By Ruqyyaha Deane
The young classical singer Chrisni Mendis is excited to open a new chapter in the home of opera
For 27-year-old Sri Lankan Taiwanese soprano Chrisni Mendis, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to bring her world to a standstill when she returned to Sri Lanka after six years of training at the Royal Conservatory of Scotland. But now she sees the silver lining as another exciting opportunity, this time in Italy – the home of opera – “a unique opportunity,” she says.
As a child, Chrisni was always careful to express himself through songs that start with nursery rhymes. However, it was her mother who got her into music rather than journalism, even though she had already been accepted into university for the latter. Chrisni had her early school education at Colombo International School and received a three year scholarship to the Overseas School of Colombo where she earned her IB Diploma.
âI took music like a fish in water and it just made sense to me. My mom watched me at Colombo Festival 2012 and did some videos and she said, ‘Chrisni, you love this. You can do anything in the world right and you could do it 80% or you could do something that you really do love and give your life meaning and give it 100%, âshe remembers.
After this interview, Chrisni sent applications to overseas music schools and, to her surprise and delight, won a scholarship and admission to the Royal Conservatory of Scotland. Admission is very competitive, only four to six out of 200 soprano applicants are selected.
Chrisni admits that she wasn’t sure how it all worked as she is not “part of the system”. She can’t even read notes, she says, and admitted that during her audition. Her teachers advised her to work hard and keep up with her peers. Chrisni followed a grueling schedule of vocal training, learning languages ââlike Italian, French, German and even Russian and immersing himself in the history and culture to make music better and practicing for hours every day.
âAnd after six years of such a schedule, I’m sure something will happen, right? At some point I started getting bigger auditions. I got auditions at the Royal Opera House in London, the National Opera Studio in London and more, but I wasn’t ready for it because it’s a different level, âshe tells us that afterwards she continued studying and got the chance to perform at the same time in Europe – in countries like Italy and France and study under the Welsh opera tenor Dennis O’Neill and Wilma MacDougall. Her opera performances include the title role of Puccini’s Suor Angelica, Leila (Die Perlenfischer), Arabella (Arabella), Marzelline (Fidelio), Micaela from Bizet’s Carmen, Alice from Verdi’s Falstaff, Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) and Ãnnchen (Der FreischÃ¼tz). Chrisni has also covered Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi) and Rose Marrant (Street Scene) for the Alexander Gibson Opera School.
Your hard work has paid off. In 2017 she won the Edgar Sledding Memorial Song Competition and in 2018 she won the Ian Fleming Award for Classical Singing.
Then COVID-19 struck. As the pandemic swept across countries, Crisni found herself back home last August. It was then that she met the classical singer and trainer Barbara Segal, who made Sri Lanka her home and began to train under her. “She’s amazing and she really taught me to sing, in a very Italian style that made the sound very, very beautiful.”
Barbara also introduced Chrisni to other mentors so that she could gain more attention and further refine her technique. After a few months of studying with Barbara and Professor Carlos Conde, Chrisni felt her voice change completely.
It was Barbara who introduced Chrisni Senora Eleonora Pacetti from the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and thus paved the way for another big step on her musical journey. âShe invited me to coach under her and also to be a listener and observer of the theater in Rome. She said if I want to stay longer and learn more, she could send me to Accademia Lirica Osimo, a small heritage site where some of the best teachers teach about 26 students from around the world, âsays Chrisni excitedly for her long break. She hopes to travel to Italy as soon as possible.
âI’m on such an exciting journey. After all these years I’m finally making it. It’s kind of proof of how life throws things at you when you don’t even expect it. When I got back here I was really excited about it, but it’s a pandemic so what can you do? This was probably the best that could happen because it forced me into a room to practice and really get to know myself, get to know my problems and solve them, âshe says. It is so important to approach everything with the right attitude, she emphasizes.
Chrisni also gives voice training courses and teaches all the basics associated with western classical music and currently teaches 40 students. She finds it very satisfying to show young singers how music brings another world closer.
âThe dream would of course be to sing my favorite roles in the world’s great opera houses. But what I want most in the world is to spread the message that art has the quality of nourishing the mind and spirit and connecting people from all over the world. In art we explore our humanity and opera happens to be my medium, âshe says.