After17 years studying and working from London as a professional soprano, Kishani Jayasinghe has moved back to Sri Lanka with a mission to transform the prospects for classical vocal music and opera here By Namali Premawardhana “I was in England for 17 years and it’s enough. It’s time now that something comes back here.” Kishani [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

They all talk of home, but Kishani walks the talk


After17 years studying and working from London as a professional soprano, Kishani Jayasinghe has moved back to Sri Lanka with a mission to transform the prospects for classical vocal music and opera here

By Namali Premawardhana

“I was in England for 17 years and it’s enough. It’s time now that something comes back here.”
Kishani Jayasinghe, globally acclaimed and internationally awarded soprano, has brought her mischievous grin, her unquenched enthusiasm and her passion to do great things, home to Sri Lanka.

Kishani has played leading roles in some of the best loved operas including ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, ‘Don Giovanni’ and ‘The Magic Flute’ around the world, but there is now a greater vision she seeks than merely the glory of the stage.
“I spent nothing for 13 years of the best state school education, so I have to put something back into this society,” she says of her mother-isle. “England was wonderful, it gave me a lot as an artist and a performer, but I pay my dues at home.”

How she plans to give back is by creating an audience sensibility towards vocal music and opera; building an audience to help Sri Lanka on its way to becoming the cultural hub of the region. She has recently been doing more work in Singapore, China, Hongkong, Thailand and Japan, she says, and sees a distinct growth of interest in opera in these nations.

“I feel it’s the right direction,” she says, “I feel it’s the right time.”
On the pathway to creating the kind of atmosphere that will draw these nations’ eyes and ears to Sri Lanka in search of world-class opera, Kishani’s first step is to help make classical vocal music more popular here at home.

“My vision is to create awareness and bring a love and understanding for classical music – vocal music in particular.”
Kishani is surprised and disheartened by the widely-held view that classical vocal music is only for the initiated. Part of the thinking behind the “Royally Classical” series she has been conducting with Soundarie David Rodrigo since February is that by educating and enlightening the audience about what is performed, i.e.: providing clues to better understand the music and the language, the music will be made more approachable.
“Royally Classical” is only one of many, many projects Kishani has recently undertaken, with this aim in mind. Very soon, she will also begin weekly vocal training sessions with youngsters aged 4-7, 8-11 and 12-14.

As a youngster, Kishani was always interested in the opera, and being able to sing. Her whole family was musically inclined, and this played a major role in her decision to pursue a career on the same lines.

“My friends would go for pop concerts, and we had to go for the orchestra concert!” she laughs, reminiscing. “But it shapes you. I grew up listening to opera and all these amazing singers as a child, so there was a tendency to be more aligned with that kind of music.”

She expects that by conducting these sessions and encouraging children and teenagers to learn and appreciate classical vocal music, she will lay a similar foundation for them, as she was given by her family. Later on, she hopes, Kandy, Galle, Jaffna and other locations will become part of this grand scheme.
Another activity she enjoys, particularly because of her engagement with a unique collection of people from across the island, is the University of Visual and Performing Arts. Here, she teaches a vocal opera performance class to undergraduates whose main exposure is eastern classical music.

These seemingly random projects, and her frequent travels abroad to continue performing on world-famous stages, all do in fact connect.
Even during her tenure living in London, Kishani made it a point to perform in Sri Lanka at least annually, and will continue doing so. But next year, she is planning for “something extra”. The smaller projects are all cogs of a great machine, already in place and soon to begin turning, when the Colombo Orchestra Company starts rehearsing for a full opera. The show will feature internationally acclaimed artists, directors and musicians, as well as local performers, musicians and designers.

“We want to make something special,” she says, her eyes sparkling at the prospect. “It will be fun, entertaining, glamorous, and beautiful music!”
The opera project will most definitely not be easy, she adds, quoting Kiri TeKanawa, one of the most successful sopranos of our time: “It’s fashionable to say I’m a classical singer or a pop singer, but to call yourself an opera singer, you really have to earn it.”

For Kishani, this meant 12 years of training in London where she not only cultivated and honed her natural vocal capabilities further, but also learned the discipline required of the craft. Projecting 400 pages of music in a foreign language, over a full orchestra, across an auditorium packed with 3-4,000 people, with costumes, props and every other theatrical device to think of, is no small feat.

With a young family and only so many hours in a day, the task ahead is undeniably daunting. But the singer/advocate/entrepreneur will not stop.
“I think you have to do everything that you have to do to make the art form great,” she says. “You have to be an educator, you have to be a pioneer, you have to be a performer, you have to be an adventurist, you have to be somebody who’s willing to try.”

Events in November
The first weekly session on classical vocal performance for children and teenagers by Kishani Jayasinghe in collaboration with the Colombo Opera Company will take place at The Sooriya Village on November 5, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The programme will entail not only singing, but also the development of all aspects of the voice in relation to performance. As such, it will include speech, confidence when presenting on stage, vocal modulation, the ability to positively hold the interested of the audience, improvisation and many other aspects of performance.

Call the Colombo Opera Company hotline: 0718867071 or email: for registration and further information.
“Classically Italian,” part of the “Royally Classical” series with Kishani and pianist Soundari David Rodrigo will take place at The Russian Cultural Centre on Thursday, November 10 at 7.30 p.m.

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