Gokul Mukundan was in Class VI or VII when he first came across the opera music. He was watching an episode of the famous Tom and Jerry animated series that showed Tom, a baritone singer, attempting the 'Figaro' while Jerry messes up the show. An amused Gokul first found it funny, but the more he listened to it, he was captivated by the highs of the music, the voice modulation and the style. Never did he realise that his life was about to change that day.
Years later, the 23-year-old Thrissur native finds himself as a professional Opera musician, perhaps the only one from Kerala.
His recent rendition of Luciano Pavarotti's famous 'Nessun Dorma' (Let No one Sleep), one of the best tenor arias in operatic recitals of all times, sends chills down one’s spine as the song spreads excitement, melancholy and gasps of admiration.
The song was aired in World Music Festival Foundation's 'Saudade' video series, where film maker Shruthi Namboodiri familiarises music genres and musicians.
Gokul, who works as an art and music teacher at The International School of Thrissur, says that music lies in his genes. "My mother Radhika is a Carnatic music teacher and hence, I was fascinated towards all kinds of music since childhood. After I found 'Figaro', I looked up YouTube and found a whole world of Opera," says Gokul, who fell in love with 'The Marriage of Figaro' and Opera legends like Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli.
Back then, he had been looking for someone to train him, but there were no one around versed in Opera; he had no choice but to self-train. "I started by imitating the singers and their styles. But later, I realised that to render high tenors, voice modulation had to be acquired. Equally important is the lyrics. When I learn a song, I learn the whole lyrics, its meanings and get the pronunciation right. Italian verses are intense; one little slip can change the whole meaning of the song. I try to do it as perfect as I can."
But at the end, music transcends language. Whenever he performs, Gokul receives great feedbacks, including from those who enjoyed the performance without understanding the meaning of a single word.
Good response from Kerala
It was in 2014 that he performed first at Sahitya Akademi, Thrissur. The attendance was very low, but the response was very encouraging. In the years that followed, Gokul performed at various venues and have completed almost 25 stages in metro cities across the country.
"I'm part of an online community of Opera musicians. To my surprise, I could find that there are only two or three Opera singers in India; and no one from Kerala," says Gokul, who admits that opera is not a familiar art form for Keralites.
"It's a dramatic art, which can be equated with 'Kathakali', a blend of music and performance. 'Kathakali Sangeetham' is another art form like Opera music. Rigorous vocal training is required to preserve the Opera style in which the song goes up and up, taking emotions to the heights. One little crack in voice can spoil it all. There's no dropping of voice at any point. For foreigners, it's amusing to watch Operatic recital by a Keralite. It's the same way we watch a foreigner's Kathakali recital," says Gokul, who has plans to experiment by blending both art forms.
It's not just opera, Gokul explores Hindustani, Classical and Middle East musical genres as well.
Four years ago, he founded a five-member band Capo, which focuses on albums, cover songs, independent compositions and occasional shows.
"We brought out an album Avani in 2017 and offer choral training and vocal training at academies. I pen lyrics too and enjoy composing and conducting music. My dream project is a combination of various genres to form a prelude. Agam band has been a huge inspiration with the way they amazingly blend Western and Eastern music. As a composer, I prefer dark, mind-bending music genres," says the musician, who wants to offer a dais to talents through his ventures.
His family – mother Radhika, father Mukundan and sister Shilpa – are very supportive of his passion, but they want him to ensure that art helps him survive. Opera singers, Gokul says, are revolutionaries. "The way they modulate their voice is magical. Opera offers a lot of possibilities to experiment and blend genres," says Gokul, who is an ardent admirer of Pavarotti, Christina Johnston and Iano Tamar.
So far, Gokul has been attempting only singing, but he wants to give acting a try too. "Opera is an emotionally draining art form. It can motivate while echoing melancholy and can touch the listener deep, while elating him. The music can be a war cry and a parting song the same time. It's drama and poetry, filled with emotions," says up the singer, whose favourite Opera compositions are 'Figaro' and 'It's Time to Say Goodbye'.