How she found her voice

Broadway, opera, books, babies... Delhi-based singer Ashwati Parameshwar on life on and off stage

Updated - March 28, 2017 05:06 pm IST

Published - March 28, 2017 05:05 pm IST

CHENNAI : 24-3-2017---  Ashwati Parameswar, Opera Singer.   Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

CHENNAI : 24-3-2017--- Ashwati Parameswar, Opera Singer. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

An ice cream store is not quite the place you’d expect to meet an opera singer, especially one who only the previous evening at a concert had her vocal chords register notes as high as the rafters at the Museum Theatre. At Amadora, Ashwati Parameshwar tucks into a bowl of ice cream, a shade lighter than the claret dress she’s wearing. “It’s a reward,” she laughs. “I treat myself after every concert.”

Parameshwar, 35, whose molten voice straddles both mezzo and soprano, delivered a classical format replete with German lieders from the Romantic period, Spanish folk songs and opera arias at the concert. Born and raised in Mumbai and schooled in Lovedale, she was 17 and a student at Pune’s United World College when she wanted to become an opera singer. “Like a good South Indian girl, I learnt Carnatic music,” she says. “The Poona Music Society had a master class in Western vocals, and a teacher had taken us. It was held at a no-frills school auditorium with songs in a language I did not understand. And although I can’t recall the name of the person who conducted it, I remember the emotion, the power of the voice and how it all sounded. That was a moment of epiphany for me.”

Parameshwar, who launched into operatic singing at the right time — “your late teens is when your vocal apparatus is developing” — found herself a student of music at St Lawrence University in upstate New York, where she also majored in English. “It was a liberal arts college, not a conservatory, but I did take piano lessons.” A Master’s in Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an Associate of Trinity College London diploma in vocal performance followed. Since then, Parameshwar, founder-member of the Lyric Ensemble, Delhi, has performed as a soloist at the Mozart Magic Concert under George Mathew at Siri Fort, Delhi, the Verdi Gala at Kolkata under Marco Balderi, and at a staging of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in France.

“There is a lot of scope for opera in India now. A lot more people travel and are exposed to it as an art, YouTube streams concerts live and thousands of children take music exams that require them to learn and sing in German and Italian. It has helped expose a new generation to it, and in turn their parents,” says Parameshwar, who also tutors children in the bel canto style that “teaches you to be aware of your breathing and muscles, use the whole body as your instrument, shape your vowels and project your voice over the orchestra. Singing in cathedrals such as Bangalore’s St Marks and Calcutta’s St Paul’s produces such a rich, wonderful experience.”

Parameshwar says the learning has never stopped. “It’s a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Admitting that choosing a favourite song and singer is like trying to catch a whirlwind, Parameshwar finds the voices of Americans Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato and the Spanish Montserrat Caballe, compelling. “I love singing Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’, although I’m partial to Broadway, which is what I first learnt to sing — Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter, especially his ‘Kiss Me, Kate’.”

But it’s the promise her Pavarotti-loving two-and-a-half-year-old daughter shows that has her excited. “I love to read and listen to pop music, but the choice, of late, has been decided by her.”

While the season for shows winds down, Parameshwar is looking forward to her second baby and the concert schedule at the end of the year. Seated under the garden umbrella, she treats her voice to a little exercise with the 17th Century aria ‘Caro Mio Ben’. It fills the air — sweet and sublime — like ice cream on a hot summer day.

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