Ragas, ghazals and opera
Peerzada Salman and Madeeha Syed
KARACHI: The last set of the National Academy of Performing Arts classical music shows as part of its second annual festival ended with Napa students presenting some famous ghazals composed in afternoon ragas on Sunday.
Noted music composer Arshad Mahmud briefed the audience on the very few afternoon ragas that existed and the ghazals made popular by the legends like Mehdi Hasan and Farida Khanum.
He then invited the first Napa student, Farrukh, to sing ‘Ay meri jaan-i-ghazal’ in raga bilawal. Farrukh sang a little away from the microphone which was why he sounded less audible than the musicians. Next up was Haroon who sang two pieces, ‘Honton pe kabhi unn ke’ and ‘Mehfil to anjabi thi’. The young man sang with zeal and tried hard to do justice to the tunes. Haroon was followed by Iqra who crooned out ‘Shab-i-gham mujh se mil ker’ composed in raga bhimpilasi.
Then a bit more difficult compositions were presented. Ahsan Shabbir sang Ghailb’s known ghazal ‘Dil-i-nadaan tujhe hua kia hai’ in raga shudh sarang. He should be commended for attempting such a track but went a little overboard in order to depict the correct mood of the raga.
Iram Nafees performed two pieces. Her first ghazal was ‘Teri nazar hai mera dil hai’ which she sang quite well, especially her rendition of the second line of the first couplet (matla) was beautiful. The singer is improving by the day. She needs to work on the range of her voice though. Her next number was Parveen Shakir’s ‘Woh to khushbu hai’ in raga madhvanti.
Nadir Abbas sang Hasrat Mohani’s tour de force ghazal ‘Roshan jamal-i-yaar se’.
The final item of the day was the surprise act by pop band Fuzon’s vocalist Khurram Iqbal. He presented a kaafi by Ghulam Farid, originally
sung by Ustad Salamat Ali. He was effortless in his rendition and the audience thoroughly enjoyed his performance.
Combining two of the strongest art forms in storytelling, music and theatre, opera belongs to one of the oldest traditions in the performing arts in Europe and today its popularity has spread across the globe permeating cultures it was never originally associated with.
On Sunday evening, Sarah Long Holland, an opera artist from the United States conducted a workshop on opera for Napa students and faculty.
Ms Holland is a member of the New England Foundation for the Arts — an organisation involved in supporting the arts through grants, performing opportunities and various other ventures. The workshop was organised by the US Consulate.
Addressing his students at Napa, Arshad Mahmud said: “Opera is a stronger medium of conveying human emotions and feelings. There is opera being done in China nowadays even though it was never a part of their culture.” He added that students could learn to use the technique employed in performing opera as a tool in their own work, especially theatre, which required actors to at times present their voices in very different ways.
Most opera singers in the US start their formal training in their teenage years. The reason for this, Ms Holland related, was that children don’t naturally have a strong vibrato (the pulsating change of pitch when singing). Training at an early age from your childhood can strain your vocal chords and your singing voice can end up doing ‘a vocal wobble’ — an overly wide vibrato that employs the wrong singing technique. Formal training in opera usually starts after a person has completed his or her secondary schooling.
Ms Holland said that opera training in the US not only comprised instruction in voice and music theory, but it also included training in dance, movement, stage makeup, how the opera business operated and students were taught different foreign languages. “The reason for that is that much of the opera we perform is in Italian, German, French and Russian among other languages,” she explained.
Basic talent, the ability to use it, persistence, sacrifice and luck were some of the things Ms Holland related were necessary qualities that a person needed in order to become an opera artist.
Using her powerhouse vocals, she performed an aria from the Italian opera, Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, which first premiered in Rome in 1900. Ms Holland sang an aria in which the title character, Floria Tosca, a celebrated opera singer, is being interrogated by the chief of police, Baron Scarpia, regarding the whereabouts of her lover, the painter, Mario Cavaradossi. Focusing on a singular point in the room, Ms Holland went completely into her character when rendering the piece, her voice gaining resonance as the piece progressed, her expression and body language changing with the lyrical content. The aria was performed without an instrumental accompaniment.
One of the other arias she performed was from the American opera, Sussanah by Carlisle Floyd, which is based on the story of Sussanah and the Elders in the Bible. It premiered in the 1950s and, according to Ms Holland, is “one of the most frequently played operas in the US.” She performed this section along with a recorded playing of the piano from this aria.
“All operas are essentially about love, betrayal and death,” she related as to the dramatic and tragic nature of most operas. She also related that the life of a professional opera artist was not easy. “Most opera artists work from contract to contract and a lot of traveling is involved,” she related, adding that, “I never expected as a classical singer that I’d end up in Pakistan.”