Profile of the Month | Viswa Subbaraman
Opera Vista takes an avant-garde approach to opera, American Idol style. Houston hosts international Vista Competition giving a voice to innovative artists outside of the conservative mainstream. Ruchi Mukherjee unravels the musical journey of Opera Vista Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman.
Viswa’s phone kept ringing while we sat at a Rice Village coffee shop for the interview. It is a very busy season for Opera Vista, winner of the 2010 Houston Press MasterMind Award. Viswa (meaning victory) is at present working tirelessly for his 2011 Opera Vista Festival, featuring the 4th Annual Vista Competition for New Opera. A musical competition with many interesting aspects. “It gives new opera composers a platform to have their works presented to an audience. While this sounds rather simple, it is actually extremely difficult to have performances of new opera and fully staging a work,” says Viswa.
The most interesting part about the competition is that it is done in an “American-Idol” style, “the audience has the opportunity to hear directly from the composers as to why they wrote the opera in the manner they did,” adds Viswa. It is a common idea to be “afraid of opera” or as some say they “don’t understand opera.” In Viswa’s words Opera is simply theater with music and singing (much like a Bollywood film). “In hearing the composers discuss the writing of the work, I think it helps the audience realize that opera is not scary,” explains Subbaraman.
Viswa grew up in a traditional Indian Hindu educated family with a conservative professional ideology where the son is expected to become a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. This opera guy broke all rules and became the black sheep of the household but over the years with the success of Opera Vista they have been supportive and proud of his success.
For Viswa, music and opera are an incredible way of communicating the human experience. “It always amazes me that music that can be over 200 years old deals with issues that are common to us still – love, loss, or spirituality,” he voices.
Very excited about his upcoming festival starting March 12th-19th Vishwa has high expectations. “Like any other arts organization, I would like to see more and more attendance as well as financial support,” he adds, “I have always been quite proud of my Indian heritage, and because of that we have done the world premiere of a ‘Bollywood opera’ with Opera Vista.” He is excited to showcase his Indian heritage with what they do. That being said, he wants more Indian supporters of Opera Vista.