27 October, 2020

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Kishani Jayasinghe Treads The German Trail

By Tennyson Rodrigo

On the evening of 4th April 2016 the auditorium of the Russian Cultural Centre was adorned by an angelic entry of two bright stars in Colombo’s musical skyline. Donned in a dazzling pleated dress as befits an operatic soprano, Kishani Jayasinghe appeared from the right while Soundarie David in a flowingly elegant saree sneaked in unobtrusively from the left and hid beside the piano.

The program was the second in a series of classical music recitals that Kishani has undertaken to present in order to entertain, educate and kindle interest among Sri Lankan audiences in the high art of classical singing. The repertoire was mainly Lieder, typically 19th century German art- song bearing a poetic text. It turned out to be high class and yet, thanks to Kishani’s dual role of singer and presenter, the atmosphere was intimate, informal and inspiring.

Homage To Strauss

In the pantheon of Lieder composers Richard Strauss, like Gustav Mahler, is often placed somewhat apart from the big four—Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Hugo Wolf. Indeed, Schubert created some 600 hundred lieder most of which have never been surpassed in beauty and voice/piano coordination.

Kishani JayasingheStrauss was given a gift that most great classical composers were sadly denied—health and longevity. He died in 1949 in the twentieth century at the age of 85 (Schubert died aged 31, Mozart aged 35, Schumann aged 46 and Brahms aged 64). Strauss composed 16 operas and is regarded as one of the two greatest operatic composers of the twentieth century, the other being Puccini.

Strauss’s wife was an accomplished singer and it was from her that Strauss discovered most about the intrinsic quality and scope of the female voice. The great majority of the 200 songs Strauss wrote were intended for soprano voices and they were written over several decades of his prolific compositional carrier. Strauss’s final work “Four Last Songs” is an eloquent meditation on a peaceful death. Barely a year later Strauss died in Garmisch, Switzerland, where he lived in retirement.

It’s fair to say that Strauss’s lieder are a veritable paradise for sopranos. Perhaps this explains why Kishani paid homage to him by dedicating the lion share of her song-selection for the evening’s recital. From what I can recall (vaguely) Kishani’s choice of Straussian songs included Zueignung (1885, “Dedication”), Beim Schlafengehen (1948, “When falling asleep”), and Morgen (1894, “Tomorrow”). For serious music lovers it was a rare treat to hear and see an accomplished artist profoundly expressing her heart and soul to these songs which are deeply personal to the composer’s life.

Atonality Simplified

Atonality has been a vexed question even for composers and music theorists. The ordinary uninitiated listener therefore has considerable trouble in appreciating atonal music without help. Kishani adopted a simple way of conditioning the audience to cope with Alban Berg’s lieder “Nacht”. She suggested that if the listeners hear something wrong with Nacht, then they are hearing it right. Though I am more in love with tonality and heard nothing wrong with Bergs’ Nacht I might have been in the happy middle ground of a synthesized hybrid.

Soundarie David

Soundarie David

Before transitioning from pure song to operatic arias Kishani had a point to make about singing German opera. The comment, though made light-heartedly, need not be taken too lightly. She alluded to the French being a bit elastic when it comes to ‘song and wine’. Not so said she when it comes to singing an operatic aria in German; there is no permitted deviation from full-bloodedness and blood-redness. Two arias one from Mozart’s Magic Flute and the other from a Korngold opera were sung with authority and precision.

A Developing Collaboration 

In voice/piano partnership the pianist’s role isn’t secondary and is even more than complementary. Kishani exemplified this in one of her songs that did not end with the completion of her vocalization. Whilst the voice remained silent the piano maintained the continuum until any unfulfilled anticipations or ambiguities were peacefully resolved. Rehearsing, discussing ideas and playing together allow the vocalist and pianist to thrive as a collaborating partnership. In this series of recitals Soundarie David with her untiring commitment and versatility has been Kishani’s settled accompanist. Their partnership is crucial to the new journey to kindle appreciation in serious music.

The Power Of Song And The Promise

Ultimately, all music comes from vocal music and hence from the human voice. And the power of song is uniquely expressive and multi-layered in that, unlike the piano, violin, or any other musical instrument, it has three ingredients: a story; a tune and a language in which the story is told, even if that language is unintelligible or nonsensical.

To be an accomplished soprano it is not sufficient to be able to sing a song. Kishani I believe is fluent in some eight languages and that in itself is not sufficient. The voice is a tone-generating instrument which has the power to couple tones with words and their components, vowels and consonants.

