What would your reaction be when you set your eyes upon a living, breathing national treasure, a treasure with a voice that causes you to hold your breath in stupefied amazement as she serenades you….The jewel in the South Asian Music Crown, Kishani Jayasinghe who hails from the tiny island tucked away in the Indian ocean has caused royalty to gaze in wonderment …..
Her electrifying performances at Operas have elicited a sensation and a ripple effect which has been felt in almost every corner of the globe but we at Elegant wish to gather a glimpse of the enigmatic woman behind that ethereal voice…..
The Sound of Music ….
Kishani was born into a world of music. Strains of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi among others wafted through the air with sporadic overtures of operatic styles and the young girl grew to love these sounds. From a tender age she was encouraged to dabble in anything that would develop her mental and physical abilities along with an appreciation of the fine arts. “My father was a national swimmer so we, in true proverbial sense were ‘water babies’. We were also given a glimpse into the performances of Orchestras and operas as children and I enjoyed learning ballet for a period of ten years. Being musically inclined Kishani started singing with the popular Mary Anne David, who recognised her potential for Opera.
Yet the thought of being an opera singer was not part of her plan so we walk in retrospect with the young woman who blossomed into an all-rounder at school and national level. A student of Visakha Vidyalya, she succeeded in all areas and by the end of her academic life at VV she was the Head Girl, Captain of the Tennis,Rowing and debating teams and an exceptionally intelligent child in the Science stream.
“A month prior to my Advance Level examination, I was selected by the National Olympic Committee of SL to represent Sri Lanka at the International Olympic Academy (IOA) in Greece. My teachers were in shock and insisted that I should refuse and concentrate on my impending exam. I was at a monumental crossroad, yet my parents were extremely supportive saying that such an opportunity usually only comes once in life, whilst if need be the opportunity to do the exam the following year was always available, and this was followed by the advice given by my Principal , who supported my decision but advised me on the responsibilities as the Head Girl and representative of the school, so I took a suitcase filled with all my books and never touched one during my time there, ,” laughed Kishani who eventually landed in Sri Lanka and had an army of teachers who went the extra mile to ensure that she passed with flying colours bringing
honour to her alma mater. “Following that year, I was invited by the President of the IOA to join their team and work as an Asian Coordinator and Music Director, which I did for 10 years and was also instrumental in setting up the Singing and Music Programme at the IOA,” added she.
Flying Towards an Unknown Dream
The young lass left the shores of her island home to study law at Nottingham University. At this point you, my dear reader might wonder how she evolved into a brilliant opera singer, but for Kishani that aspiration was not even in her dreams at the time she left Sri Lanka.
Breaking into Song
A sequence of coincidences, accidents and chance meetings led me to the Principal of a London Music Conservatoire – in the first year of my undergraduate degree in Law – who urged me to contact one of the best voice teachers in England, Pam Cook, OBE. I only did so after over 2 years in my final year via a letter. Thereafter, I trained with her during my Masters in law, promptly auditioned and was awarded scholarships from both the Royal College and the Royal Academy of Music.
“Subsequently Pam, who will always be my guru urged me to apply for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Young Artiste Programme.and I did not pursue it until the eleventh hour. I was literally running around in circles until I finally managed to submit it, a split second before the window was shut! In the Final held on the main stage, were seven Sopranos from around the world, and they only picked one – yours truly! I recall waiting with bated breath until I was called forward, only to be interrupted by the judges who wanted the raucous in a higher floor to be silenced. This was an unusual turn of events, but did not deter my stance to give it my best shot and that I did, and walked away elated irrespective of the outcome. Yet despite my performance and confidence, I was thrilled at being selected as it felt surreal. To be mastered under the watchful guidance of legendary opera singers was a dream (which I never had) come true. I pushed myself to limits and went the extra mile by living with an Italian family which did not speak a word of English and learnt the intrinsic forms of the language and its expressions which hugely benefitted me as I truly felt every emotion which emanated from me. You generally do not need to understand Italian to appreciate and be drawn to Opera but for the performer it is of utmost importance and I wanted to explore every avenue open to me as a professional.”
She is grace under fire and possesses a natural inclination to face challenges head on and take the responsibilities dished out to her very seriously.
I have always had challenging opportunities thrust upon me and embraced it with a determination to charter the course life has destined for me.
This is Kishani, a woman of unparalled strength and brilliance coupled with her intense love for human beings and humility, which is cause for awe.
During her twelve years at mastering the technique (and still continues to learn for in this trade one never stops learning), Kishani continued to enrapture the western world, delighting them with her compelling performances. Here was a girl from the furthest corners of the earth having the voice which could reach into the very soul of the opera lover…. The West was smitten and here we pause to unravel a blissful encounter or hiatus in her profession.
Written in the Stars
Like all things in her life, her encounter with her husband and her marriage were embedded into the stars long before it crossed her mind. Kaveenga, a childhood friend had migrated to Sydney soon after he left school as a young boy and Kishani was based in England but once again ‘Destiny’ intervened and they ended up getting married.
