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Opera & the City
For some time now, Indians have used opera as a classic setting for inducing humour in sundry Bollywood films. Remember the opera singer in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, whom SRK trumps with a more foot-tapping Ruk jaa o dil deewane? Or the 'moti opera singer' whom Aamir Khan takes a jibe at in Dil Chahta Hai? Yes, opera with its wholesome women with fulsome voices has been an object of much ridicule, but there are many new converts to the genre who are now tipping the scales. Case in point: the latest opera concert Mozart Magic in India being organised by the Neemrana Music Foundation (NMF), which has been active on the capital scene, promoting this western classical art form for almost ten years now.
NMF, as its founder and promoter Francis Wacziarg says, has been active ever since it staged the Fakir of Benares in 2002. It was his daughter, Aude Priya, herself a trained opera singer and a soloist in the current concert, who provided the big push for this initiative. And since then, NMF concerts have been running to a full house. "The response has always been good. But now we have more young people and even professionals coming forward to join the choir, " says Wacziarg. Professionals like Rajiv Khati, who moonlights as a marketing executive during the day, have been learning the scales, cadences and the finer nuances of opera singing for almost seven years now. A rocker by passion, he took to opera singing under Delhi's only opera voice trainer Seetu Singh Buehler, for honing his voice. Today, he is a tenor and just missed being part of the Mozart concert, which will have some of the best pieces of the master composer, as his day-job came in the way. But he swears by operatic training for anyone who wants to work on their voice professionally. And this change - of Indians taking to opera singing - is reflected in the current concert, which has 13 of the 14 soloists from India. "For the first time, we will not have many singers flying in from France or Italy and this is a positive change, " says Antoine Redon, executive producer of NMF. And over the past few years, he has noticed the audience profile change to include not just expats but also many Indian professionals coming in to get a taste of the opera.
Talking about the Fakir of Benaras days, Wacziarg remembers how Delhi was not too clued in to opera at the time. Also, the cost of organising it was enormous since most of the singers had to be flown in from Italy. But now, thanks to an interest in opera - and with our own soloists like Aude Priya, Sunanda Rao, Vikrant Subramaniam, Nitya Vaz and Payal John, to name a few - this western classical form of music is finally coming into its own in Delhi.
Guests are often delighted to catch opera sessions at events hosted by the Italian embassy and the Hungarian cultural centre. Even NMF has also taken it upon itself the task of training singers and sponsoring gifted students for scholarships to Germany, England or France. In addition, it also maintains a choir and teaches singing at the Blind School.
But there's a hitch: funding, as Wacziarg points out. But with partners like Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and patrons like Pandit Ravi Shankar, the going, with time, promises to become smooth.
For its part, NMF has been trying to keep Delhi hooked with an interesting mix. If I Were King in 2010 was a full-fledged opera, Hair was a rock opera and now Mozart Magic in India "is an assortment of the master's compositions to acquaint audiences with his work", Redon explains. "Thanks to productions like Zangoora, Delhi is developing an appetite for lavish productions, and operas can fit right in with their grand scale and fabled story telling, " he adds. A conscious attempt is also being made to pick themes which are simplistic and more 'Indian' so that a connect is maintained with the audience. And with each performance running to packed houses, the connection seems to be hitting the right notes.
'Mozart Magic in India' will be performed at the Siri Fort Auditorium, Delhi, on Jan 7-8 at 7 pm and on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati on Jan 11
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