"I definitely have equally poor restraint with an éclair as I do with a quiche Lorraine..."
Hey everybody! Jillian here! We're gonna deviate from our standard "Welcome to Opera Memphis," introductions, and I'm going to personally introduce you to this awesome woman who will be delighting Memphis with her powerhouse voice this season.
Tahanee Aluwihare (that's pronounced phonetically: Tah-HAH-nee Ah-loo-vee-HAH-ray) is a charismatic, beautiful firecracker of a woman whose heart has the same depth and breadth as her warm mezzo-soprano. She is much more interested in talking about the world, problems in society and how to solve them, and observations she has made throughout her various adventures than about herself and her accomplishments. Anytime an achievement or random accolade is mentioned, it's always as an off-hand comment or footnote to some larger story or anecdote. Tahanee is a woman whose sight is firmly set upon the forward progress of the unknown future and not upon trophies or mile markers.
But, don't be fooled. It's not because she HASN'T done a lot, because she has. This girl has been around the world (literally) and her paths in life have ranged from culinary school to getting her PhD to Anthropology to professional opera to so much more. I'm not going to spoil all the juicy details, though. You will have more fun catching them in a quick-paced conversation with Tahanee than reading them here.
Tahanee is originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka, but she hasn't lived there for a long time. She's traveled all over Europe and then to the States for her studies. She's lived in Houston, TX, Boise, ID, in and around Boston, MA, and is now based in Natick, MA (a New England town an hour outside of Boston) with her husband Jack and their dog Hugo. Hugo is a Britany Spaniel and Tahanee absolutely adores him.
Tahanee's introduction to opera was just like her introduction to Memphis - immediate and with full force. Her whole family is very artistic and she and her siblings grew up with a love for visual arts that naturally progressed into a love for opera and ballet. Her earliest memories are of Rossini's famous Overture from Guillaume Tell, but it was when she was exposed to the vocal music of Bach and Handel that she fell in love with opera. She started studying classical voice at 14, but didn't seriously consider a profession in opera till much later in life when urged by vocal competition judges and coaches to be an opera singer because she "wasn't cut out to sing Celine Dion songs." Thank god she listened to their advice, because she is a rare mezzo-soprano who has handled pants-roles (like Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo) and sensual female opera icons (like Carmen in Bizet's La Tragedie de Carmen) with ease and fluidity.
Tahanee's introduction to Memphis came 4 days after landing at the MEM Airport. She hit the ground running with Opera Memphis's iconic 30 Days of Opera which is where I first met her. Clad in our abrasively orange shirts, she and I had our first conversation while sitting on the floor of the practice stadium for the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedexForum. She was about to sing the National Anthem for the Exposure Olympic Games hosted by New Memphis. She was asking me questions about the sports culture in Memphis, the American obsession with basketball, football, and baseball, and where the love for mascots came from? I smiled and sheepishly laughed because I had to admit all of my answers were pure speculation since I was never a "sports fan" growing up as a kid nor now as an adult. Our fascination for this perplexing obsession with sports became an instant bond and I was taken by the ease with which she spoke of her unfamiliarities and her eagerness to understand the world around her.
Sports may not be a major passion for Tahanee, but I found out she loves (and is quite proficient at) cooking and is a bit of a foodie. She's extremely excited to try different types of barbeque in Memphis as well as Southern style cuisine since she has been up in the Northeast for a good chunk of time recently. She loves sweet and savory dishes, but finds a weakness with patisserie:
"I am a self-professed lover of many kinds of foods, but if I had to pick, it would definitely be patisserie. That's cheating a little because of course it technically includes many different types of baked goods, but I definitely have equally poor restraint with an éclair as I do with a quiche Lorraine..."
She also loves visiting museums and historic sites, and was asking me all about Memphis's history and museums. So if you see her around town, be sure to share with her your favorite local restaurant and historic site!
Recently, the two of us were sitting in Tamp & Tap in downtown Memphis before a surprise 30 Days of Opera performance at The Peabody Hotel, and I off-handidly asked her what she wanted to do if she ever decided to stop pursuing opera professionally. She said, "Before I became a professional opera singer, I was on track to become an Anthropologist. I am definitely still attracted to history and the social-sciences so I think it would be safe to say I would be busy studying human nature through the academic lens instead of the artistic if I hadn't ended up in the career that I'm currently in."
I believe that Tahanee - in whatever field she ends up in - will not only be a great observer of humanity and human nature, but also an effective finder of solutions for the various problems of human beings. Her sharp intelligence and (at times) quiet nature allow her to take in the world around her while her wisdom, quick wit, and dry sense of humor allow her to compassionately take in many different worldviews and approaches with patience and a smile.
"My grandfather used to always tell me that the only way to find a solution to a problem was by trial and error. At the time we were doing math problems so it was relevant, but I remember wondering why we couldn't just look up the solution somewhere and memorize the answer. Now as an adult I realize he was talking about life, and that advice is now a nice reminder that everyone has to make their own path in this world."
Be sure to catch one of Tahanee's free performances during 30 Days of Opera and reserve your tickets to catch her at a special recital featuring Opera Memphis Handorf Company Artists and IRIS Orchestra Fellows this November!