Patricia Rozario on the Royal Opera Mumbai!

One of India’s most well known faces of Western music and director of the country’s first full fledged opera production ‘Il Matrimonio Segreto” – Patricia Rozario talks all about the production and her journey as the ’Soprano in Saree’ India’s expansive musical culture and popular media has given general audiences a rather vague and hazy image about Western music and Opera, unless you are a connoisseur of the art form, of course! What is popularly mimicked as “shouting” or “screaming loudly” is an age old art form with a rich heritage running for over 300 odd years! Opera, in fact Western Music itself in India has been quite a niche since its arrival from the British times. Except for the passionate few, the rest of them have barely accessed the music until artists like Zubin Mehta put Indians on the world map of Western musicians. On the lines of such heritage, meet Patricia Rozario, a
Mumbai based British Soprano who is one of the country’s finest musicians. She has performed at the English National Opera, Opera North, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and the Garsington Opera in England, and has performed on stage across Europe in Aix-en-Provence, Brussels, Frankfurt, Ghent, Innsbruck, Lyon and
Stuttgart.

“When Patricia and I inaugurated the opera house musically last year, we immediately thought ‘Now that the opera house is open, it is time to put an opera in there whenever we can. Since we teach Indian singers, we thought it is absolutely perfect! It is a purpose built space for opera,”  said Mark Troop (Piano) as we began talking about their first full fledged Opera Production ‘Il Matrimony Segreto’ featuring a completely desi crew which staged at
the Royal Opera House, Mumbai. “We chose a light comedy, not too grand not too very early opera. we thought our students can cope with it. Its comic! it has marriage in the title which is good in India – “The Secret Marriage”- Its a comedy of manners!

Its light and sparkling. We thought it is better to do that than the really heavy ones- it will fit really well in the opera house,” he briefed. Talking about the opera house, the historic building in Charni Road, Chowpatty is India’s only surviving opera House form the British Times built in 1911. “All of these opera houses are built on the european model of the opera houses; So they look similar, sound similar, have the same type of acoustics, so this opera is perfect for that,” Troop exclaimed!

Cutting through the brief conversation Troop and I were having, Rozario walked in elegantly and introduced herself shortly as she sat down by the sofa next her ancestral baby grand piano. Without wasting much time, we got talking about her beginnings as a musician, “We grew up with my mother teaching me and my brothers, the piano (as you can see). My parents both sang, so we learnt to sing with them. And in this area of Santacruz, all the adults organised a festival with great enthusiasm. Every child in the area was allowed to perform or participate in a competition – vocal, piano, and violin. Choir, plays, recitals – very unusual! This was my platform to develop the experience of getting up on stage and communicating with an audience. I didn’t realize that my bachelor’s degree in English and French, would be such a great asset to learning this art form! It really helps you connect to
the pieces you’re singing with greater confidence! The literature is what did the magic! Then, when I went abroad, I went to the Goth Institute to learn German, Italian at Guildhall (school of music and drama) where I went on to study, I was firmly convinced that I would come back after three years. During my time at the Guildhall, I went to numerous competitions in Spain, Salzburg, Holland, England etc. which helped float my name around. Soon enough, I had agents coming to me offering work. Before finishing college, I met Mark which was a huge sock for my parents (laughs)! but i gave them some time to come around it,” she recollected. From there, started Rozario’s illustrious career as an Indian British Soprano often remembered as the ‘Soprano in Saree’.

One of her most notable appearances was across Europe in The Marriage of Figaro, conducted by Sir Georg Solti. She has also given concerts in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and as part of The Proms in England, and abroad in Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin, Halle, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Cologne, Leipzig, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Riga, Rouen, Strasbourg, Vienna, Winterthur and Zürich. She performed in a production of Elvis Costello’s Meltdown. Rozario has made numerous recordings of the works of composer John Tavener. Gifted with a voice described as “liquid gold”, Rozario’s wide concert and opera repertoire ranges from baroque to contemporary music. She is an exponent of bel canto – the fabled method used by the great Italian singers of the 19th century. Feted for her achievements, Rozario is a recipient of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, royal honour OBE, and is a fellow of the Royal College of Music.

As we gently moved onto the opera production that she was directing, a child-like grin brimming with pride and excitement spread across her face. Talking about the singers and how she decided her cast, “In December we started planning and targeted the singers. With every opera, the composer decides how many singers and
what type of voice an opera needs. In every score, you will see the names of the character and the voice type that is needed to execute that character. So we’ve studied the score and scouted for voices accordingly. So in this piece, there are tenors, sopranos, mezzos, and baritones in this piece. Now they have all come here (form across India and abroad) and we have been working together,” she explained.

Roazrio slammed out the entire production exactly on the lines of how a professional opera is done in Europe. “Even though all my singers sing wonderful, they are all still under training and I hope the seasoned Bombay listeners who visit Europe’s opera halls regularly bear this in mind,” she chuckled. The production consists of players from the Symphony Orchestra of India, and singers Shreya Nayak, Natasha Agarwal, Anoushka Pokhare, Farah Ghadiali, Vedika Chandran, Anna Nair, Kersi Gazdar, Sandeep Gurrapadi, Oscar Castellino, Rahul Bharadwaj, Darwin Prakash Leonard, and JW Johnson.

Speaking about the current scenario of Western music in the country, “Its a really exciting time for Western music in India, in the last seven years I’ve noticed. Now with the SOI (Symphonic Orchestra of India), the Opera House opening up, Prithvi Theatre, and parents easing up on their children doing music unlike our times, there has never been a better time for Western music in India. Alongside such facilities, we need to establish proper teaching organisations that will give seekers the right history, background, and technique to lay their foundations right. I have great hope for India! Youngsters come and approach me with such hope, inspiration, and prepared for the hard work, it is through such that one is redeemed and gets to the heights of excellence,” Rozario continued. Since over 7 years, Rozario and her husband have been training Indian students and working with a variety of voices
under their ‘Giving Voice Society’ which organises masterclasses and workshops thrice a year across the country.

Il Matrimonio Segreto
Composed during late 1790s by Domenico Cimarosa for the Vienna court opera, ‘Il Matrimonio Cimarosa’ is arguably one of the greatest opera buffa besides those of Mozart.

Synopsis: Geronimo, a wealthy and deaf Bolognese merchant, has two daughters, Elisetta and Carolina, and a sister, Fidalma, who runs the house. Fidalma loves Paolino without realising that he has been secretly married to Carolina. Elisetta is to marry Count Robinson, but when he arrives, he falls in love with her sister. Carolina
fails to dissuade him. Geronimo remains oblivious. Geronimo agrees to the count’s marriage to Carolina. Paolino is distraught and approaches Fidalma for help. She interprets his pleas as a proposal, causing Paolino to faint into her arms. Naturally, Carolina enters to see Fidalma cradling the young man and she is only just won round by her husband’s protestations of love. The count, endeavoring to distance Elisetta from him, behaves appallingly. Carolina and Paolino try to run off together, but are caught by Elisetta who, assuming the man to be her count, summons the others. The plot is then unravelled, Geronimo blesses the marriage of Paolino and Carolina, and the count agrees to honour his obligation to Elisetta.

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