argues.

“Once when we were performing at Sharjah at an open space, we heard applause from somewhere overhead. When we looked up, we saw Indian truck drivers leaning over a flyover to watch. They stayed for the whole performance.”

Stefan loves performing all over the world, even more so because his company offers young singers, directors and designers opportunities to perform. He has a passion for encouraging talent and he also quite regularly takes over stagnant production houses to revamp them.

He has created successes out of the Holland Park Opera and the London City Opera.

“To be an opera singer, one has to be prepared to spend many years in virtual poverty, earning nothing and spending on singing lessons. It takes as much time as becoming a consultant neurosurgeon,” he points out.

“An opera singer needs to lead a healthy lifestyle. Having a good voice, technique and a good musical ear is important. It's also important to have an inquisitive mind along with a good stage presence. An opera artist needs to have something to say because the artist is both a singer as well as an actor.”

Stefan loves passing on his experience. He has been singing for a long time and plans to continue singing for ten more years.

“I'm beginning to realize that I have a desire to be a teacher, to make a difference in people's lives.”

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