Q&A with British-Sri Lankan Soprano Kishani Jayasinghe

kishani_jayasinghe-sopranoBorn and raised in Colombo, Kishani Jayasinghe was planning a career as a lawyer when she radically change course to become an opera singer. The decision was the right one: in 2006, the young soprano made history by becoming the first Sri Lankan opera singer to perform at the Royal Opera House, London, and her career has taken off internationally.

Jayasinghe will be performing the Singapore Lyric Opera’s Gala Concert on August 2 at the Esplanade Concert Hall, with Filipino-American tenor, Arthur Espiritu. Their audience can expect a night filled with excerpts from a variety of celebrated operas such as Faust’s The Jewel Song, Lehár’s Vilja Lied, Puccini’s La Bohème, Lehár’s The Merry Widow, and Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. Blouin Artinfor talked to the Soprano about her career and favorite roles.

You trained as a lawyer, what made you change trajectory?

I’ve always loved to sing and had a natural talent for it. However I never, ever dreamed of being a professional singer, let alone an opera singer! I followed my ‘plan’ and went to law school and got my LLB and LLM. During the course of it I met an incredible and amazing vocal professor, Pamela Cook MBE, who in effect changed the course of my life and completely changed my plan. I always say that singing found me — destiny has a way of doing that.

Did you grow up with opera?

My family loved and appreciated western classical music. We listened to it often and it was a regular part of my upbringing. I suppose it was natural that I would grow up with a great love for opera and classical music. The first full length live opera I saw was Verdi’s La Traviata. I remember being completely mesmerized and just loving the music and depth of emotion I felt whilst watching it, even at such a young age.

What’s the opera culture like in Sri Lanka?

Opera is still in its infancy in Sri Lanka but appreciation for it is growing at a great pace. We have many wonderful classical musicians who have excelled in their own fields and have brought their artistry back ‘home’. Opera was not very popular when I was growing up in Sri Lanka, and it was more of a rarity than a regular occurrence. We have our own traditional music, which is naturally the most popular; however, I was lucky and as I said, my family had a real love for it and therefore I was exposed to it regularly from a very young age. It was quite normal for me to hear opera and classical music in the background when I went to visit my grandparents. The exciting thing is that there is a lot more interest and exploration into all types of music, and opera is no exception. Asia is a hotbed of incredible talent and I think the future is very bright for opera in Asia!

Do you remember your first performance at the Royal Opera House?

In a word: MAGICAL! It was a truly magical moment that will be etched in my mind forever. The almost reverent atmosphere; incredible stage that so many great stars and operatic legends have graced; stunning surroundings of red and gold; singing with the very best international colleagues; working with a superb orchestra and incredible maestro; rapturous applause of an appreciative audience — it made for a truly magical and memorable performance.

You also performed for Prince Charles at his 60th birthday celebration at Buckingham Palace as well as for Queen Elizabeth as a Commonwealth Arts Representative. How nervous were you?

I was far too excited to even think of being nervous!

So far, what has been your favorite role?

I must admit, I grow to love and often adore every role I sing; the character becomes such a part of you. Each composer has an individual style and signature and each heroine is an embodiment of that. If I had to pick one role out of all these beautiful and incredible heroines, then it would have to be Mimi from Puccini’s La Bohéme. Puccini is one of my absolute favorite composers of all time — I truly feel his lyric Heroines were written for me and my voice. So Mimi is one of my favorites. The way you see who she is and what she is about as her character unfolds through the course of the Opera, and the music and libretto illustrate this perfectly. She also gets the best characteristics of traditional grand opera: Mimi is beautiful, sensitive, kind, is a wonderful and complicated character, feels deeply, has great friendships, finds true love, explores the full range of human emotions during the course of two hours, has incredible and stunning music, and even dies tragically at the end of the opera! What more could you possibly want in a role?

And what has been the most challenging?

The role of the lead soprano in Judith Wier’s ‘Night at the Chinese Opera.’ It is a fascinating contemporary opera and the soprano has to play and sing the role of a teenage boy, young woman, and an old man all in the space of the opera! Challenging to say the least, especially as the underlying theme was humor and heartbreak all in one. It was a huge learning curve, and I truly loved the experience.

Which role haven’t you tackled yet but desperately want to?

I’ll give you two: Violetta from Verdi’s La Traviata, but the good news is I’ll get to sing it next winter, so I am very excited! The second role is Arabella from Arabella by R. Strauss. I simply adore Richard Strauss.

How do you generally prepare for a new role?

It’s a combination of many things and the order of the process changes a little for me depending on the role, composer, style etc. In essence, however, it’s about learning the music and text inside out, word for word translations and language coaching if it is in a foreign language (which it almost always is!); reading and discovering as much background about the character and context of the opera, and creating and filling in the ‘back story’. Finally, it’s about living and singing the role into your voice. In the end I want to ensure that the role I am portraying is a multi-dimensional, realistic, believable, and hopefully sympathetic character that the audience can relate to.

What kind of music do you listen to?

That would depend on my mood! In general I love all good music with good tunes, lyrics, rhythms, and melodies! Pop, jazz, reggae, blues, classical, soul, hip hop etc. I do tend to favor romantic, singable ballads, but I also love pick-me-up, spring-in-your-step music!

What would be three recommendations for young singers wishing to pursue a career in Opera today?

Work hard for perfection and be content when you achieve excellence; keep learning how to improve your craft and be the best artist you can be; be a kind, generous, well-prepared and punctual colleague.

– See more at: http://uk.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1049968/qa-with-british-sri-lankan-soprano-kishani-jayasinghe#sthash.y6iJFdoo.dpuf

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