A night at the opera

ARIA ALLURE: Shakhinah Shawn, Augustine Paul and the orchestra. PHOTO: R. SHIVAJI RAO  

It was with trepidation that I accepted to write about ‘Opera Night,’ an evening of music featuring soprano Shekhinah Shawn and conductor Augustine Paul.

As the curtains went up at the Museum Theatre and Shekhinah began singing “So Shall the lute” in B Flat Major from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, everything was

forgotten. Music just took over… so stunning was her voice, her range!

This powerhouse of talent who has, in her own words, “tested out every genre, whether Carnatic classical or R&B or ghazal or film playback,” was a picture of poise as she set out to give Chennai-ites a taste of Italian, French, German and English arias.

“It’s an historic day for Shekhinah” said Haricharan Das, national manager, Trinity College of Music, London, in his introduction. “Not only is she being presented as an opera singer for the first time in her hometown, but she has also been awarded FTCL (Fellow of Trinity College, London) in Singing.”

A rare distinction, indeed, for Shekhinah is the first Indian to get it. In the 110-year history of Chennai’s TCL, only three students had got this recognition. And only one in singing… Shekhinah, proclaimed Das with obvious pride.

With every aria she sang, Shekhinah got more and more comfortable (she seemed a trifle tense in the beginning), and so did music lovers in the packed auditorium.

Shekhinah brought out with great felicity the ornamentation and embellishment, including running passages, staccati

and trills, in every piece. The arias were samples from various musical periods -- Baroque, Classical, Romantic and the 20th Century. The composers, whose timeless creations have resonated through the ages included the intricate bel canto stylists Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi, Schubert, Gershwin, Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, Rossini and Purcell.

That evening, Shekhinah chose to sing Mozart’s Mass in C Minor ‘Laude maste,’, the evergreen Habanera from Bizet’s classic, ‘Carmen’ (the chorus singers casually resting their hands on their neighbour’s shoulder lent an authentic touch), the Porgy and Bess favourite ‘Summer Time’ (it has

more than 33,000 covers version by those including Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Doors, Janis Joplin and Miles Davis), Verdi’s ‘Tacea la notte’ and ‘Non pui mesta’ from Rossini’s ‘La Cenerentola’ (Cinderella).

Voice trainer and conductor par excellence, Augustine Paul has a gift of tapping talent and nurturing it with care. He did it splendidly with Shekhinah, and the 15-piece orchestra, which he led with dignity and practised ease.

Pianists Leslie David and Edwin Roy and the choir deserve praise as well. Special mention must be made about the superb sound that evening. Sudhin Prabhakar, take a bow! Emcee P.C. Ramakrishna was his usual ‘baritone’ self.

As I walked out of the theatre, soprano czarina Maria Callas’s words came to mind “An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down.” How true!

(Proceeds of the concert went to the Help A Child of India organisation)

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 4:37:40 PM |

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