On 3 June 2012, a gigantic flotilla of boats (a record-breaking number of over a thousand) floated down the Thames in a pageant to honour Elizabeth I, Queen of England on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of her coronation. It was the biggest spectacle the historic river had seen in over 350 years.
Goan-origin Mumbai lad Oscar Castellino was among a clutch of singers handpicked to be in the choir of the prestigious Royal College of Music to serenade the Queen and to lead the British nation in the national anthem (“God save the Queen”) at this momentous event.
It was an unexpected honour that the 26-year old baritone could scarcely have imagined, considering that he had begun taking classical music seriously barely two years ago, when he signed up for the “Giving Voice to India” voice-training program conducted by the acclaimed soprano Patricia Rozario, and pianist-broadcaster Mark Troop, in Mumbai. The experienced pedagogue Rozario spotted Castellino’s potential at once. “I have been impressed with his progress and commitment. Oscar is hardworking and quick at learning music, good at languages and possesses an excellent memory”.
He successfully auditioned last September for admission into the Royal College of Music, one of only ten applicants from around the globe, and the only Indian among them. That in itself was something to make his family proud. But the invitation to participate in the Jubilee pageant took him completely by surprise.
Castellino’s mother Osmita whose native village is Curtorim and who now lives in Mumbai, “didn’t expect to see him live on international television, singing at such an historic event within just nine months of leaving for England to study music.”
The choir and musicians were singled out by the media, especially the BBC, (click here to watch video interview of Oscar) for their heroic stoicism in braving the elements on a typically British rainy day, performing for close to five hours in these conditions.
The music they sang was quintessentially British as well: Sir Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem; Land of Hope and Glory, set to music by Edward Elgar; Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia. They also sang “Singin’ in the rain” from the eponymous musical whenever the skies opened particularly spectacularly.
Castellino has worked hard to get to where he is. A software analyst by profession before he took the plunge into singing, he took language courses to improve his ability to sing the classical repertoire, which is largely in Italian, German and French. He widened his knowledge of the operatic repertory by listening to full operas, having downloaded translations of their libretti.
“This is quite exceptional commitment in any terms, but more so in a student coming from India, where there is so little emphasis on western music, still less on song and opera”, says Troop.
Castellino’s experiences in his new “home” city London, and now his participation in the Royal Pageant, are also tinged with a little poignancy. His father Edmund (whose native village in Goa is Assagão) passed away last year. “He was a history teacher, and possessed a deep knowledge of British history and its monarchy”, Oscar reminisces.
Castellino therefore is particularly proud to have been “an Indian part of a historic moment in British history”. It seems that history, either the teaching or the making of it, is in the Castellino genes.
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 15 June 2012)