A play set to music

Soprano singer Ashwati Parameshwar tells ALLAN MOSES RODRICKS that an opera singer must be both singer and actor

Updated - December 02, 2016 03:50 pm IST

Published - November 16, 2016 03:04 pm IST - Bengaluru

Promoting opera Ashwati Parameshwar

Promoting opera Ashwati Parameshwar

Nobody believes in the power of music as much as Ashwati Parameshwar. The young soprano is a firm advocate of vocal proficiency and a flag-bearer for the opera music scene in India. Ahead of her performance in the city, Ashwati talks to MetroPlus about her passion and how she hopes to promote the music form in the country.

Accompanied on the piano by Dinaibo Rentta, the singer promises to deliver an evening of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Puccini among others in a concert organised by the International Music & Arts Society at St. Mark’s Cathedral on November 18.

The concert will be a mix of art songs and opera arias, says Ashwati. “There will be popular songs with a sense of chronology; a little bit of everything.”

The singer hopes that apart from enjoying the performance, the audience becomes a little more aware of classical music, its history and context through the performance. “I am doing everything I can to explain each composition, because most people don’t speak Italian, German or French. We have programme notes to explain and there will be an elaboration on the history of the composition to provide context to each piece. That will bring more meaning to the concert.”

The operatic technique is physically taxing, requiring that the entire body be used as the instrument, in order to maintain correct intonation and achieve projection since opera is traditionally sung without amplification, Ashwati explains. “Opera is a play set to music. An opera singer must be both singer and actor, often in languages that are foreign and yet they need to convey the complete gamut of emotions of the character.”

Born in Mumbai, Ashwati recalls she always loved to sing. “I grew up surrounded by classic Bollywood music, Western music and Carnatic music. Wherever I was, I was trying to learn and take singing lessons. When I was a child, I was singing Carnatic music. When I was 17, I was in Pune and got the opportunity to learn Western music.”

It was then that Ashwati got a taste of what opera was. “A visiting mezzo-soprano came and gave us a master class. That was my introduction to opera. She sang a couple of arias for us. I was absolutely struck by the power of the voice, the technique, projection and emotion. I decided there and then that this was what I wanted to do.”

It wasn’t easy, Ashwati goes on. “I went to the US, majored in music and English and returned to do a Masters in English. I was doing nothing productive in music and getting dissatisfied. That is when I heard about a Western Classical music teacher in Delhi. Clearly I was meant to go there since at the same time I was applying for a job outside Bangalore and I received the job offer from Delhi. I went straight to this lady, and begged her to take me in as a student, well before I found a place to even stay,” she laughs and adds: “I haven’t looked back since then.”

On India’s opera scene, she says that there is a small audience for it. “We do get very enthusiastic responses from people. It doesn’t happen often, but there are small opportunities here and there. It is a niche market for sure. But with the Internet and more people travelling, they are getting exposed to it and there is a growing desire to hear it.”

To those who would like to take that leap of faith and try their voice at opera singing, Ashwati suggests they keep working really hard. “It is 99 percent hard work. Don’t give up. Sometimes it may seem difficult, but keep trying, pushing audiences and getting the awareness out.”

Come listen to Ashwati at St. Mark’s Cathedral, M.G. Road, on November 18 from 6.45 p.m. Entry free.

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