Tharanga Goonetilleke – Distinguished Lyric Soprano


by Nanda P. Wanasundera

Meeting Tharanga was an experience for me since I was immediately charmed by her and surprised by her delightful simplicity and her evident modesty while being a world acclaimed opera singer. Hear her on the 12th at Ladies College at the Symphony Orchestra event when she will be soloist and judge for yourself her performance. Meet her and you too will be charmed by her total lack of hubris. She emerges an ingénue who takes acclaim and success well in her stride. Read the quotes below and you will see how internationally appreciated she is. "Tharanga Goonetilleke, a soprano from Sri Lanka, brought an appealingly rich tone - and, more important, a sense of innocence, conflict and, in her final scene, radiance - to her characterization of Blanche."

- Allan Kozinn. The New York Times, April 22nd, 2010

"Tharanga Goonetilleke emphasized Blanche’s naïveté and fears, her passionate searching and her final acceptance with glowing tones and phrasing, both clear and winning performances filled with emotional truth." Judith Malafronte. Opera News April 21st, 2010

"Soprano Tharanga Goonetilleke as Mimi...her assured presence, creamy voice, and delicious vulnerability marks her as someone on the threshold of stardom" Harvey Steiman. The Aspen Times, July 21, 2009

"Soprano Tharanga Goonetilleke was enchanting. I still have chills from her high D in ‘dulcissime’ where each pitch of the coloratura triplets leading to this culminating high pitch was perfectly in tune. It was the most extraordinary performance of this passage I have heard live." Jeffrey Johnson. Greenwich Time Review of March 15, 2009 concert

To complement the praise of experts, Tharanga mentioned the four most important operatic roles she has sung so far, and awards and honours won.

1) Mimi in La Boheme by Puccini

2) Pamina in The Magic Flute by Mozart

3) Blanche in The Dialogues of the Carmelites by


4) Ginevra in Ariodante by Handel

1) Recipient of the Makiko Narumi Memorial Prize

at the Juilliard School

2) Metropolitan Opera National Council State win

ner for the states of SC and NY.

3) Distinction in Opera from Converse College

(awarded to Tharanga after 125 years of this

award not being given to anyone)

4) Winner of the Palmetto Opera concerto competi

tion in South Carolina School.

Tharanga studied at Ladies College and was into music and singing from early on as her father used to sing at home and her mother was a piano teacher. In school she was choir leader and performed in several concerts. With Christine Perera’s help she passed her ATCL – Voice - and became an Associate of the Trinity College of Music, London. But music was just one part of her life. Later, when it became her course of study and career, she felt it had always been what she wanted to do and be. Her lucky break came when she sang solo at a Christmas concert with the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka. Professor Douglas Weeks, piano soloist, hearing her, advised her to apply to the college he was in - Converse College, South Carolina. She did as suggested but was far from sure whether this was what she wanted to study and take on as a career. Thus started a journey in music with fortune smiling on her all the way. Of course it was not only good luck; it was her ability, musicality, commitment and perseverance that guided her from success to success. At Converse she majored in music and minored in Biology from 2001 to 2005. Her parents wondered whether opera would be a worthwhile career and what if she wanted to return home. She entered a competition - the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition and was the winner for the State of Carolina. Judges were from the Juilliard School New York, the world’s most prestigious college for the performing arts. Impressed by her, they enquired from her whether she was not considering higher studies. The consideration of money cropped up to which they said scholarships were available. She was selected from hundreds after severe judging, first on a CD submitted by her and then actually performing to the examiners and being interviewed. Here again luck weighted the scales in her favour.

Not only was she accepted by Juilliard but was given free tuition. Her living expenses were funded by the President’s Fund (Sri Lanka). She told me this with a special purpose in mind; to advise others aspiring to study abroad not to give up easily due to lack of money or other constraints. After her Masters degree she was considering returning home when her voice teacher suggested she apply for the Artist Diploma at Juilliard Opera Center, which is most prestigious programme at the Juilliard. She applied and was selected to this program where tuition was free and a stipend paid.

During her career so far, she has travelled to Paris, Rome, Florence, London, Scotland, Korea to perform in operas/concerts. She has studied the languages she sings in – Italian, French, German, Russian – because as she said, you have to sound a native of a country whose opera you are performing. For instance, she spent six weeks in the Michael Angelo Institute in Florence steeped in learning Italian. "Words have a taste," she said, which to me was a totally evocative and perceptive statement from this young woman.

The talent for singing and performing runs in the family. Tharanga’s younger sister followed her to Converse College and then moved to the Southern Illinois University for her Masters in opera and musical theatre.

Thereafter Tharanga was included in the roster of New York City Opera where she made her debut last November, conducted by Maestro George Manahan.

After her short spell in Sri Lanka she will go to Virginia to sing under the baton of the famous conductor – Lorin Maazel. "I would rather be in Sri Lanka", Tharanga said, considering her parents who miss their two daughters very much. "But opportunities in the States are really great. I can give back what I have benefited by." We wish her well, this young woman who is a pride to Sri Lanka and an admirable ambassador of our country wherever she performs, especially in New York which is where she resides.

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