As a first generation Canadian, who grew up with the soundtracks of Bollywood echoing through his home, it’s a tad unusual that Gourav Shah is studying opera.
The songs that pepper Indian cinema are interludes to heighten drama.
More than musical theatre though, Shah believes the Bollywood tales have much more in common with opera.
They chronicle passionate romances, feuding clans and filial piety.
“The stories are more heavily tied to opera than musical theatre,” says Shah, who is pursuing a music degree at Kwantlen University but plans to eventually transfer to the University of British Columbia.
He recognizes the stories told by his mom in the scripts of Wagner and Puccini.
“The substance is still similar,” he says.
“But the opera voice sounds almost like oil painting while Indian singing sounds a lot more like water painting. It’s lighter. It’s a completely different technique.”
Opera wasn’t Shah first choice for a career – he initially set his sight on stars of another kind.
When he realized being an astronomer would not fit his outgoing, friendly, people-loving personality, Shah sat down to figure out what else he was passionate about.
His epiphany came from a verse in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters from a Young Poet.
The poem made him consider just what he couldn’t live without. He realized it was his voice.
“It made me think really hard,” says Shah.
“That’s what’s going to set up the rest of my life.”
Shah, 20, has studied music since elementary school. As a student at now-closed Riverside elementary, he joined the school’s choir.
In high school at Maple Ridge secondary, his passion for music was further stoked by music teachers Carrie Tennant and Jennifer Hanson.
“The music that’s in opera there is so much you can paint with every note,” says Shah, who is training to be a lyric tenor.
He admits his parents, who own GM Restaurant in Maple Ridge, initially believed he was going through a phase.
But when his dad heard him sing at the age of 18, he realized his son had a “God-given gift.”
“That really validated it for me,” says Shah.
At present, Shah’s most coveted role is Tamino, the Egyptian prince from Mozart’s Magic Flute.
If given a choice, he prefers to sing opera in French.
“If I wanted to be 100 per cent honest, I will tell you I don’t like singing English arias,” says Shah, with a laugh.
“I think they sound pretty lame, almost how Monty Python would poke fun at bards.
I rather sing this in another language. You go: oh it’s such a pretty song because you don’t understand it.”
Just like Shah, Arianna Ervin’s passion for opera was ignited by her teachers at Maple Ridge secondary.
The 19-year-old had planned to study musical theatre but began to pursue a classical path after falling in love with the classical songs they sang in choir.
“Opera music is beautiful and the plot lines are always beautiful, tragic or comedic,” says Ervin.
“There is so much variety. People often think opera is just opera but there are so many sub categories.”
A soprano, Ervin is now her second year of a music degree at the University of British Columbia.
She can’t wait for a voice to mature so she can sing Puccini and eventually covet the role of Mimi in La bohème or Michaela in Carmen.
Unlike Shah, Ervin enjoys English operas, as well as French ones. “I think it’s because I understand the languages better,” she says. “I connect with the stories more.”
Arianna Ervin and Gourav Shah will perform at a fundraiser for the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation on Sunday, April 28 at Westacres, 23575 – 124th Avenue in Maple Ridge. The event, hosted by the Maple Ridge Music Society, also features pianists Aimee Oliverio, Krystyna Pucka and violinist Robert Rozek. Tickets are $30 and include a wine and cheese reception after the concert. To purchase, call 604 467-3162, or the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation at 604 466-6925 or GM Restaurant, 20726 Lougheed Hwy. at 604-463-7877.