Years after he faded from public eye, Bejun Mehta, a nephew of composer Zubin Mehta, is hitting the high notes again in a New York opera.
Bejun, whose solo singing career began at nine, is now 30 and stars in "Flavio", the latest in New York City Opera's (NYCO) highly acclaimed series of works by German composer Handel.
Set in a mythical past, "Flavio" fancifully imagines Britain under Lombardic rule. King Flavio must resolve romantic entanglements, political intrigue, and murder in his court.
The romantic hero is Guido, son of King Flavio's counsellor, Ugolo. Bejun is cast as Guido.
The role is his triumphant New York return after his musical rebirth as a countertenor.
Born in Laurinberg, North Carolina, to a branch of India's leading family of Western music, Bejun's solo career began at the age of nine. He was a star until puberty ended his career as a boy soprano.
Robert Hilferty wrote of him in New York magazine: "An acclaimed boy soprano who was put out of business by puberty, Bejun Mehta remained silent for 15 years. Now, at 30, the countertenor is again hitting the high notes."
Mehta's own story is no less dramatic than the plot of any of Handel's operas. Hilferty wrote: "When you've reached the peak of your career at age 14, it must be hell to face your next 60 years as a has-been. Yet that seemed to be what fate held in store for Bejun Mehta, a celebrated boy soprano who thought he was washed up by the time he reached his mid-teens.
"When Leonard Bernstein first heard Mehta, he declared: 'It is hard to believe the richness and maturity of musical understanding in this adolescent boy.' Music was, to be sure, in Mehta's blood -- his Bombay-born father, a pianist, is a cousin to conductor Zubin, and his mother, a singer, was his voice teacher -- but in the end, what could really account for his
"It's not every singer, after all, who can navigate the wicked coloratura riffs of Mozart's 'Queen of the Night', hitting those high F's, no less - a difficult task for most grown sopranos, let alone a seven-year-old."
After seeing himself on the periphery by his passage to manhood, Bejun Mehta read an article about David Daniels. The story felt familiar.
Like him, Daniels had sung as long as he could remember. Like him, he had struggled to remake himself in an accepted "grownup" vocal category. Only when he took flight as a countertenor did his primal connection to music suddenly return.
Months later Bejun was singing Handel in downtown Manhattan, a newborn countertenor blowing listeners away with his fluency, power and emotional abandon.
Performances of Handel's "Partenope" at NYCO in the fall of 1999 brought the news uptown. A European tour took him to London and Vienna.