‘I want to take opera round West Africa’
Jo Oparamanuike, founder of Comic Opera House (COH), is the Head of MUSON Opera Unit. The chemical engineering graduate of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), studied music opera at the Alexander Gibson Opera School (AGOS), Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), under Scott Johnson. In this chat with INNOCENT ANORUO, the international opera singer known as Mr. Tenor says he plans to establish opera culture in West Africa.
You studied chemical engineering and now you’re in MUSON singing opera. What could have led to this?
When we answer the call of our essence of existence, we don’t look back. We are driven by passion.
Were you forced into studying engineering in school? I mean, why didn’t you study music?
I wasn’t forced. I decided to quit engineering in 2007 and went on to sit for Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) from Grade 8 till I got to the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) level. LRSM in singing and ABRSM Diploma in vocal teaching prepared me for master’s degree in Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Royal Northern College of Music, both in the UK. The former came with full scholarship.
You must have so much in music to go that far. Do you have any other music training?
I have a Post Graduate Diploma (PGDip) in singing. My music education in Scotland was supported by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) Trust Fund’s scholarship. I hold LRSM in singing and Diploma of ABRSM in vocal teaching. In 2008 and 2009, I made the best result in West Africa in both Grade 8 and ABRSM diploma in singing. I was the first Nigerian to sit for ABRSM Diploma in Vocal Teaching and Licentiate in Singing in West Africa.
How did you get into the school?
It was on merit. I applied with audition video and I was taken.
What impact do you think you made over there as far as opera is concerned?
I was able to export a few Nigerian songs, which I performed at my recitals.
What brought you back to Nigeria considering that the country has not developed proper opera culture?
I came back to help my country in a way I can. This was why I registered an opera company, Comic Opera House (COH), which was launched with an opera, Don Pasquale, in 2016.
What is the main job of COH, and how is it doing?
It is more of an educational performing company whose major role is to train and create more opera awareness to our society.
Are you thinking of going back abroad if the company starts doing well?
COH is actually doing well. From time to time, I go abroad to do some jobs. As I see this world to be a global village, it is possible I stay abroad and still facilitate productions in Nigeria.
What have you to say about opera singing in Nigeria?
Opera singing in Nigeria is still a baby that is growing. As an opera pioneer, I have been able to achieve a great feat of making eight opera productions since 2016. With this, it is growing very fast in Lagos through MUSON and COH.
How do you think the opera culture can be developed in Nigeria?
I have started the journey, and I also encourage my other Nigerian international opera colleagues to come back and help develop opera in Nigeria, giving adequate opera training to those who are interested and gifted with operatic voices. To be an opera singer, you must have at least a master’s degree in opera or master’s in performance (singing). My ultimate goal is to introduce and inculcate opera culture in Nigerians and West Africans. I want to give many young singers the musical opportunities in which they cannot get here. By the time I am done, many opera companies would have sprung up.
What challenges have you encountered?
One big challenge I had was starting my career a bit late.
You think you would have started at 15?
Yes, with a good teacher. I never had a teacher until I got to the United Kingdom.
How come the ‘Mr. Tenor’ sobriquet; are you the best tenor singer in Nigeria?
I wouldn’t use the word ‘the best’, but I will say, I am currently the most advanced Nigerian tenor in both education and international performance.
Where do see yourself in the next five years?
I see myself having a lot of opera production collaborations with international opera companies.
Are you still thinking about going back to chemical engineering that you studied in school?
No, I have not thought about going back to chemical engineering, as I am so indulged in classical music now. Moreso, my two postgraduate studies in performance and opera formed me more and I am so fulfilled in music.
What projects are you on now?
I am working on Don Giovanni, which will be performed at the 22nd MUSON Festival on October 19 and 22, 2018.
How would you advise up-and-coming singers who want to venture into opera and make a career of it?
My advice to them is to be focused, be consistent in practice and get a teacher to learn from. They can come to MUSON to study as well as seek scholarship abroad to study further.
I will want to appreciate MUSON for what it has done so far to promote classical music in Nigeria and giving us a platform to practise this genre of music. The MUSON Diploma School of Music has raised a lot of great musicians both at home and abroad.
Would you like to talk about your notable performances?
I sang as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme at The Switzerland Consulate General 2018 Opera Performance with MUSON. In January 2018, I toured with Chorakademie Lubeck and Bamberg Choir to Hong Kong for the production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with Hong Kong Philharmonic Company.
I sang as Tonio in Donizetti’s La Fille Du Regiment for MUSON. I conducted and directed Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard in July 2018, Mozart’s Magic Flute in July 2017, and Sullivan’s Patience in July 2016. These were opera productions for MTNF/MUSON School of Music.
Also I sang as Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte for Opera Abuja in December 2016. I had a very wonderful production of L’Elisir D’Amore for MUSON in April 2016where I sang as Nemorino. I also sang as Ernesto in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the launch of Comic Opera House in September 2016.
I sang the concert version of Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor with the Scottish Opera Orchestra in February 2014. I have played the following roles in Europe and Africa: Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, Prunier in Puccini’s La Rondine, Tito and Monostatos in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberfloter respectively and Iro in Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria.
I made two performance tours from Europe to Asia and to North America in 2015 with Chorakademie Lubeck.
Others include Don Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Alfred in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Hoffman in Offenbach’s Les Contes D’Hoffmann, and Pong in Puccini’s Turandot.
I performed at Commonwealth Week as part of the 2014 Games in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. I was invited to sing again at the 2014 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Conference.
Currently, I am the Opera Director for the MTNF/MUSON Diploma School of Music.
Having won several competitions and awards, I am the Music Director of the Lagos Catholic Archdiocesan Choir and St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, Lagos.
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