South Asian Opera Singers
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.