Striking a Chord
With a song in her heart and a spring in her step Kishani, a pioneer in the field of Opera in South Asia sets off to lands unknown to perform for the many folks who appreciate the opera in all its richness. She has the distinction of being the first South Asian soprano to sing as a soloist at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Among her many associations with the nobility, is the honour of being presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Commonwealth Representative for the Arts and having the privilege to have sung at HRH Prince Charles’ 60th birthday celebrations at the Buckingham Palace. To mention her numerous awards would take pages, surmise it to say, she is the soprano of Asia who is capable of touching the chords of nations and this noble vocation has earned her much deserved international acclaim.
Her wow factor is not limited to her singing as this lady has gumption and the inability to refuse the call to perform, does land her in the most risky situations but she has pulled through and she is none the better for it. For instance, the determined soprano who could not refuse the opportunity to sing at her old university despite being well into her confinement was accompanied by her husband and brother who watched her breathtaking performance without the slightest notion that she was in labour during the whole concert! “That was the only time I was yearning for the finale,” revealed she with eyes glazing over at the memory.
Her second pregnancy too was not without its adventurous moments and that was linked to a concert in which she had to camouflage her pregnancy under layers of clothing in order to fly to this part of the world.
She is gutsy and daring but it all boils down to her love for singing and inability to say no to people who appreciate her passion for song and the opera per se.
My admiration for her grew in degrees as she took me on a glorious journey full of marvellous detours which had brought her to a place of super stardom…
“It is uncanny how my love for sports, the arts, and the extensive amounts of hours spent pouring over legal books and other similar, seemingly unrelated pursuits had inadvertently culminated in my career choice as sports built my stamina and core strength, studies and committing things to memory was necessary in opera… ultimately everything I ever did – the singing, the sports, the ballet, drama, debating, the Law, Everything , through sheer hard work and determination propelled me to this beautiful platform and I am grateful that each role in my life had and continuous to have a significant purpose to it.”
Family is Strength
Kishani is from an island but is not an island as no man or woman is, and she attributes her success to the best support system in the world; her family. Her parents instilled strong values while encouraging her to be the best in everything she aspired to be, hence her mastery in the most versatile spheres. She was allowed to bloom into the most remarkable persona that she is through their effervescent and unrestrictive parenting style. “My mother is a strong role model and revelled in her role as wife, mother and career woman; she would work all day and come home and cook for many people in case we had a function in the blink of an eye, or she would attend to numerous requests to alter an outfit for a drama without complaint.” It is her mother, a true wonder woman whom she emulates as she herself is all of the above at present. Of course, the charismatic singer is blessed with extremely supportive men from her father to her husband, brother, her brother’s eight best friends who are her foster brothers, her father in-laws etc
Master in all her pursuits
Upon her return to Sri Lanka which was another spur-of-the-moment decision, Kishani took on a few more responsibilities. She is currently the Deputy Director for Programmes at the SAARC Cultural Centre, Sri Lanka. This has provided a gateway for her to promote her love for the aesthetics and her passion for culture and opera within the region.
Despite her busy (an understatement) schedule which involves performances around the world, being a wife, mother to her beautiful children, she has also found time to instill a love for the performing arts in young children through the Kishani Jayasinghe School of Voice which she established based on popular demand. She is also a staunch voice for women and shares her opinions through a column in a popular newspaper. She was also the Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia Women’s Fund and Women in Need.
Her future aspirations include establishing a voice training class for adults and versatile performances in various countries which will certainly include the SAARC region and the Far East which are gradually learning to develop a taste for opera. She is also committed to uplifting
the lives of others, especially children, by generating an interest and awareness of music, art and culture.
She also touched on a subject I did not wish to broach due to the sensitivity of it which was her rendition of the popular cultural song ‘Danno Budunge” 02 years ago and the resultant shock at the response by the hoi polloi, but she herself referred to that period which caused her to pause and reflect. After weeks of being the human punching bag to vile taunts and jibes she retorted in true Kishani style… “To me the sheer magnitude of response was the biggest revelation. I have learned so much about myself in the past four weeks; about what hurts, who inspires, what truly matters in life, what identifies one as an individual, what it is to have unfaltering support from those who know and love you and especially to be humbled by the kindness and actions of strangers.
I always believe there is a reason for everything. There was a reason I chose Music over Law. Or as I have often said, why Music chose me…I sing in ten languages but none have been powerful or as profound as the language of Music itself. It can cause a commotion – this we have seen with startling clarity. But Music like tolerance can also heal, foster understanding, break down barriers, bring us peace and give us infinite joy- if we but let it.”
Kishani has received many opportunities, awards and acclaim but what has ultimately counted is what she has done with all of it. She has found innumerable ways to give create and generate something that is beneficial for others.
It is as if God’s gift to Mother Lanka is the honing of Kishani Jayasinghe – Wijayasekara, a girl who was willing to submit to every opportunity that came her way with zeal, while finally accepting her biggest duty which is to serve her motherland, to give back to this beautiful island which she calls home while continuing to fascinate the world with her golden voice.