At the end of every monsoon in Mumbai, the Rozario household in Santacruz would be teeming with activity. Seven-year-old Patricia Rozario would eagerly look forward to rehearsals for Western classical compositions, accompanied by her mother on the piano. It was competition time among the 15-20 odd Catholic families in the area as the Santa Cruz Amateur Dramatics And Music Society would be gearing up for its annual music competition at the Sacred Heart Church, in September. Rozario needed to pay attention to her scales. “A couple of months before the contest, my mother would start researching Western classical songs. There was a sense of competition within the family as well. Everyone, including my father, brothers and cousins would practise,” says Rozario.
This May, the soprano received the Fellowship from the Royal College Of Music, London, the second Indian to have been given this honour after world-renowned conductor Zubin Mehta. “It is a prestigious award and a sign of recognition that I have attained a certain international level in Western music,” says Rozario, over the phone from her home in London, where she lives with her pianist-husband Mark Troop. Some of the previous recipients of this award include American violinist Yehudi Menuhin, violinist Nicola Benedetti, and theatre person Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In her late 50s now, she moved to the UK more than 25 years ago to pursue a career in Western classical opera. Rozario graduated in English and French from Sophia College, Mumbai. Though she attempted to learn Indian classical music, the atmosphere at home lent itself naturally to jazz and Western classical music. “My brothers were good at jazz and my mother and I were into Western classical music and Hollywood musicals. When I began singing, I wanted to do the classical repertoire of Mozart and Handel,” says Rozario, whose father did not want her to pursue a career as an opera singer. Her German music teacher recommended her to a professor at the Guildhall School of Music in London, UK, when she was in college. “I sang a Schubert composition and the professor was not impressed. Then he sang five notes and asked me to replicate the scales. I did that and he smiled,” says Rozario, who entered Guildhall when she was only 20. She now teaches at the Royal College of Music.
Rozario’s style ranges from classical European opera to Baroque and contemporary music. She has performed with contemporary English composers such as the late John Tavener and Estonian Arvo Part. Tavener chose her for his opera Mary of Egypt. She went on to become his muse performing in pieces written especially for her, like Life Eternal, until he passed away in 2013.
“Coming from India it was a big challenge to act and be a character in operas. People took time to take me seriously. As an Indian, I was treading a certain path, which not many have. I had to build my confidence in the UK and I had to look the type. At an early stage in my career, I participated in a summer music programme at The Mozarteum, Austria, which boosted my confidence of performing on stage,” says Rozario, who began performing in a sari to assert her individuality.
Unwilling to let go of her Mumbai ties, in 2009, she started the Giving Voice Society, an institution that trains students in Western classical forms, in the city. Rozario and Troop come three times a year with a set of compositions to mentor students. Her current batch will perform an opera across the country titled Dido and Aeneas by Baroque English composer Henry Purcell, this August.
Awarded the OBE in the New Year’s Honours in 2001, Rozario was given the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Goa government in 2013. Among her other ambitions, Rozario wants to perform with Mehta, whom she auditioned for briefly. “He said he wanted to do a Gustav Mahler composition with me. In fact, I am just going to write to him now,” she says.
This story appeared in print with the headline The Soprano