Patricia Rozario, soprano

Goan-origin and critically-acclaimed soprano and pedagogue Patricia Rozario is due to receive the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal College of Music (FRCM) in the spring of 2013. She will be in Goa from 26-30 July 2012 to conduct the next course of the Giving Voice to India project. She spoke to the Navhind Times in an exclusive interview.

1. Congratulations on your latest honour, Ms. Rozario! All Goa is thrilled for you, and proud of you. Would you like to tell us a little about how you got the news?

The letter from the Committee of the Royal College of Music informing me that their President the Prince of Wales had chosen me to accept the Fellowship arrived in the post just before I was leaving to come to India. I had a concert out of London prior to that, and my son had to get ready for a trip to Germany. In all the chaos, I realized I hadn’t dropped an acknowledgement and acceptance letter in the post, and had to do this at Heathrow, after check-in! I wasn’t sure if there’d be a post-box after check-in, but thankfully there was!

2. You are only the second Indian to receive this honour after Zubin Mehta. Furthermore, you now join a hallowed list of musical giants that have received the title before you: Richard Strauss, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten, Arnold Bax, Artur Rubinstein, Arturo Toscanini, Nadia Boulanger, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Placido Domingo, Claudio Abbado… a veritable who’s who of classical music over the last century and a half. How does it feel?

After I got the intimation, I did some research online, and I am overwhelmed to be in such a list. I adore the music of Richard Strauss and love to sing his Lieder (songs) and operas, for example. The thought that he came to London to receive this same honour makes me feel extremely humble.

3. But it is well-deserved, nevertheless. The Fellowship is bestowed “to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to life at the Royal College of Music and the wider musical community” to quote from their webpage.

Over the years, I have sung extensively at major concert halls across the world, and have a sizeable body of work in terms of my recordings and commitment to excellence.

I am now in my seventh year of teaching at the RCM. I have also worked on several projects with them. At the moment there’s an exciting project taking shape, highlighting the works of composer Hans Gál, of Austro-German and Jewish origin, who had sought refuge in England. He was nevertheless incarcerated as a precaution on account of his German origin at the Isle of Man during the Second World War and wrote some wonderful music while there.

I have been teaching students from all over the world: Japan, Korea, Sweden, France, Canada, the UK and the US. I am happy to say that my students from India have been wonderful. Goa’s Joanne D’Mello did so brilliantly, and both the Principal and the Head of Singing at the RCM were so pleased with her progress. Oscar Castellino has just got a first class mark in his recent exam, and is shaping very nicely indeed.

4. Your "Giving Voice to India" project is doing very well! It’s three years old now, isn’t it? You’ve now branched out into a few more cities. What are your thoughts about the shape the project is taking? 

I am really thrilled by the progress we’ve made in India. We focus on small groups of 10-15 at a time, and work with them over time to help them develop their voices. We started in Mumbai and Goa in December 2009, and are now extending out to other cities. We’ve added Pune to the map last April and will now go to Ahmedabad as well.

In each place, we have been pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the voices we’ve found. These are really great voices that need developing.

At the recently-concluded Con Brio festival in Mumbai this month, seven of my students sang highlights from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and so marvellously at that. I was so pleased when choral directors in Mumbai came backstage to compliment me on their really beautiful singing.

Two of my students, from Bangalore and Mumbai, will now come to London to audition for the post-graduate course in Voice at the RCM.

5. There’s also an exciting new choral and ensemble singing direction that "Giving Voice to India" is taking, isn’t it? This will raise the bar not only for solo voices, but for choirs too. Perhaps we will soon see a home-grown, all-Indian opera production, soloists and chorus, in the not-too-distant future?  

It will take time, and it’s early days, but yes it is a distinct possibility. Such a production will incorporate local talent on the ground as well as those who grew up in India but have trained abroad (e.g. Joanne D’Mello, Amar Muchhala, etc). One can’t rush the process. I want to raise the standard so that it is on par with the rest of the world.

6. How does Goa stand vis-a-vis Mumbai and other cities on the "Giving Voice to India" map? In terms of enthusiasm, potential, commitment, diligence?

In Goa, participants have taken longer to commit. Initially we had just a handful that stayed the course and kept coming back. Mumbai on the other hand being a cosmopolitan city has been so much better in this respect. And not surprisingly, those who made the commitment have made really great strides in their development.

Things have gotten so much better after my student Faye Monteiro was appointed as Faculty in the Voice Department of the Kala Academy. There’s a batch of fresh young voices who really understand what Giving Voice to India is all about, and they will develop in the right way. One will not need to spend time having to undo bad habits picked up along the way. Even in Mumbai, I have designated two teachers to keep the singers going and ensuring that there is consistency in the method and the level of teaching, and that they go forward with me. The ideas of the some of their former teachers are very old-fashioned and needed to be updated.

7. It is certainly the experience in Goa that our very gifted young musicians have had to go to the UK or Europe to get trained to the highest standard.  How can we create an environment and opportunities in India for our youth, so that a talented singer can pursue his/her voice training to such high standards, and then make a decent living from it? We just do not have such a milieu right now. 

We have recently created the “Giving Voice to India” society, comprising seven people. We are compiling a list of music festivals around the country. We need to give young singing talent the hope and optimism that they can have a platform to show off their voice to the highest level, and that they can earn a decent living from it too.

We need to build infrastructure for this too. The schools and centres for music have to work on incorporating movement and dance as well. All this will happen in good time. There needs to be consistency and continuity.

One needs to lay a rock-solid foundation, and then build upon it. For this, continuity is key.

I worry about the trend in India where resource persons come in, give a few sporadic masterclasses, and then leave. There could be far more harm than good, from this.

8. You’ll be pleased to hear that the Kala Academy has recently announced their keenness to widen the horizons of western classical music in Goa.

I’m delighted to hear this! I’m very excited at the possibilities this will open up. 

9. Do you plan to have any concerts in Goa in the near future?

We’re planning to bring in a youth choir from London, the Westminster Chamber Choir, in October 2013. This will be a collaborative venture with singing talent from India as well. Their music director will come earlier to work with the choir in Mumbai, to instruct them on matters of technique and interpretation. We want to take the choir on tour to Mumbai, Goa, Pune and Delhi.

There are other projects being planned too, so the future does look bright!


(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 26 July 2012)