There are many moments that encapsulates all that is charming about Tharanga Goonetilleke, Juilliard trained opera singer. Her performances have been praised by The Washington Times as ‘magical’ and her voice by The NewYork Times as ‘appealingly rich’. Apparently, the music that made her fall in love with opera was a New Zealander Maori soprano named Kiri Te Kanawa. She was 13 years old and never imagined a path to stardom, let alone a career in operatic singing. Her talent was discovered by a music professor, who brought her to America. She graduated with the artist diploma for Opera Studies and is the first and only woman from Sri Lanka to have been accepted to for Master of Music degree from The Juilliard School so far.

 How did a young lady from Sri Lanka decided to conquer the formidable Western art form of opera?

Being a native of Sri Lanka, I never imagined that this would be a career option for me. I was hoping to become someone in the medical field. Music and singing were just hobbies and probably what I was most passionate about. I received a scholarship to study music in the USA, which was the first time I realized that this can actually be a career option for me.

How did you get interested in music?

My mother taught me how to read music. I fell in love with the operatic voice when I first heard a casette tape of Kiri te Kanawa. I was about 12 years old. I use to pretend to sing like her. Our school choir director, Christine Perera encouraged me to train my voice. I have sung leading roles in Opera under the baton of famous conductors such as Lorin Maazel, George Manahan, Anne Manson and Gary Wedow, to name a few. She has worked with renowned directors Stephen Wadsworth, Robin Guarino, Fabrizio Melano and Jay Lesenger.

What are the challenges faced by you?

Being ‘different’ in a field that is mostly made up of those from the West. Having to learn to sing in at least four to five languages that is not my first language.

What are the learning outcomes in the whole process?

Nothing good comes easy. Also, I get to teach other like myself no matter which part of the world they are from. It has been a rewarding journey of performing and teaching.

What are your plans for the future?

Be the best performer, teacher and mother I can possibly be.

What message do you want to give the audience?

How to follow your own unique path no matter what the challenges are.

Achievements

  • President’s scholarship of Sri Lanka.
  • Associate of the Trinity College of Music, London.
  • Full scholarship to Converse College, Spartanburg, SC, USA.
  • Full Scholarship to The Juilliard School, New York, USA.
  • Makiko Narumi Prize at The Juilliard School.
  • Singing at New York City Opera.
  • Appeared in leading roles in productions of “La Boheme” (by Giacomo Puccini); “Die Zauberflöte” [“The Magic Flute”] (by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart); “Iphigénie en Aulide” (by Christoph Willibald Gluck), “Ariodante” (by George Frideric Handel), and as Blanche in “Dialogues of the Carmelites’’ (by Francis Poulenc), among many others.
  • Founder of Tharang Art, visual and musical arts project, exploring collaborations between different disciplines of art.