Arun Dias Bandaranaike
Kishani Jayasinghe is an achiever among achievers. This has reference to the stature she has been able to seek and establish in what is clearly a punishing environment. She demonstrated her talent as singer and actress on stage while yet at Visakha Vidyalaya, a leading school in Colombo. She was also a winner of a competition, conducted under the aegis of the Board of the Symphony Orchestra, referred to as the “Concerto Competition”. This, too, while at school. After her exposure to “the real world of grand opera” while on a Rotary Scholarship, she returned home with a determination to push the envelope and seek a career in music. This ambition took her to England.
She also studied Law, in the event of a need for a fallback. But, her musical training was at the highest level, and her academic grasp of the idiom, and languages of opera was definitely at a masterly level. She also has a stamina and capacity for hard work. As to how she manages her energies and controls fear and nervousness in the arena is a secret that is hers. With her enjoying considerable success and acceptance at the topmost level in Europe’s operatic realm, she has indicated that there was something remarkable within . Especially given the near hopeless situation that confronts Asian aspirants in this creative field. This is a professional field that can boast of phenomenal talent from many European and American climes who usually dominate the whole province in this rarefied space.
Clearly Kishani is on par with similarly gifted Lankan performers, of who Lanka’s people are largely ignorant. ‘Cellist Rohan de Saram, pianists Malinee Jayasinghe-Peris, and Rohan de Silva and tenor Asita Tennekoon amongst a few others, are rarely mentioned in Sri Lanka, even though their work is avidly discussed, reviewed, recorded and appreciated (and occasionally venerated!) elsewhere in the centers of the arts around the globe, both East and West.
In December 2015, Kishani presented a concert at the Lionel Wendt theatre in Colombo. The musical selections were categorised as French Grand Opera, Art Songs, sacred songs, and Popular favourites, including a medley of Broadway type hits.
At the concert, Kishani decided to spring a surprise on the audience: just after a fairly delightful rendition of Bach-Gounod’s ever so familiar “Ave Maria”, she rendered a specially arranged version of “Anurādha Nagaraya ” (Dunno Budunge) with piano played most effectively by Soundarie David-Rodrigo. [Interestingly, there is another version, namely a choral version of the same song, successfully performed by the group led by Soundarie known as “Soul Sounds”. Such an arrangement for several voices in harmony, is also a departure from the old ‘tradition’, though it would not be Soul Sounds that first attempted such a choral version. This all-girl aggregation have also gained international recognition with their well publicised success at the Welsh Eisteddfod and at the Choir Games in Graz. It was a significant performance of this same John de Silva song that merited the attention of the judges at these international events.]
At the December concert the song Anurādha Nagaraya was delivered in the bel canto style, by Kishani. The lyric was as originally composed. The tune was the same, the articulation in Sinhala was pretty authentic, but given the vowel intonation required in the Italian bel canto there were a few slight aberrations in the Sinhala vowel sounds, which I would consider eminently negligible. Overall, it was a “stunning performance” and the audience (made up of aficionados and those who have a wider world view) was awed. They gave Kishani a standing ovation.
This is a review (in extract) as appeared in the press of that December concert. “The second segment of Sacred Music was just utterly breathtaking and perhaps my favourite of the show. It had that ethereal and heavenly quality and touched a chord, which made that entire segment of music a profound experience. The way each piece seamlessly flowed into the other was sheer genius and a huge commendation to the musicians that suspended each piece perfectly before merging it with the next. It is easy to see why Kishani holds these incredible musicians in such high esteem for they were all truly excellent and displayed such mastery of technique and musicality that every note was just simply delicious. The biggest surprise of the night was the operatic rendition of John de Silva’s Danno Budunge. The gasp of surprise that met the initial introduction was quickly followed by almost palpable and deeply felt joy. Surely this is one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved devotional songs and to hear it sung in such a beautiful and rich operatic voice was a truly special moment of the concert.” [The Island-Dec 12, 2015- Review by Charmaine de Silva]
In the audience at the Lionel Wendt Theater in December were two individuals who had paid for their two tickets (they were not issued complimentary tickets, and were not chief guests or ‘special guests’, rather, bona fide patrons.). These two were Ranil Wickramasinghe, the Prime Minister, and his wife Maithree. Clearly, Mrs. Wickramasinghe was impressed with Kishani. Her enthusiasm was genuine. At the end of the concert, Maithree approached the singer, and while congratulating her, mentioned to her that if Kishani would oblige, she would like to arrange for her to sing at a State event. Kishani and her family communicated that information to me later. She was pleased that her surprise entry in the program had borne some fruitage.
Kishani’s rendition on February 4th 2016, of that song and another kāvya, were in the same genre. On this occasion too, she had the vital support from her wonderfully gifted collaborator at the piano, Soundarie David-Rodrigo. At the event she wore a saree, which was different to the formal evening gown worn by her at the December concert at the Lionel Wendt. What was also quite different was the audience. The difference was monumentally evident. The vast throng would scarcely know a trombone from a tambourine, or an art song from a dramatic piece in the Kabuki. In fact, they would scarcely know what was from the Tower Hall era and what is a crib-off of a Hindi song in a movie, with lyrics in Sinhala!!!!
Arun Dias Bandaranaike has been a professional broadcaster, newscaster, commentator and moderator for around 25 years, serving with the national broadcast services in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.
- Arun Dias Bandaranaike: “The Evocative Minor Chords of Dunno Budunge and the Current Dischord,” 4 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/the-evocative-minor-chords-of-dunno-budunge-and-the-current-discord/
- Kamanthi Wickremasinghe: “Dilemma over ’Danno Budunge’,” Daily Mirror, 23 February 2016, http://www.dailymirror.lk/105838/Dilemma-over-Danno-Budunge-
- Sasanka Perera: “Danno Budunge. Goodness Gracious Me!” 15 February 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/19676/
- Danielle de Niese with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop at the Last Night of the Proms 2015…. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/1533c4658c6f117e?projector=1