By Francisco Eme
Anishka is a soprano singer from San Diego who studied at San Francisco State University and the University of Arizona, where she earned a Masters degree in Music in Voice Performance. Her range of activities is wide and her culturally diverse vision of the world makes her move across borders. Anishka has performed with the San Diego Opera, as well as with the Opera de Tijuana. She tries to cross not only physical borders but also her own, pushing herself beyond her limits in order to grow and make her art form grow as well. She performs in non traditional spaces, incorporating other art forms like dance and visuals, engaging the audience in a more personal way, and more recently improvising with me, using electroacoustic sounds and her voice.
F: I know that you are working on taking your art to a different level. What exactly are you doing?
A: I feel that my focus as an opera singer has almost returned to its most simple format; which is communication. Often the world of opera, which is my vehicle for communication, gets caught up in so many other things; images and preconceived notions, languages, foreign cultures, costumes, sets, and all these things that ultimately are wonderful but have their limitations. I feel as an opera singer, or I should say as an artist, taking my art form to the next level is actually to return to this fundamental root of communication. I feel very strongly about that. If I stand on a stage and I’m asking people to listen to me, take time out of their lives and spend it with me, (then) What am I saying? How am I communicating? Am I being genuine to the music? To the story of the composer? To the story that´s being told with the music? To my own story too? To what people can understand? Finding that truth and connecting to it, that is my responsibility, and that´s what is going to take this art form to the next level. I think it has lost some of that over the years but that´s what people respond to.
F: If we consider that the first operas came out around 400 years ago, it´s a very old form of composition. What do you think we can do today in 2017 with this very old music form?
A: Our responsibility as artists within the genre is to find the connective tissue between our repertoire and our audience (because every singer has a different repertoire). And then how do we bridge that gap? I really see it almost as a form of job security. If I want to continue as an opera singer, if I want my art form to continue to be relevant, it is my responsibility to figure out a way to connect what people are experiencing in their lives to what I do as an artist within my repertoire. It is my responsibility to figure out how to communicate that in an effective way so I can bring my audience into my world and make them feel like they are experiencing something new and different yet at the same time familiar and somehow easy to understand and access.
F: Do you think that there´s a connection between an opera that was written 200 years ago and the San Diego public?
A: Yes, take for example Voi lo sapete from Cavalleria Rusticana, written by Pietro Mascagni (the opera premiered in 1890) and the character of Santuzza, who (in the aria) is begging the mother of her lover to acknowledge her and her struggle (he’s left her for another woman). She says ” You know that he loves me, you know that this is true.” She´s been outcast by society and is looking for someone to acknowledge her humanity . I sang this at the middle school where I work, and the way I got the middle schoolers to listen and understand was by beginning with a question: How many of you have been left out? How many of you have been ignored? How many of you have felt that people didn’t hear you? Or were intentionally excluding you for some reason? And of course 80 percent of the room raises their hand and acknowledges they have. This is something that unfortunately we have all experienced. And so here, set to beautifully painful music is that experience. That´s the kernel of humanity that connects us all and then to the music as well.
F: So you think opera is a timeless universal language.
A: Yes, but it is my responsibility as an artist to find the bridges, or peel back the layers of the onion to uncover that connection. I need to understand who my audience is, and be honest and vulnerable with my own truth. Then figure out how to best represent whatever it is that I’m singing. I obviously would have a different conversation with a well versed opera audience… I wouldn’t have to get into the details of the plot but I still can talk about that human emotion, it´s just going to come out a little different.
F: Where do you see the opera in San Diego, in what position?
A: I think in San Diego, U.S.A , and Tijuana (I perform a lot in Mexico as well), that it’s relevance moving forward is going to come from people wanting to have a real, live experience. So much of our word is virtual. We spend a lot of time in front of the screens. I am myself guilty of that, but one of the most powerful aspects of my art form is that my voice literally vibrates through somebody´s body. And people talk about it all the time, they come to me afterwards and say ” I felt it. ” They don’t know what it is, or that it´s actually an acoustic phenomena. That´s something you can´t get from a recording, you can´t get it watching millions of youtube videos of opera. That live experience is what I think our psyches are seeking. Our brains need that, our lives need that realness and the more we can access people and give them a taste of quality, real, live singing, I think it will create a demand. So I think that is where opera will remain relevant, in the experience of live art in a “virtual world”… but you have to get out and get people to experience it.
F: And I think that in order to do that, finding new places to present operas is key.
F: Can you tell us about your participation in the Opera en la Calle project.
A: Opera en la Calle is a Festival that goes from noon till midnight, and it´s a party. There’s dance, opera, orchestra, and a lot of different art forms represented throughout the day. It´s free. As a performer it’s thrilling because rarely do I get to get up on stage in front of ten thousand or eleven thousand people, and experience that almost arena like rock experience (laughs). Everybody is just having a great time and it takes the pretension out of it. It gets down to that core, let´s make beautiful music and enjoy this beautiful night, just be there, in the moment. And that’s something special and unique that they do in Tijuana.
F: Sometimes it feels like opera is a very serious thing. If you see it from the outside it is like: that is serious work, serious art, there are serious artist and you are almost intimidated by trying to bring opera to non-traditional stages.
A: We are serious, but because we care! However bringing opera to non-traditional spaces is very natural move. Opera didn’t start out where it is now, back in the day theaters were not so organized, they had a different structure. So our modern day concept of opera theaters is relatively new. People were busy talking and eating and drinking and not really paying attention to what was happening on the stage… and now the pendulum has moved so far to the other side that we need to find a balance.
F: Future plans?
A: I’m currently wrapping up the San Diego Opera season as a chorister in “La Traviata”. On May 31st, at 7:00pm I’ll be performing a recital with Ines Irawati (a fabulous collaborative pianist here in San Diego) that is deeply meaningful. It will be at CAM (Centro de Artes Musicales) in Tijuana, Mexico for the students of Ja’sit (Escuela de Formación Escénico Vocal) where I work as a voice teacher. It is the first fully accredited institution in Tijuana to offer a degree in Voice Performance and I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of the faculty forming this program. I’m challenging myself with all types of new repertoire and I’m excited to sing it for the greater Ja’sit/CAM community. Besides that… just to keep on keeping on. I’m moving forward with the concept that sincere dedication, careful attention to my vocal technique, and honesty with both myself AND the music, will take me where I wanna go!