The auditorium of the Russian Cultural Centre is a compact space that at times was sharply pierced by the bountiful reserves of power in Kishani’s voice. Her chosen repertoire was a sumptuous bagful that allowed her to traverse her range with ease and darken or lighten the voice expressively and control the dynamics to produce a variety of colour.

Thus far Kishani has successfully entertained her Colombo audiences with art-songs in two cultured European languages. The several rounds of applause at the end of her lieder recital were not successful in coercing her to give an encore but instead she had a surprise of a different kind. The opportunity was grasped to foretell the audience that her next recital will comprise Italian songs. And declaring in a mood of exuberance “who could be more Italian than Puccini”, she launched into his beloved aria “O mio babbino caro” (Oh My Beloved Father) from the opera “Gianni Schicchi”.

This turned out to be much more than a glimpse of Kishani’s forthcoming repertoire. Instead, the rapt attention, allure and lyrical beauty were intoxicating. As it ended my fragile feet spontaneously lifted my body and the worn out vocal chords uttered Bravo!

*The writer can be contacted at rodrigot@lankacom.net

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  • 5
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    Well written TR. Indeed proud that Kishani of SL breed possessing such talent. Hope will get a chance to see her performance.

  • 4
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    Tennyson Rodrigo

    RE: Kishani Jayasinghe Treads The German Trail

    “To be an accomplished soprano it is not sufficient to be able to sing a song. Kishani I believe is fluent in some eight languages and that in itself is not sufficient. The voice is a tone-generating instrument which has the power to couple tones with words and their components, vowels and consonants.”

    Thanks. Let Kishani Jayasinghe’s talents be known,in her own country.

    Kishani Jayasinghe Lungi da te mio bene from Mozarts Mitridate

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hfflyc45AJE

    • 4
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      Dear Amarasiri,

      You say, ” Let Kishani Jayasinghe’s talents be known, in her own country.”

      Fine, but how are we to ensure this? I’ve just telephoned my carpenter, Guneris, and read out to him the Sinhalese comment which has been put on YouTube (reader, you first have to click to get in to the Mozart aria). What poor Guneris will make of it tomorrow I shudder to think!

      I had been putting on some Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert symphonies while the guy was replacing my kitchen roof. He was saying he couldn’t understand all that, and requesting the stilling of the symphony orchestras was putting on the little radios in my kitchen in the hope that he would hear some of his favourite Jothipala and Victor Ratnayake songs.

      Poor Guneris! I had taught the guy English in Malitta M.V. Pattiyagedera (now where is that?) in 1973, and I think that he imagined that he’d done with my eccentricities. (It goes without saying that he knows little English, with me having been his teacher!)

      I hope that I find the time to tell you tomorrow what the guy’s reaction has been!

      • 4
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        My carpenter, Guneris now says, after I put Kishani J.’s Independence Day “Danno Budunge” that he had heard it live that day, it was interestingly different.

        However, he was totally upset by the Mozart aria yesterday, and today, after listening to a minute demanded that Kishani be turned off. I’ll translate some of the things that he said:

        “We don’t understand all this. The voice should be lowered and it should be sung “layaanwithawa”. (I don’t know the English word for this.) These sounds do not suit us. Please listen to how Latha Walpola, Malkanthi Nandasiri, and Niranjala Sarojini sing. However, the singer herself is a most attractive woman.”

        And thinking that I would put the Mitridate aria on again, he’s bolted without having had his tea (it was approaching 5.00 p.m.).

        So much, dear Amarasiri (and also Native Vedda, if you are around) for trying to introduce Mozart operas to Sinhala “godayas”!

        • 2
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          Sinhala_Man

          “Poor Guneris! I had taught the guy English in Malitta M.V. Pattiyagedera (now where is that?) in 1973, and I think that he imagined that he’d done with my eccentricities. (It goes without saying that he knows little English, with me having been his teacher!)”

          An Alternative View on Studies, College Studies, an American View!

          The Most Worthless College Majors

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sOeLUCeDsA

          “…Please listen to how Latha Walpola, Malkanthi Nandasiri, and Niranjala Sarojini sing. However, the singer herself is a most attractive woman.””

          He, Guneris, knows where he gets value, based on his upbringing and background.

  • 7
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    Another triumph for collaboration between the races. Kishani is Sinhalese while Soundarie is Tamil.

    Racists on CT take note.

    A few other young people from “hybrid” backgrounds who have done our country proud:

    Shyam Selvadurai (sinhala mother, tamil father)
    Nimmi Harasgama (tamil mother, sinhala father)

    and not so young:
    DB Nihlasinha (tamil mother, sinhala father)

    There are many many more ordinary people in Sri Lanka who are also of mixed parentage contributing to the welfare of all in the island.

