By Aaron Zhang
Aislin Alancheril used to worry about attending large parties or dances. As a singer, she didn’t want to accidentally start screaming, which could damage her vocal cords. But now, she’s found a solution: “If people are screaming, I will sing opera,” she laughed.
Opera involves singing without a microphone, relying on breath support and technique to project one's voice. Alancheril found that this style was “a lot easier to just sing, and it was more fun for me." Ever since she started performing, she realized that she enjoyed telling a story on stage: “Being able to share that with people is, I think, my favorite part about opera.”
Thus, “it's honestly just the joy of singing that’s had me stay in the arts,” Alancheril said. She’s been training in opera since she was nine and loves the growth mindset inherent to the genre. “You’re always learning about different things about your voice and different ways to sing.” For example, in a masterclass with mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson, Alancheril described training, focusing on skills such as enunciation and tone. “There’s always room to make it better, which I think is awesome,” she said.
The song Alancheril sang for Costa-Jackson was a song she’d performed at Carnegie Hall as part of the Chopin Academy of Music. She’s also sung with the Seattle Opera, as part of the Teen Vocal Studio: in addition to workshops and masterclasses in opera and drama, she participated in her very first youth opera.
In opera, there are roles for people of color, but “not really for people who look like me in particular,” Alancheril said. “Seeing an Indian singing is such a surprise.” Yet to her, opera doesn’t have as high a racial barrier as other art forms—“It’s a lot more about your skill than it is how you look, which is refreshing. I think the problem is mainly the psychology of it... there are certain roles that people expect certain people to look a certain way,” she said. These pressures may prevent people of color from auditioning for certain roles.
For Alancheril, just knowing that her parents are supportive motivates her to pursue opera as a profession. However, the cultural pressure to earn a stable, high-paying job often prevents Indians, like Alancheril, from pursuing the arts. This low representation has led to stereotypes in the media. People might make assumptions; “they fill the cracks with what they don’t know, with what they see in the media because that's all they see,” Alancheril said. She believes that accurate media about people of color is key to educating people about other cultures, particularly those that are different from their own.
Alancheril believes that producing diverse media begins with casting; she pointed out the choice of Halle Bailey, a Black woman, as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" as a positive example. To that end, Alancheril auditions for roles where the description doesn’t necessarily fit her appearance. If she sounds good, casting directors might give her the part. In this, she feels that opera is growing more inclusive.
“Every race deserves to be spotlighted and shown in different lights, not just in that one specific way,” Alancheril said. In doing so, people can learn more about the breadth and depth of different identities in the media and discover that people of color are not a monolith. American media is oftentimes one-dimensional, she noted. “I’d love to see more colors in there.”
To that end, Alancheril suggested that artists of color put themselves out there; “the more people of color who are interested in doing stuff like this, the more opportunity there will be.” Institutions will see that representation is a benefit to their bottom line: as minority populations grow in the U.S., minority audiences grow with it. As Alancheril notes, the time is now: it’s a matter of “putting yourself out there and just showing that people of color can do what white people can do.”
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