People often complain that Indian children are only encouraged by parents to become doctors, engineers, lawyers or accountants. But in the case of Patna-born Anando Mukerjee, he was able to go beyond the clichéd professions and pursue one that’s incredibly unique and niche. Here’s the story of how India’s first and, currently, only true operatic tenor, found his calling.
“I always knew I could sing but it wasn’t till the age of 13 that I got obsessed with it. I was listening to a broadcast on radio and a fantastic voice emerged from the speaker. It was powerful, strong, romantic; a beautiful male voice. The voice had an incredibly high top note and I was completely awestruck by it. I said to myself, ‘I can recreate this sound,’ and to my great surprise I actually did reproduce that note! At that moment I knew that this is what I’m going to do.
My mother is a pianist. I was exposed to western classical music from a very early age. My father’s family is into Indian classical music. We were brought up on music; it was fed to us intravenously, or rather subconsciously. There was a very strong influence of music, which is not unusual coming from a Bengali background.
As a kid I watched a lot of classic Hollywood cinema, which had great music. Early jazz, Broadway as well as western classical music were a part of films’ stories. These were all sown into my mind, in my being.
I didn’t have formal training but I tried to learn on my own. I started collecting records and cassettes. That was the time of The Three Tenors – Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and the Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti. I learnt by ear. I learnt all the Italian and French and German words completely by rote.
I was in a choir in Delhi. I came to Bombay when I was 20 and sang at The Little Theatre in NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts). That was the beginning of my professional career.
My education was actually in Science. I studied Zoology in Delhi University. Coming from a typical Indian family, you were told that you can either be a doctor, lawyer, accountant or an engineer. In my case I was interested in Zoology. Post Delhi University I was fortunate enough to go to Cambridge where I did my Tripos in Natural Sciences. After finishing that at the age of 22-23 I had to decide whether I was going to continue with a scientific career or become a professional singer.
I trained in England. In England my mother’s professor recommended me to his friend Richard Nunn. He was a very distinguished repetitor, a coach, and he had worked with the great singers of the 20th century including The Three Tenors. He then introduced me to Kenneth Woollam, a very distinguished English Heldentenor, the heroic tenor. And so I started studying as a private student with Richard Nunn and Kenneth Woollam. I spent 6-7 years studying with them. I had to learn languages, movement on stage, finesse, tonality, technique…”
Anando Mukerjee went on to even train with Nicolai Gedda, one of the greatest living tenors of the 20th Century. From 2002 onwards, he has appeared in opera, concert, recital and oratorio throughout the UK, Europe & Asia with several opera companies including Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera, Dorset Opera, Opera Holland Park, Somerset Opera, New Devon Opera, White Horse Opera and Opera UK. He regularly appears at the Little Venice, Grimeborn, Shipley and Ealing Summer Prom Festivals.
He hopes to create greater awareness and interest in opera in India. He recently took part in ‘Opera At Habitat’ series and presented two arias from Puccini’s Turandot at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.
You can watch one of Anando Mukerjee’s live performances in the video below.