    Let us take inspiration from them, and stop the squabbling and work towards marginalizing the ultra-nationalists and foster peace and prosperity.

    • 4
      1

      sinhalese buddhist

      “Another triumph for collaboration between the races. Kishani is Sinhalese while Soundarie is Tamil. Racists on CT take note.”

      Yes, both are Paras from India, Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamils, in the Land of native Veddah Aethho. Check their DNA>

      Reference:

      Mitochondrial DNA history of Sri Lankan ethnic people: their relations within the island and with the Indian subcontinental populations

      Journal of Human Genetics (2014) 59, 28–36; doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.112; published online 7 November 2013

      http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v59/n1/full/jhg2013112a.html

      Through a comparison with the mtDNA HVS-1 and part of HVS-2 of Indian database, both Tamils and Sinhalese clusters were affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka.

      Dawkins Drops the Bomb. The Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamils are From India and Africa,

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0sszxXlzlY

      • 0
        0

        [Edited out]

      • 5
        0

        Dear Amarasiri,

        I’m no nearer finding out who you are, but you are brilliant.

        But how many of us take you seriously enough to follow these links that you provide.

        I’ve just followed your links to Dawkins. It may not have much to do with Kishani Jayasinghe, but it is so necessary for us to understand the truth of what Dawkins says here.

        I’m putting this comment in hoping that other readers, too, may spend five minutes attentively watching this.

        Thanks, Amarasiri.

        • 3
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          Sinhala_Man

          “I’m putting this comment in hoping that other readers, too, may spend five minutes attentively watching this.”

          There are a lot of things people are not aware of or so not not want to accept because of brainwashing.

          Two important Religions philosophers who tried are Averroes and Aquinas. They were promoting Reason and Natural Philosophy over Revelation, favored by the religious establishment for obvious reasons. How many Catholics and Muslims really know about the the above two? Only a few.

          PHILOSOPHY – Thomas Aquinas

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJvoFf2wCBU

          Published on Apr 15, 2016
          Thomas Aquinas deserves to be remembered for reconciling faith with reason, thereby saving Western civilisation from turning its back on science and Greek and Roman wisdom.

        • 3
          0

          Sinhala_Man

          Let’s see. Who knows religion. Let’s see who knows the Heavens. How do the Sri Lankans compare?

          Are religious Americans really this stupid?
          Uploaded on Sep 29, 2010
          September 28, 2010 on CNN

          So, the people who understand religion the best are the ones who think it’s horseshit? Why am I not surprised?

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wifUXxsOPMA

          1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says

          http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says

          What Americans Don’t Know About Science
          On a recent survey, just 74 percent of Americans said that the Earth revolves around the sun.

          http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/02/what-americans-dont-know-about-science/283864/

  • 4
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    It’s kind of grand that Sri Lanka has a beautiful voice as that of Kishani Jayasinghe’s.

  • 8
    0

    Good heavens! Such sophisticated performance of German lieder in Sri Lanka, after all our barbaric wars! No this just can’t be; I must be dreaming.

    Then again, being a village man (with no “International Experience” as Dr Gnana Sankaralingam had said somewhere two days ago), I know little of the technicalities of music, although I do love some of those Schubert “songs”. But I hadn’t realised that Richard Strauss (be careful Tennyson Rodrigo, some may imagine it was the waltz king, Johann Strauss!) had composed so much lieder. I was most aware that he had blotted his copybook by collaborating with the Nazi’s.

    So, it may be that the “Danno Budunge” shocks administered to all of us village yokels in Sri Lanka has done us some good. The average Sri Lankan may at long last realise that there is culture other than that belonging to “us Sinhalese”; usually such realisation is accompanied by a renewed and keener awareness of the value of our own culture.

  • 1
    0

    Let alone Guneris, the post-1956 ‘varsity’ educated Sinhala intelligentsia know no leider or Opera (including the Peking variety). I bet most of the ‘pos’ Colombo jet set dont listen to da Opera either. Therein lies the cause of the feverish reaction to Kishani’s Dunna Budunge. It was hypocritical of those who shouted kodev mansaikathwaya and disparaged Guneris. No (almost) Sri Lankan radio plays opera. And very little classical music is aired on radio. So in my opinion the Independence day (which is Guneris and other post-1956 peoples day) was the wrong audience, wrong occasion to trot out Kishani to educate the masses about opera and high art. Her natural habitat is the Russian Cultural Centre, Colombo 7. If you want to educate the masses, start by playing some light classical on radio, teaching/introducing Guneris’son and daughter about other musical traditions at school.

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