If your opinion of opera is about supercilious gentry grimly enjoying the lamentations of high-pitched sopranos, well head to the Royal Opera House Mumbai for a pleasant surprise. It is Opera Season 2018 over the months of July and August and there is absolutely nothing stuffy about the mood on stage and off it.
The Italian Embassy Cultural Centre, Furtados, Avid Learning and Giving Voice Society have come together to treat Mumbai to a string of exciting events, including a behind-the-scenes workshop on the Making of an Opera, a recital of harp and soprano which celebrates renowned Italian composer – Rossini, a heritage walk-through and opera tour at the venue, a fashion pop-up of opera-inspired gowns and finally, the actual opera itself – Joseph Haydn’s La Fedeltà Premiata.
Let’s say you still have misgivings… Won’t I be clueless since it’s all in Italian? Won’t the story be all drippy and sentimental? Won’t it just be all too archaic? No, nein, nyet! Mark Troop, pianist, broadcaster, writer and co-founder of the Giving Voice Society, banishes your fears with a flourish, pointing out, “Language is a problem for Westerners just as much as for anyone in India and it has been solved with technology!” With subtitles to the rescue, audiences are chuckling their way to comprehension, sometimes even before the singing can be complete!
As to the drippy factor, none of it in store as this sparkling classical work is a light comedy of amorous mix-ups. The plot surrounds the people of Cumae who worship Diana, goddess of hunting and chastity. When the treachery of a nymph brings a curse on them, they must calm the angry goddess by sacrificing two faithful lovers each year to a lake monster, until a faithful lover can be found to offer his life. With fidelity at a premium, victims naturally become very hard to find!
“It’s a very funny plot and we have updated it so that you’re not looking at a cast of old characters from yesteryear; you’re looking at thoroughly modern people who behave just like normal modern people do,” reveals Troop. “The interactions on stage are very modern; the way the characters behave will be very modern. But the story itself is in a timeless place.”
Also in store are several Indian references, which audiences are bound to enjoy, in addition to costumes and movements with Indian touches. A predominance of Indian names in the cast is a heartening testimony to the growing popularity of Western Classical Music on home ground. Vouches Consul General of Italy, the vibrant Stefania Constanza, “It is not only about being nice and wanting to have more Indian singers; no, it is about discovering talent because the world needs it.”
Constanza sees fit to reiterate a point that most laypeople miss – that opera did not start out as a sophisticated form of art. “In the 17th century it was considered as something popular, but over the years it has been perceived as something very exclusive and sophisticated. But that is not its nature. The nature of opera is transmitting emotions and representing on stage the kaleidoscope of emotions that we all experience. It is not meant and should not be something for ‘privileged people’ only. Of course, it is for people who are inclined towards it but it is completely accessible to all,” she maintains.
Among the band of professionals passionate about making opera approachable, is Patricia Rozario, OBE and Indian-born British soprano, who has also been offering training in Western classical singing in India, since the past 9 years. Artistic Director of La Fedeltà Premiata along with her husband Mark Troop, Rozario has been working with the cast of eight soloists and a chorus of 14 singers. “I find that interest in opera has grown considerably in India over the years. Increasing numbers of parents are supporting their talented children to pursue training and a career in Western Classical Music,” she adds.
Opera for all
Mark Troop believes that small, scaled-down yet slick productions are the order of the day which makes opera viable in much smaller venues. Secondly, with operas from the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Royal Opera House of London being beamed worldwide, you don’t need to be one of the privileged few to enjoy a world-class opera. Add to it the fact that singers are not allowed to simply stand and deliver minus any action – they have to act, which leads to increased engagement. Suddenly opera is livelier than ever.
Mark adds, “Mumbai is so lucky to have the Royal Opera House because it’s a perfect venue for opera – you couldn’t see it in a better place. It would cost you a fortune to go to the Royal Opera House London. The dimensions here are smaller but essentially the look and the feel is similar. It will be a real treat for audiences right at their doorstep; you don’t have to travel to Europe to get it!”
We are sold!
Royal Opera House
Did you know…?
Asad Lalljee, CEO of Avid Learning and curator of ROH shares nuggets…
1) It was inaugurated in 1911 by King George V, and thus is called the ‘Royal’ Opera House. For a city that had, thus far, no world-class theatres, the Opera House—with its baroque architecture, specialized acoustics and stylish interiors—was a monumental addition to the city’s built heritage.
2) The co-owners Jehangir F. Karaka and Maurice E. Bandmann were a dynamic pair, they built the theatre in Rs.7.5 lakh (at the time) and made it functional in an extraordinarily short span of time of one year (July 1910 to July 1911).
3) Historic record describes the entrance lobby as “the Palace of Light”. In the finest tradition of opera houses, no expense was spared in creating rich interiors with painted murals on the interiors of the dome, ornate plasterwork, Italian marble and Minton Tile flooring, marble statuary and exquisite crystal chandeliers from David Sassoon’s own mansion – Sans Souci. These original chandeliers have since been restored and hang in our ground floor foyer.
4) Historically, the auditorium ceiling was designed on the principle of the horn of a gramophone, the ceilings are so devised that they form a long sounding-board high up over the stage.
5) In 1952, the Maharaja of Gondal bought the Opera House under a 999-year lease, and his son, Shri Jyotendrasinhji commissioned its restoration in 2010. You can see the Gondal Royal crest painted onto the curtain above the stage. The doors of the Royal Opera House, which closed on January 18, 1991 reopened 25 years later on October 20, 2016.
(La Fedeltà Premiata: August 1, 2, 3, at 7 pm onwards at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai)