Behind the Curtain
Sherezade Panthaki, Soprano
Q: Do you have a pre-concert ritual?
A: Mostly, I simply take time to focus, center my thoughts, and visualize the performance. I adore the act of making music with great musicians as well as that of communicating music with an audience. The more centered I am, the more I am able to give myself completely to the service of making the music come alive!
Q: What piece of music or role (that you have not sung) would you most like to perform?
A: I’d love to sing the role of Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar). It’s such a terrific opera—it has triumph, sorrow, tenderness, seduction, ecstasy, political savvy—and it doesn’t hurt that every single one of Cleopatra’s arias is stunning!
Q: What is something about you that might surprise others?
A: I’m a huge fan of the great British detective murder mystery genre! I’ve read every Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and P.D. James, and watched every episode of Inspector Lewis, Inspector Morse, Sherlock, Midsomer Murders, Luther, MI-5… the list goes on! I’m also a fan of classic British comedy shows like Monty Python, Vicar of Dibley, Black Adder, and Fawlty Towers!
Q: Do you ever get nervous performing in front of an audience?
A: Happily, no! I think of every performance as an opportunity to invite others to join me in the renewed discovery of something that I just love to do! What could be better!!!
Q: Do you speak any other languages? Which ones?
A: Yes, indeed! I was born and raised in India, where it is fairly common to speak 3 or more languages, since every state, every region, and every ethnic community has such a rich heritage of diverse languages. I grew up speaking English, Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi; in addition, I’ve had the opportunity to learn some German, French and Italian.
Q: What goes with you on every trip?
A: Why, tea, of course! I have a special blend of an Indian chai that I’ve drunk, with a little milk and honey, every morning for the past several years. It simply wouldn’t be a good day without this ritual!
“I’d love to sing the role of Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar).”
Q: What is your idea of happiness, or the perfect day?
A: That’s easy! Spending the day in a beautiful place with close friends, either making music or attending a concert of exquisite music, and enjoying a superb gourmet dinner!
Q: Who is your favorite composer?
A: In the immortal words of Radar, from the TV show M*A*S*H: “Ahhhh, Bach”.
What more can be said!
Q: What is your favorite beverage?
Q: What do you consider comfort food?
A: Mmmm. Sinfully rich dark chocolate cake!
Q: What is your present state of mind?
A: Sparkling! The joy of a life rich with beautiful music, surrounded by extraordinary people—it’s what I’ve always dreamed of having.
Q: Faults for which you have the most tolerance? The least?
A: Faults for which I have the most tolerance are probably self-criticism and impatience to get instant results! They’re quite understandable impulses in today’s world, but most musicians and artists would agree that our discipline requires perseverance and a healthy dose of patience—and when these are allowed, the results are unimaginably gratifying.
Faults for which I have the least tolerance are bullying and blind self-righteousness. Ours is a complex world and we can all be a little a more understanding of each other’s journeys. Happily, most of the musicians I know are a wonderfully accepting and caring group of people!
Q: What is your motto, favorite quotation, or words to live by?
A: The great Anglican composer Herbert Howells wrote a gorgeous piece of music called A Hymn for Saint Cecilia, to a poem of the same name by Ursula Vaughan Williams (the wife of Ralph Vaughan Williams). Saint Cecilia is the 2nd century patron saint of musicians. This is more of a favorite text than a motto. It brings me closer to answering the question of why human civilizations, over thousands of years, have felt compelled to sing and make music!
A Hymn for Saint Cecilia
Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911–2007)
Sing for the morning’s joy, Cecilia, sing,
in words of youth and praises of the Spring,
walk the bright colonnades by fountains’ spray,
and sing as sunlight fills the waking day;
till angels, voyaging in upper air,
pause on a wing and gather the clear sound
into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
a silver chain, or golden as your hair.
Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
in words of music, and each word a truth;
marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
a bond of roses, and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
terror must gather to a martyr’s death;
but never tremble, the last indrawn breath
remembers music as an echo may.
Through the cold aftermath of centuries,
Cecilia’s music dances in the skies;
lend us a fragment of the immortal air,
that with your choiring angels we may share,
a word to light us thro’ time-fettered night,
water of fife, or rose of paradise,
so from the earth another song shall rise
to meet your own in heaven’s long delight.