In conversation with Anando Mukerjee- India’s first and only Operatic Tenor

India boasts of several culturally rich music traditions and talented musicians. One of the rarest forms to be found in the country, Opera is gaining popularity and Anando Mukerjee is a pioneer in bringing Operatic music to us. He is India’s first male Tenor and is best known for a range of roles of some of opera’s most well-known characters, including Rodolfo, the Duke of Mantua, Pinkerton and Nemorino; and appeared at leading international venues including the Belgrade National Opera, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall and the Kennedy Center. We caught up with Anando in Delhi and discussed his past present and future.

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  • Opera as a music form is very rare in India. How did you get introduced to the form?

I come from a musical family. My mother’s a trained western classical pianist and she introduced me to Western music from my infancy. Music was always being played in the house either with my mother playing the piano, or on the record player or on the wireless. These were the seeds that were sown in my consciousness. During my prep-school days in England and on my return to India where I completed secondary school, I used to hear operatic music on the television and All India Radio lunchtime broadcasts respectively, quite by chance. But these chance encounters were instrumental in introducing me and hooking me onto Opera.

  • Are you trained in Hindustani classical music? If yes, did it help you train better for Operatic singing?

No. But my father’s family is steeped in Hindustani classical music. My Kaka babu, Pandit Amit Mukerjee is one of India’s most distinguished practitioners of Khayal of the Indore gharana tradition of Ustad Amir Khan Saheb. Besides this the greatest figures of Hindustani classical music such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Bahadur Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Gyan Gosh, Allaudin Khan and Begum Akhtar were among the gurus and friends of my family. So with this background while I never formally learned the Hindustani tradition I was sort of drip fed it incidentally and it has had a great subliminal influence on my own operatic training particularly in my melodic and intuitive sensibilities for which I’m indebted eternally.

  • Tell us about the various roles you’ve sung for.

I’ve been privileged enough to have sung some of the greatest Italian and French tenor roles including Rodolfo, the Duke, Alfredo, Pinkerton, Nemorino and Don Jose. These form the mainstay of the 19th century Bel Canto & Romantic periods as well as the Verismo period of the 20th century. I’ve also made forays into the Baroque repertoire with roles such as Jephtha as well as modern 21st Century opera such as Tobias in Jonathan Dove’s eponymous opera.

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  • Where was your first show? How did it shape your career?

My very first principal role was Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme at the Belgrade National Opera, Serbia. It was arranged on the recommendation of my HRH Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia, a personal friend. It was a magical experience and one which I will never forget. It was on the 8th April 1996 which was not only my mother’s birthday but also the birthday of my idol Franco Corelli, one of the greatest Italian tenors. Also Mario del Monaco, another great tenor’s son, was present in the audience! It was a trail by fire but despite the enormous challenges was an unforgettable experience with many important lessons regarding the entire preparation that goes in to present a role on stage. Lessons which have remained with me to this day.

  • What other genres of music do you enjoy? Do you also sing/play any of the ones you enjoy?

At this point I have to confess my secret passion – Jazz and Classic pop of the ’20s to the ’70s encompassing the golden era of Hollywood, Broadway and Tin Pan Alley i.e. The Great American Songbook. I absolutely adore this kind of music and all the nostalgia it evokes of a bygone age of unparalleled sophistication, style & romance.

I’m always humming and singing this music at home but as yet never really performed it seriously in public. However I do intend to now make discreet forays into this genre in select nightclubs/venues at home and abroad.

  • What are your favourite venues to perform?

Without a doubt the NCPA in Bombay – my artistic home. The Wigmore Hall and the Kennedy Center are close seconds

  • If there was one place you could perform in Delhi, what would it be?

The Kamani Auditorium – it’s a marvellous space.

  • Does Delhi offer any avenues for Opera training?

Yes. Situ Singh Beuhler for many years and still today was the leading vocal pedagogue in Delhi and produced many fine singers whom she mentored. The Neemrana Foundation as well as the Strings Academy also impart valuable training for students wanting to learn and perform opera.

  • We hear you’re working on an album for the Indian audience. How and why did you plan to release it in Hindi and Urdu?

Opera is performed in every major European language including Czech, Hungarian, Finnish & Russian which are among the most difficult languages to speak and enunciate. Performing then in the Indian vernacular tongues should pose no problem at all because they are naturally such musical languages. Music is the universal language without any boundaries least of all linguistic versions with the standard operatic repertoire being sung in the West in local translations from the original texts. For all of these reasons opera should be performed in India on our own languages so that it has a genuine indigenous narrative. Only then will the vast majority of our countrymen really appreciate opera but also it would be our contribution to the art form internationally.

Watch some of Anando’s finest performances here and here.

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