Mumbai’s Celia Lobo, the country's only opera diva, falls silent | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Mumbai’s Celia Lobo, the country's only opera diva, falls silent

Jun 19, 2024 09:08 AM IST

After a prolonged illness, Celia Lobo, anointed the country’s only opera diva, passed away on June 18. She spent her last moments at home in Mumbai

MUMBAI: After a prolonged illness, Celia Lobo, anointed the country’s only opera diva, passed away on June 18. She spent her last moments at home in Mumbai, surrounded by her son Ashley Lobo and other members of the family.

Mumbai’s opera diva falls silent
Mumbai’s opera diva falls silent

Dancer and choreographer Ashley, who is the founder and artistic director of The Danceworx (TDX) and Navdhara India Dance Theatre (NIDT), called his mother a “master voice teacher, musical theatre director, corporate head, wife, mother and so much more…” in an Instagram post. “I am because of you… you taught me everything,” he posted in remembrance.

Celia’s US-based daughter Deirdre Lobo, founder and artistic director of Celia Lobo Academy of Voice (CLAV) and One Voice Institute of Music and Art (OVIMA Global), who is an acclaimed performer and vocal coach herself, called her mother her “biggest inspiration and India’s only living opera diva” in a Facebook post. “She not only imparted her musical wisdom to me as my very first teacher but also left an indelible mark on the music industry by teaching some of the biggest names and directing remarkable shows and musicals.”

Celia soared in the 1960s, being one of the female leads of the Bombay Madrigal Singers’ Organisation (BMSO), which organised operas in the city. She played the female lead in ‘Tosca’ by Giacomo Puccini, Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor,’ Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ and ‘Rigoletto,’ and Vincenzo Bellini’s ‘Norma.’ At the time, she was the go-to person for anyone who was looking to put out a good show.

In her later years, though she did not have the strength to sing anymore, Celia continued to be surrounded by music. “Soon after waking up every morning, I would pray with her, sing to her, play some of her opera arias and videos of different operatic artistes. Music was her life. She was surrounded by music from the time she was a child to the last days of her life. Everything about music gave her comfort,” recalled Deirdre.

In an earlier interview from 2019, Celia told this writer, “I have been listening to opera since I was very small. It became a part of my life because both my parents were singers. And I just took to opera; because they loved opera, so I loved opera.”

Her childhood was seeped in music – her father sang western classical music and played the piano, her mother was also a singer and her aunt a violinist. Family influenced young Celia’s mind. She went on to study at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and subsequently worked with the BMSO once she returned to India. Over the years, she also directed plays and musicals, did concerts in Mumbai, Delhi, Goa, Nepal and Sri Lanka, among other places.

After the BMSO disbanded in 1970, Celia continued engaging with music by becoming a voice and speech coach. Among the students she tutored are Shiamak Davar, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shweta Shetty, Sunita Rao and Neethi Mohan. Several of her students went on to build careers as professional singers. “She had a huge impact on students,” Deirdre recalled. “I have been flooded with messages [on social media]. She was not just a teacher but a friend and confidante to her students. She also helped people with personal issues. She was that kind of woman.”

Apart from being an accomplished musician, she also worked as a corporate executive – she was the general manager of the South East Asia region for Chemical Bank, headquartered in New York (between 1824 and 1996). She worked in the bank’s Nariman Point branch. Thereafter, she was the executive assistant to Deep Anand, chairman of Gabriel India Ltd, a major player in the auto component industry.

In her later years Celia continued attending concerts, with a walker and an unparalleled excitement, for as long as she could. Even as her illness took over and she became weaker, Celia never complained. “She had a lot of grit and love,” said Deirdre.

As music aficionados in the city mourn this cultural icon’s passing, this writer remembers how Celia had described her love for opera: “It’s high drama which is set to music. And the music itself touches my heart and my soul. It’s been everything to me. It’s all that I knew about music.”

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