She actually got into singing by accident. She was supposed to be a lawyer, and she was studying commercial Law in the UK. “Then I met this teacher, Pamela Cook, who suggested that I should try singing. One thing led to another, and I won a scholarship at the Royal Academy to get into music school. After four years of study, I went into the Royal Opera House as the only female to get in that year. It was a really exciting time,” says Kishani Jayasinghe.
For her, more than anything else, the journey as an opera singer has been interesting.”It was a very different kind of work and everything was different. All in all, I have had a great time. It was wonderful. I never dreamed of being a singer before this. It was never my plan. I was always very traditional professions-oriented,” says Kishani.
She was simultaneously studying law and attending music school. Kishani says that she has always managed to balance different things together. “Even when I was at school at Visakha Vidyalaya, I was head girl. I was national rowing champion, I was doing debating, I was in the choir, dancing, tennis and all at the same time. It was never an issue for me. I think when you are most busy, you do the best,” she declares.
Training to get into music school was a lot more challenging in so many different ways. Kishani says that at Law School one just studies whereas at music school one trains a talent. “I love the legal background because it has helped me learn how to be a better artiste,” says Kishani.
According to her, during her training as an opera singer she had to study for four or five hundred volumes, always in some foreign language. One has to be able to study a language and one has to be able to study music. “Then, in an opera, there are different artists, stage crew, a conductor, props, different hair and different costumes. Also, you are acting, singing or dancing at the same time,” she elaborates rather excitedly.
Kishani says that Italian and French are the base of most European romantic operas that suit her best and that Italian is one of the most beautiful languages to sing in. In order to learn Italian, she travelled to Italy for a couple of months and lived with an Italian family that spoke no English.”I spoke no Italian and it was very frustrating in the beginning but after a while I learnt,” she says. She also says that she can always understand everything she sings. Kishani could also speak a little French and has sung in 10 different languages so far.
Kishani believes that she got into singing opera than anything else because of her voice lending itself to opera rather than to anything else. “It’s the tone of voice and it goes more with an operatic instrument than with anything else. The quality and colour of my voice is more suitable for opera,” she says. She has always loved opera and has grown up listening to opera records and she believes that opera is really a part of her world.
She says that it is always with pride and honour that she represents her country as the only Sri Lankan operatic singer on foreign stages.” I am very patriotic,” she says.
After 17 years, she has come back to Sri Lanka, after travelling around the world.”It sounds so glamorous but it is actually a lot of hard work. My husband is very supportive and we wanted to find a way for both of us to do what we do while letting our children find solid ground and knowing what their roots are. I still travel abroad for work,” she said.
One thing Kishani always wanted to do was to bring opera home. She believes that coming back has given het that opportunity. She has founded the Colombo Opera Company and they are going to do the first production in March 2017 and hopes to hold an opera every year after that.
The piece is The Merry Widow, which was originally written in German, but the show is based on a English translation. “There will be dancing, singing, beautiful costumes and beautiful music. I wanted the story to be something people could enjoy, that has the right look, right picture. I always want every single person in my audience to leave after experiencing something they loved,” Kishani adds.
According to her, the show would showcase professional opera singers combined with local talent. There is opportunity for Sri Lankans to partake in the opera production and Kishani requests those interested to contact the Colombo Opera Company.
She has already started teaching at Sooriya Village. Her aim is to teach the children mainly about the beauty of the voice and using it for performance. “These are not just singing classes. I want to teach them how to become a better performer and how to be more confident. If you develop a love for music, it carries you through life,” she declares. She is also scheduled to a recital at the upcoming Galle Literature Festival next year with the chamber society orchestra.
Out of all her musical achievements, she is mostly proud of having the courage to become an artist. She says that if she were to pick one achievement that was to change the course of her life it has to be getting into the Young Artists Programme at Covent Garden, which is one of the best opera houses in the world. “I was the only female singer to be selected from thousands of other people around the world. It was the day I realized that I could really do this professionally,” she said with pride.
She plays the piano and has played a bit of chello. She has also written two songs and recorded it.” If you have music in your soul, it finds you. I didn’t go looking for all this, but it actually found me at the most unexpected moment,” she reveals.
Speaking about the aftermath of the Danno Budunge incident, she says that in the end it was alright because it actually started a conversation. She says that everybody is entitled to an opinion and that’s totally fine. “Perhaps it should have been voiced in a different way. The greatest thing is one of our oldest songs had a new lease of life. Everybody said that it was most popular ever in the history of song. Trending Google and being searched all over the world. It’s an extraordinary thing, which started just because of social media,” she says.
She believes that as an artistte one has to take the praise with the blame. She also thinks that it’s wonderful that it got people thinking, talking and analysing about who we are and where we come from. “All these questions that we haven’t asked for a very long time were asked by extraordinary people, at so many levels, in so many different ways. The thing that made me so much amused was that I put so much thought into even my dress and I chose red and gold to represent the colours of the national flag. However, now all that is over. What remains in the end of it is the momentum for people to be interested. People know the word opera and they are talking about music so it was never a bad thing,” she says.