Priti Gandhi - SOPRANO
BTC: Who is your musical hero and why?
Priti Gandhi: of the most compelling singing - Mirella Freni has always been my hero! Listening to her sing is like listening to the most pleasurable voice lesson ever, as well as being awed by her total authenticity to the text and intention. The Boheme recording of her and Pavarotti is my all time fave for getting lost in the music.
BTC: What is your favorite local restaurant and why?
PG: I'd have to say Kindred in South Park. Vegan restaurant with pink wallpaper and heavy metal playing on the speakers.It sounds insane, I know. Don't knock it till you try it! Truly the yummiest vegan food I've ever eaten. I have taken meat-eating friends here, and they don't even realize it's a vegan restaurant. The food is sinfully yummy.
BTC: Can you describe a professional highlight or tell a story from your career that our readers would love to hear?
PG: Just the fact that I was even able to make a career as an opera singer for so many years is, I guess, a huge personal achievement for me. I didn't grow up with opera playing in the background - I heard Indian devotional bhajans and Bollywood music at home. Though I have played piano since the age of six - thankfully, if not for that piano training, I would never have been introduced to the classical composers in such an instrumental way! I don't think I could have made a career as an opera singer, if not for the many years of piano, which trained my ear and gave me the foundation for understanding musicality.
I also studied Journalism and Theatre at UCSD, so I didn't get a conservatory training - another possible challenge on the road to being a singer. But San Diego Opera was crucial in giving me that training I needed - when I started voice lessons, and hooked up with the opera chorus and the young artist program (was called the San Diego Opera Ensemble at the time) - I went to every rehearsal I could, bugged everyone in the offices for advice, and sat in the listening library for hours, reading and studying music and languages.
If you're looking for a 'war story'.... well, I have a few, as we all do! One that stands out as a moment I'm particularly proud of.... not too many people know this story, so I'll out it here. My first Cenerentola, my first title role - I was understandably nervous at tackling such an iconic role, and was singing with a very good house in the Midwest. I had only really done comprimario roles up until that point.
The day before opening night... I woke up and couldn't feel the right side of my face. It was almost completely paralyzed. I thought I was having a stroke. I didn't tell anyone for fear of being fired, and confided in one cast member who was a personal friend, whose mom was a nurse in town. She took me to the doctor, who said I had been hit with a bout of Bell's Palsy. He couldn't tell me if it would fade in a few weeks, or stay forever. Words cannot describe how scared I was that this was suddenly something I had to face before the biggest opening night of my career so far.
I made the (possibly unwise) choice to tell no one, not even my folks, who were flying in that night to see me sing the next day. I couldn't close my right eye without manually using my hand to shut it, and when I smiled, the right side of my face tugged up maybe a centimeter or two - that was it. And my lips on the right side were not super responsive.
Anyone who knows Rossini's Cinderella, knows that the amount of fast Italian patter make this even more horrifying.
I remember meditating on this all day, and trying to keep it together while figuring out how I would sing this role. I got to the dressing room super early opening night, and warmed up and meditated for two hours. If ever I believed in divine grace touching me with a bit of a miracle.... it was that evening, because not only did I sing the show and all the patter (which I'm not sure, honestly, how I did that)... I got a great review. I had a hard time at the opening night party, though - I was careful not to smile to big, and my folks were giving me funny looks (they could tell something was off). The other cast members could tell something was off, but I managed to keep it going.
I sang the whole run that way. Thankfully, the effects started to wear off and I was able to give more of a smile and blink my eyes better as the week went on. But that was truly one of the most difficult and amazing experiences I've had in my career. I remember thinking after that show, that we have no idea what we're capable of, until we are thrown into the fire. Now I look back and see how much my confidence benefited from this. Never thought I would be thankful for a partially paralyzed face!