Papa kehtey hain…

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JASMEET KAUR SAHI reviews Shanul Sharma in ‘Songs My Father Taught Me’ at the Melbourne Recital Centre

Papa kehte hain bada naam karega
Beta humara aisa kaam karega

Perhaps not in the same words, but in spirit at least, that’s what tenor soloist Shanul Sharma successfully accomplished in his recent performance at the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Shanul Sharma.Indian-Link

Sharma, along with David Visentin, performed a collection of Neapolitan and popular Italian songs as part of Canzoni Di Mio Padre (Songs My Father Taught Me), beautifully arranged and orchestrated by conductor Daniele Ciurleo.

I could not contain my excitement at getting to watch an Indian-born perform Italian opera. Was it the rarity of such a combination that made it so thrilling? Or was it the connection of my homeland in a largely foreign landscape that added to the joy of watching this live opera performance?

The hall was a vision in itself. Exquisite hand-cut wooden panels line the walls and ceiling of the 1000 seat auditorium, which has the traditional box shape of European concert halls. It was mood-lit for what was going to be an enthralling afternoon.

As is customary, the 55-piece symphonic orchestra was already on stage tuning their instruments and testing them. The hostess arrived a couple of minutes later and introduced the conductor Ciurleo and the two tenors, Sharma and Visentin, who came on stage and took their positions.

Their crisp linen shirts and starched collars contrasted the dark jackets they wore. What was most endearing was the camaraderie they shared – shaking hands, hugging, nodding heads and smiling at each other.

They began with a song called ‘Quanto Sei Bella Roma’, which quite literally translates to ‘How beautiful are you Rome’. In total they sang 20 songs between them, with three in the orchestral interlude. Not knowing any Italian was the least of my worries, since the power and beauty of their voices took me to places where a language barrier is surpassed by the enjoyment of music.

While Visentin had the control of an experienced, more mature performer, Sharma complimented him with his sweet, full-throated, unrestrained sound. It would be remiss not to add that opera singing requires a range of vocals, and both tenors displayed that range to a superbly engaged audience throughout the concert.

It was an unusual and joyful experience. From what I have seen of operas on the television and in films, I felt it was a high art that expected a certain level of snooty coldness and distant pleasure at best. But that was not the case here.

Those who knew the songs were encouraged to sing, and sing they did. Sharma made comments and quips throughout, smiling and joking with the audience.  Both tenors encouraged the audience to actually clap along to the songs they were performing. The atmosphere was charged and carried itself outside too where Sharma and Visentin were mobbed by the audience for pictures, hugs and autographs.

After seeing the pair receive a standing ovation from the audience, I left with a sense that anything is possible if passions are followed through.