Shanul Sharma has had quite the journey from lead singer in a heavy metal band to tenor soloist, writes VIRAT NEHRU
Shanul Sharma has not had what you would call an ordinary life. From a 19-year-old who arrived on Australian shores with the intention to pursue IT Engineering, he found himself gracing the stage as the lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Sobrusion before transitioning to singing in the western classical style. The band parted ways in 2012, but Sharma had by then already set his sights on a career in opera.
Today, he appears as a tenor soloist in the show Canzoni Di Mio Padre (Songs My Father Taught Me) – an eclectic mix of Neapolitan and popular Italian songs performed with the backing of a majestic 55-piece symphonic orchestra. The brainchild of talented musician and conductor Daniele Ciurleo, Shanul Sharma appears alongside David Visentin executing songs in the style of operatic legends such as Luciano Pavarotti.
Sharma’s transition and rise from a heavy metal and rock ‘n’ roll artist based in regional NSW, to an opera singer training in Melbourne, is as fascinating as it is unusual. However, his first memories of music are much closer to home.
“My dad always maintained that my first experience of music was listening to old Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar Bollywood songs in the back of the car,” he says.
Not exactly how you would imagine the musical leanings of either a heavy metal or an opera singer to take shape now, would you? But that changed swiftly when Sharma arrived in Australia to pursue further studies.
“I started off with Bollywood music,” he explains. “Then, during my high school years, I was exposed to western music – Michael Jackson was a big influence. I got a heavy metal album by Def Leopard and that basically set the course for western rock ‘n’ roll.”
When the time came, it was a difficult choice to make between what has traditionally been considered two different paths to follow – career (IT Engineering) or passion (singing). However, Sharma had the determination to turn his passion into his career. But he admits that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his father.
“My dad always encouraged me to pursue singing,” Sharma says. “He always said that there will be many IT engineers in this world, but only a few of us who can sing, so pursue your singing while you do your studies.”
Sharma had already started infusing western classical elements into his style of singing around 2010, when he was part of the heavy metal band. Still, heavy metal and western classical appear to be polar opposite genres – not just stylistically but also in terms of execution. It was Sharma’s affinity for old Bollywood and Indian classical music that aided him in his transition into western opera singing. The overlap between the two classical music styles is stronger than one might imagine.
“I explored western classical singing as a stylistic expression and was surprised at how naturally it came to me,” Sharma reveals. “The vowels, which is basically the core of the sound in Hindi, are very similar to the vowels in Italian. It’s a very open language, with an open throat, so it wasn’t all that alien to me.”
“If you HEAR Mohammed Rafi sing that famous song ‘Madhuban Mein Radhika Nachi’, it’s got all those ups and downs and all those trills,” Sharma says. “The type of singing that I do in opera includes all those aspects as well. In a way, it’s sort of natural. The styles are actually quite closely linked once you analyse it.”
You wouldn’t think it, but being part of a heavy metal band proved to be the perfect training ground for an operatic tenor in the making.
“Naturally speaking, I don’t have what they call a ‘big’ voice. My voice is that of a lyric tenor. It’s a ‘sweeter’ sound. It’s not like a bulldozer. It’s like a beautiful Rolls Royce, so you have to treat it with care and have precision in your approach to singing,” Sharma explains.
“That aspect led me to explore the classical style, because it’s based on efficiency. The heavy metal band was actually quite loud and to be able to sing on top of that ensemble – with the heavy guitar and the big drums – you have to develop frequencies in your voice that are very similar to what a classical singer does. I had to instinctively develop all those aspects in my voice in my rock ’n’ roll years. In my own way, I taught myself to sing classical music without even realising it!”
Always looking to improve and challenge himself, Sharma has already taken a giant stride in establishing a singing career.
“I’ve been accepted into the Wales International Academy of Voice. This school takes about fifteen singers every year, from a whole pool of singers across the world, to train them into professional international touring artists. I’m trying to fund raise at the moment, to make my way to Cardiff. Stay there for eleven months, learn as much as I can and hopefully get on the international circuit.”