Portrait of soprano Leontyne Price in Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni.” Printed on front: “Fayer, Wien.” Stamped on back: “Photo, Fayer, Wien I, Opernring 6. Handwritten on back: "Salzburg, 1960. Don Giovanni.”
Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library
Leontyne Price is considered one of the greatest operatic sopranos of all time; and indisputably the most accomplished black woman in opera history. This world renowned icon and legend turns 90 on February 10, 2017.
Leontyne Price, New York, May 19, 1953. Photographer Carl Van Vechten.
Opera singers who are from South Asia (Indian subcontinent) are incredibly rare, and in operas that are set in South Asia and have South Asian characters (Lakmé, set in India,and Les pêcheurs de perles,set in Sri Lanka), those Indian characters are almost always played by white European opera singers. However, after digging deep, I managed to find some South Asian opera singers. Of course, this list isn’t very complete, so if anyone knows about anymore, please feel free to add on!
Sean Panikkar(Sri Lankan-American): He’s an operatic tenor who has worked with the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Fort Worth Opera, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. He’s portrayed the characters of Rodolfo from Puccini’s La bohème, and Tybalt from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The above photo is of him as Nadir from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) with the Fort Worth Opera, and the above video is of his performance as Tamino from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) with the New Orleans Opera. He’s perhaps the first Sri Lankan tenor to play Nadir.
Maya Kherani(Indian-American): She’s a coloratura soprano who played the role of Meera in the world premiere of Jack Perla’s River of Light with the Houston Grand Opera in 2014. Other roles include Marie from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment and Gilda from Verdi’s Rigoletto. She’s soon to star in the West Edge Opera’s production of Britomarte’s L’arbore di Diana. The above video is her recital performance of ‘Credete al mio dolore’ from Handel’s Alcina.
Kishani Jayasinghe(Sri Lankan-British): A Sri Lankan-British soprano from Colombo, she is the first South Asian soprano to sing as a soloist in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and at Buckingham Palace, where sang at Prince Charles’ 60th birthday with the Royal Opera House, and has been awarded with the Grand Prix and Audience Prize in Marmade, France. She is also the first Sri Lankan soprano to play the role of priestess Leïla in Les pêcheurs de perles with the Nederlandse Reisopera in 2015. Other roles include Mimi from La bohème, Rusalka from Dvorak’s Rusalka, and Violetta from Verdi’s La traviata. The above video is her recital performance of the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust.
Nikhil Navkal(Indian-American): Hailing from Massachusetts, he is also one of the few South Asian tenors to portray Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles, this time with Opera Australia. He has also portrayed the roles of Don Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Tebaldo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. The above video is of him performing a Rossini quartet along with Karin Laine, Caroline Tye, and Kofi Hayford.
Alok Kumar(Indian-American): Another Indian tenor, he performed the role of Chyavana in the world premiere of Ravi Shankar’s opera Sukanya. He’s also performed the roles of the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto with Palm Beach Opera, Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata with Baltimore Concert Opera, Don José in Bizet’s Carmen with Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, and Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth with the Opera Company of Middlebury. Unfortunately, I could not find any videos of his performances.
Danielle de Niese(Australian-American/Sri Lankan Burgher): A Sri Lankan Burgher lyric soprano, not only has she sung with the Metropolitan Opera and Covent Garden, but she’s sung in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, won an Emmy Award at 16 years of age, and even performed with rapper LL Cool J. She is most famous for her role as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2005. Other roles include Donna Elvira from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Rosina from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, and Musetta from La bohème. The above video is her performance of V’adoro pupille from Giulio Cesare.
As it turns out, the celebrated soprano is doing exactly that — today marks her 90th birthday.
The sound of Price’s radiant voice got people talking even at the local weddings and funerals she sang at in her youth in Laurel, Miss. Later, thanks to a prominent Laurel family, she had financial backing to study at New York’s Juilliard School. Price’s student performances drew attention there too, leading to her first big break in 1955.
Shoutout to the black boys who do ballet.
Shoutout to the black boys who are gymnasts.
Shoutout to the black boys who are acrobats.
Shoutout to the black boys that do yoga.
Shoutout to the black boys who are cheerleaders.
Shoutout to the black boys that play soccer.
Shoutout to the black boys that play volleyball.
Shoutout to the black boys that play tennis.
Shoutout to the black boys who are models.
Shoutout to the black boys who are poets/writers.
Shoutout to the black boys who cook/bake.
Shoutout to the black boys that are opera singers.
Shoutout to the black boys that are fat.
Shoutout to the black boys that are skinny/bony.
Shoutout to the black boys with eating disorders.
Shoutout to the black boys with mental illnesses.
Shoutout to the black boys with disabilities.
Shoutout to the black boys who are gay.
Shoutout to the black boys who are trans.
Shoutout to the black boys who are bisexual.
Shoutout to the black boys who are asexual.
Shoutout to the black boys with crooked teeth.
Shoutout to the black boys with huge/tiny ears.
Shoutout to the black boys with weird belly buttons.
Shoutout to the black boys that are short.
Shoutout to the black boys that can’t grow facial hair.
Shoutout to the black boys that are afraid to be themselves.
Shoutout to the black boys that never feel like they are enough.
You are enough, and we love you. If they don’t, I sure as hell do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t talented or beautiful, or “not black enough” or “man enough” because of the things you enjoy or deal with in live. You are valid. You are loved. You are important. And that’ll never change.