Tharanga Goonetilleke: Sri Lankan Opera Star

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Opera Singer: Tharanga Goonetilleke (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

There aren’t many Sri Lankans who turn to Western classical music. One guy is named Dinuk Wijeratne, a pianist and Juilliard graduate who does amazing work on a visionary album with Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh called Complex Stories, Simple Sounds.

Another artist was well-known lyric soprano named Danielle de Niesse, whose parents came from Sri Lanka, rose to fame first in Australia, then in Los Angeles. She was successful as a young child in Australian singing competitions, but her success came in Los Angeles during the 1990s.

Tharanga Goonetilleke‘s rise to fame was much more improbable. She grew up just outside Colombo, Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) during the bloody civil war. It was a safer area where she grew up, but her awareness of the nearby violence developed a sense of being grateful for being alive. Apparently, the music that made her fall in love with opera was a New Zealander Maori soprano named Kiri Te Kanawa. She was 13 years old and never imagined a path to stardom, let alone a career in operatic singing. Her talent was discovered by a music professor, who brought her to America, first to Converse College and then later to Juilliard. She was the first Sri Lankan woman ever accepted there.

She has a mezzo soprano as rich as chocolate, and has won a big following in Sri Lanka, not exactly a hotbed of opera, and many other places around the globe. She has now starred in major operas all over the world.

Here she performs an aria from Georges Bizet’s French opera, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers):