Opera in Mumbai: How a sari-clad soprano challenged harmony between image and sound


As I marvel at the regal and tasteful interiors of the renovated Royal Opera House, I am forced to converge my scattered eye to a lone figure on the stage. The spotlight introduces me to a ruby red sari clad woman.

Just as I mentally whine about getting stripped of the ability to admire the Royal Opera House, that recently won a UNESCO award for Cultural Heritage Conservation, I am taken aback by the voice of the lady. Her operatic voice smashed through the ornate ceiling of the hall. It did not reverberate yet made an immediate impact.

Royal Opera House, Mumbai
Royal Opera House, Mumbai. Image by Devansh Sharma

Her projection feels like a five dimensional show when the car does not ram into you yet you feel the effect through multiple sensors of your body. But more than the technical brilliance of her throw, what amazes me and prompts me to dive into a stream of thought, is how blatantly the visual before me defied its aural correspondent.

In the little opera watching experience I could boast of, it was limited to old ladies in embellished gowns throwing their voices to the highest range possible. Words were not as much of a concern as the height of the pitch. But never could I imagine a lady in a sari indulging in the same practice, rather commendably.

The incoherence between the eye and the ear makes me question the notion of pre-conceived visualisation. When you talk to an acquaintance on the phone for the first time, you form an image of them in your head. While you may be proved wrong eventually, you live with that image for years till you meet them in person.

Similarly, I relate opera with gowns. The presumption, I realise, is to such an extent that I believe if one cannot carry a gown off, one can certainly not even attempt to project one’s voice like a soprano. But here was this lady, Patricia Rozario, defying the obvious and proving her mettle as an India-born operatic singer.

royal opera house 1
Mark Troop and Patricia Rozario at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai. Image by Devansh Sharma

Once I got over my reality check, I see how the resplendent red at the centre of the darkness serves as the lone lotus in the midst of the pond. But I cannot come to terms with the thought that this lotus could possibly bear thorns. The melodious voice, while it can lure me into a sweet slumber, makes sure I am shaken out of my complacency at frequent intervals.

As her voice oscillates (vertically) from high to low, Rozario conveyes a wide range of emotions. Mark Troop, at the piano, and Timothy Jones, at the French horn, sway their moods accordingly. The three-member orchestra come across as a group of three kids who are trying to cheer each other up whenever one of them is sad. Rozario’s tuning with either of the instrumentalists feels like a see-saw sometimes, and like a slide the other times.

I close my eyes to try and map what the inner eye dictates in response to the harmony. My mind transports me to animated films of the 1990s which boasted of a similar operatic music in the background. The cartoon characters thumpe their way through boundless snow to Far Far Away as the horn, the piano and the well-meaning lady lead them on.

When I propel myself back into the present, I come to know that Rozario is explaining what the next song is about. “A boy’s family wonders about his newfound love for goats. They are confused, why he takes the herd for grazing every now and then. But it’s not the goats. The boy is in love. He is in love with a girl who herds goats too. But they cannot meet each other as a large hill separates them. So they merely sing out loud and once they get a similar reply from the other side, they realise that their love has arrived.”

royal opera house 2

Rozario then allows her voice to walk us through the hills. As it travels across the ups and downs, without a quiver, life in a hilly area seems pleasant. Her voice then perches on the top of the damned hill that divides the lovers. It goes on to serve as the mediator and delivers the boy’s message to girl and the vice versa.

My mind takes a flight of its own. What if the girl does not turn up one day? What if the boy’s rhythmic advances are met by the sound of silence? But Rozario’s voice, moments after it shook me out of my complacency, lulls me into believing that there will never be silence. There will be an echo which will always return the favour.

I am, once again, extradited from my la la land when the thunderous applause salutes the artists on stage. As the lady in red bows in response, I freeze the moment in my head. The sight of a sari-clad soprano shall always remind me of the times I have restricted the creativity of my imagination.

And her operatic rendition may not remind me of a ’90s animated movie anymore. Henceforth, I may get reminded of a young goat-herder who wonders what the girl on the other side of the hill, with a voice as melodious as a harp, would look like. It’s not always the looks that are deceptive.


Facebook Comments