(October 19, 2021) It’s the laser-like precision and depth of his voice that has made Shanul Sharma a tenor that the world is talking about. When Sharma was headbanging to Def Leppard‘s music as a teenager, little did he know that one day he would transition into an opera singer that the world will look up to. But destiny had its plan in place and he became the first Indian-born Australian to perform as a principal artist in an Australian opera.
In the last few years, Sharma has serenaded the audience across the globe with his performances at some of the biggest theatres in the world. But it has been a long journey for this Global Indian who moved from heavy metal band to becoming an opera singer.
Musical ear gave birth to a dream
Born in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh to a civil engineer father and a homemaker mother, Sharma was surrounded by music throughout his childhood. His dad was a music lover and his home often had Bollywood songs playing in the background. Growing up, Sharma was a shy kid who loved playing with his computer. But things changed for him when his father gifted him a Casio keyboard. “I think I had a musical ear from the beginning because I was able to pick up accents and inflections in sound quite naturally. So when I got the keyboard, I would listen to Bollywood music and would play it out on the keyboard,” he told Lyndon Terracini in a video interview with Opera Australia.
Soon his family and friends started recognizing his talent and this gave him the confidence to continue experimenting with music. Being a shy kid, music became an expression for him. It was around this time that he was completely mesmerized by Michael Jackson. Sharma not just idolized Jackson for his songs but equally loved him for being a performer and a lyricist. Slowly and steadily, Sharma started taking his baby steps into heavy metal when his friend gifted him a CD of Def Leppard’s greatest hits. The music struck the right chord with Sharma who later moved to Iron Maiden, and then one thing led to another and he ended up performing to these songs at school events.
From rock band to opera
It was in 2003 that Sharma arrived in Australia to study IT-Engineering at the Charles Strut University‘s Wagga Wagga campus. Outside his class time, he was the lead singer of a rock band, Sobrusion, and spent his time gigging at Wagga clubs and pubs. Though he was deeply enjoying his time playing the music, he was apprehensive about his parents’ reaction. However, his dad was his biggest supporter and always told him to follow his passion. For almost a decade, Sharma performed with the band but transitioned from heavy metal to rock n roll. It was during this time that he came across opera and immediately fell in love with it.
While browsing YouTube randomly one day, he came across a song Nessun Dorma by Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti and couldn’t stop listening to him. So when the band broke up, Sharma decided to branch out to something new and learn opera. In 2013, on a whim, he decided to audition at the Arts Centre on the set of Carmen. He impressed everyone and in a matter of few days, he made it to the school’s company and commenced his training.
A tenor in the making
A year later, he made his operatic debut with Opera Australia as Don Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola for the Victorian School’s Tour. In 2016, he was accepted into the Wales International Academy of Voice, one of the most prestigious singing academies in the world for his MA in Advanced Vocal Studies. He was one among the 14 singers selected from across the world.
This musical training helped him hone his craft and he soon appeared as Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale for Teatro Martinetti in Pavia. The next year, he represented the Rossini Opera Festival at the prestigious LaVerdi Auditorium at the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo. In 2019, he made a grand entry at Bolshoi Theatre in Russia, which is considered to be one of the most difficult theatres in the world. “Every time in the inno russo when I sang, I would look up to the heavens and I would go, ‘This boy that was born in Jabalpur is in one of the most historic theatres in the world. How did I get here’? It was an exhilarating feeling,” he added.
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The same year he made his main stage debut for Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House as Madman in Berg’s Wozzeck and since then he has performed the roles of Il Conte di Libenskof in Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims and The Student in Reimann’s The Ghost Sonata to critical acclaim in both Sydney and Melbourne. In the last seven years, Sharma has had the opportunity to perform at the most prestigious venues across the globe – from the LaVerdi Auditorium in Milan to the Norwegian national opera in Oslo. While Sharma trained in classical style of opera for a few years only, he credits his heavy metal days for helping him become an opera singer.
“The similarities between opera and heavy metal is the virtuosity, more than anything else. An opera singer can sing for a very extended period of time in a very unnatural situation for a male voice. And because the heavy metal band was so loud, I ended up singing very high all the time to cut through the band. So it was a seamless transition into opera,” he told ABC Australia.
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Opera has been Sharma’s true calling, and this reflects in the accolades that he has received over the years. If he is a winner of the 2017 Canto Lirico discipline, he also picked up the Rossini International Award in Italy, making him the only artist to have won both the awards in the same year. Not just this, in 2019, Sharma was awarded Broadway World Sydney’s Best Performer in an Opera – Male for his performance as The Student in The Ghost Sonata for Opera Australia.
Sharma, in a short span of time, has made a name for himself as a tenor in the world of opera and he is happy about his craft. “I cannot think of a line of work more exciting than being an opera singer. I get to sing some of the most amazing music ever written, play different people (sometimes in period), create art and work with some of the most inspiring people of the planet; all the while sharing my most profound feelings with an audience,” he told Arts Review.
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