Saturday, 13 January 2018 07:19

An evening on a high note

Sri Lanka has always been a country of talent… be it opera singers, instrumentalists or pianists, the country never fails to amaze with its talent, dedicated teachers and performers. Kishani was no exception last night and we were proud that yet another Sri Lankan opera singer showcased her talent for the audience to savour.

Opera is not unknown in Sri Lanka and there have been many opera singers and ensembles on our stages. In fact, research indicates that even the opera, Pearl Fishers was staged in beautiful Lanka so the audience was well tuned to the singing.

January 8 brought with it a wave of elite to the Lionel Wendt all hoping for a night of musical magnetism. The crowd was abuzz with eagerness as they sat and awaited the opening of Kishani Sings with Friends from the Royal Opera House.

From what this journalist could see of the stage from the last row, which wasn’t as much as she would’ve liked, it was decorated with floral pedestals on either side of the stage with the piano aligned to the left.

The performers included soprano, Kishani Jayasinghe and baritone, Grant Doyle accompanied by Chris Glynn on piano. The programme consisted of three parts entitled “Jewels of Opera”, “Pearls of Paradise” and “Stars of Broadway”.

The performance commenced in the category of “Jewels of Opera” with an all too familiar tale that would be a natural for the opera house. The pair of young lovers, kept apart by the pointless bickering of their colourful families, a tale of yearning and passion memorably enveloped in the classic tragedy by William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet. In spite of the popularity of the narrative, there are really only two Romeo and Juliet operas that still hold the stage today - the 1867 score by Charles Gounod and the other which was featured in the programme, Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi — The Capulets and the Montagues.

This was followed by Kishani’s rendition of the Jewel Song from the third act of Charles Gounod’s operatic retelling of Faust. Marguerite tries on the jewellery left on her doorstep that her governess alleges is left by an admirer and sings her famous aria, the Jewel Song (Ah! je ris de me voirsi belle en cemiroir). This famous aria left a global impression since children all over the world have been reading very short extracts from it in several stories in the adventures of Tintin. Faust grew to be so well loved that in New York the opera season began with a performance of it every year for several decades in the late nineteenth century, a fact to which Edith Wharton makes great reference in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence.

Grant made his entrance with his performance of “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre" more popularly identified as The Toreador Song from the opera Carmen composed by the renowned Georges Bizet. Set in southern Spain, the opera is written in the genre of opéracomique with musical numbers separated by dialogue and describes the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery gypsy Carmen. José abandons everything including his childhood sweetheart and deserts the military, yet loses Carmen's love to the matador Escamillo. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality, and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial. Grant executed the role of the bullfighter, Escamillo with great enthusiasm and vigour. His undeniable stage presence and emotive expressions contributed greatly to the performance.

He also vocalized “Largo al factotum" (Make way for the factotum) an aria from The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini based on the first play of "Le Barbier de Seville," the three-part story of Figaro written by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. It is considered one of the most challenging operas for a baritone to perform, due to its brisk time signature and convoluted rhyme structure. Audiences and especially children might recognize it from cartoons such as The Looney Tunes Show and Tom and Jerry.

The programme then moved to the “Pearls of Paradise” section as the performers vocalized another opera by Georges Bizet, “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” also known as The Pearl Fishers. This opera has been performed in Sri Lanka previously. A fun fact that enlightened the crowd was that Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, was actually the setting for The Pearl Fishers.

Following a brief fifteen minute interval, we arrived at the third and final segment of the evening which was Songs of Broadway. The songs performed here included crowd favourites such as “Stars” from Les Miserables, “Somewhere” and “Tonight” from West Side Story and, of course,“All I ask of you” from Phantom of the Opera. While somewhat enjoyable, there seemed to be something lacking in the performance perhaps owing to the style variations between Broadway and Opera. While the performers were admirable in their operatic renditions they lacked a wow factor in “Songs of Broadway”. The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” seems fitting here as the operatic tinge to the performance of this segment took away from the overall performance and didn’t do justice to the songs that had been selected.

Born and raised in Colombo, Kishani Jayasinghe has had the honour of being presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Commonwealth Representative for the Arts and has performed for His Royal Highness Prince Charles at his 60th birthday celebration at Buckingham Palace. Opera is her great love and on addressing the audience she said that “music is an endless love affair”. Educated at Visakha Vidyalaya, Kishani Jayasinghe was an all-rounder who dabbled in a multitude of fields including rowing however her passion for music is prevailed throughout. She draws her strength from her family – “the K family”, she and her husband Kaveenga are the proud parents of two children Kiaan and Kitaara. While her singing and performance is clearly commendable, there seemed to be a lack of clear diction and her annunciation was extremely poor. It was difficult to distinguish between the languages used in each song.

Born in Adelaide, South Australia Grant Dole grew up learning flute, guitar and singing and pondered careers in mathematics, science or as a rock guitarist. He studied BMus singing at the Elder Conservatorium winning himself the Elder Overseas Scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. He was then accepted on the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and returned there for numerous roles in later years. His performance was exuberant and energetic. With animated facial expressions and spirited movements he dominated the stage with his performancesoften moving the audience to smiles and chuckles of amusement.However his breathing lacked sustained support on higher notes which resulted in him singing under the note on some occasions.

A Grammy award-winning pianist, Chris Glynn was born in Leicester and read music as an organ scholar at New College, Oxford before studying piano in France and at the Royal Academy of Music. His multiple awards include the 2001 Kathleen Ferrier Competition, the 2002 Geoffrey Parsons Prize and the 2003 Gerald Moore Award as well as a Grammy Award in 2012. This explains the standard of his performance and his effortless accompaniment of the singers. The piano accompaniment was a tad overpowering at times but was otherwise well received.

Overall it was certainly an enjoyable evening and the audience departed looking satisfied with the performance that they had witnessed.

(Daily News)

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