6 Irish Opera Singers You Should Know

Friday, March 17, 2017 - 07:15 AM

Naomi Louisa O'Connell in 'Witches, Bitches & Women in Britches.' (Richard Vernon)

It does not have to be St. Patrick’s Day for my eyes to smile at the thought of Ireland. The people are so warm and hospitable and one would have to have a cold heart to not be enchanted by their gift of gab. Ireland has also, in recent years, become a major exporter of marvelous young opera singers, many of them trained at Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy of Music. I have spoken there on a couple of occasions and was mightily impressed with the talents of its students, many of whom use their innate Irish ability of storytelling to become superb recitalists and opera singers.

I recently got in touch with Deborah Kelleher, the director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, whose dynamic leadership has attracted attention and collaborations in Europe and North America. I asked her to mention Irish singers (mostly trained at RIAM), who are having success on Planet Opera. Here are six picks, according to Kelleher:

  • "Paula Murrihy recently made her debut in the Met in the role of Stephano in Roméo et Juliette. She is an exciting mezzo who has brought a freshness to some of the classic roles, such as Carmen at Frankfurt Opera. I think she will grow and grow as an artist."
  • "Naomi O’Connell is another young mezzo who first gained recognition beside Tyne Daly in Terrence McNally’s wonderful play Master Class. She has since performed the title role in L’Incoronazione di Poppea at Frankfurt Opera. Naomi is particularly versatile in devising one-woman shows and likes to work outside the main opera arena. She is touring at the moment with the interestingly titled 'Witches, Bitches, and Women in Britches’!"


  • "Robin Tritschler is a wonderful Irish tenor who sang in New York this week (Tamino in Die Zauberflöte at El Museo del Barrio). Robin is a true artist on the concert platform, and this gift was with him from his earliest student days. His recordings of English song are to be truly treasured."
  • "For our Irish Mimì? Celine Byrne's incredible lyrical voice is carving out a great international career in La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Die Tote Stadt and all of that glorious romantic repertoire."
  • "Claudia Boyle is a wonderful lyric coloratura soprano (also a great comedian as seen in her Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera). Claudia is comfortable in contemporary opera as well as the Romantic classics and I think this versatility will keep her in excellent roles."
  • "Gavan Ring, a terrific young baritone who impressed me so much in a recent Wigmore Hall recital. Gavan has started to get main roles in the major opera houses of Europe in roles like Figaro (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and I think you will see him in the USA before very long."

“There are other Irish (and Irish-trained) singers carving out similarly exciting careers all over the world, and even listing just this small number is so exciting. For our island to produce this quality in opera is humbling and thrilling.”

I asked Kelleher about mezzo Tara Erraught, perhaps the most famous graduate of RIAM. She makes her Metropolitan Opera debut next season as Nicklausse in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and then sings Hansel in Hansel and Gretel. Kelleher replied, “I remember first hearing Tara as a seventeen-year old, singing some Irish songs during one of my musical appreciation talks at the RIAM. Even at that young age she demonstrated poise, musicianship and a wonderful voice. The gifts were there for all to see. However, her teacher (Veronica Dunne) was careful to not give Tara too much exposure. She wanted her to have a sound technique before taking on too ambitious repertoire. For me, Tara was obliging, funny, captivating as a young artist and full of courage. I will never forget her as a hilarious Marcellina in our production of The Marriage of Figaro. Her comic timing is something that showed there in abundance, and has now come to the fore in her Rossini roles, that is for sure.”


RIAM’s Veronica Dunne is a legendary singing teacher and a former singer who, as a young woman, sang with Maria Callas in Italy. Ms. Dunne has taught her methods to other, younger instructors as well as training singers. According to Kelleher, “There was no conscious decision to have the master/younger teacher approach. Yet Ronnie has taught generations of the best teachers in the land! Veronica Dunne has developed a 'School' of Irish singing based on classic Italian technique combined with the Irish person's natural ability to connect with and beguile their fellow man. Her genius was in her ability to pass this on to so many who have become superb teachers themselves.”

RIAM recently collaborated with other academic institutions specializing in musical education, including the Guildhall School in London and Juilliard in New York. In 2015 I attended a new work called Ten Thousand Miles Away— a 60-minute exploration of emigration through song and poetry—featuring student singers, pianists and actors from RIAM and Juilliard.. Performances took place in Dublin and New York, led by Iain Burnside of the Guildhall School in London, with support from a talented young Irish director, Conor Hanratty.

In 2016 the collaboration was widened to include RIAM, Juilliard and the Guildhall School. They created piece called Drums and Guns which featured singers, pianists and composers from the three institutions. It commemorated 100 years since the Easter Rising in Ireland, which ushered in Ireland's independence.

RIAM just forged a partnership with the Liszt Academy in Hungary. Its students  (along with technical theater students from Guildhall) performed at their Opera Festival in January in a Handel/Monteverdi operatic double bill.

According to Kelleher, “The impact of these collaborations has been hugely positive. Reputationally, the RIAM now stands beside world leading institutions because of the success of the projects, and this has had a positive effect on confidence back in Ireland and on increased applications from overseas. For our staff and students, meeting their peers has challenged and inspired them, because they have had a real life opportunity to see the standard that is out there. All in all, the insight we have gained as an institution following these projects is immeasurable.”


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Comments [1]

Geo. from St. Louis, MO

Another fine Irish mezzo is Patricia Bardon. Enjoyed hearing her several years ago in a concert performance of Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" across the pond.

Mar. 17 2017 03:13 PM

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