VIP Meets…three of the biggest name in opera

Claudia Boyle, Celine Byrne and Paula Murrihy Pic: Brian McEvoy

Despite your musical preference you’ve definitely heard of at least one opera. Even if that’s in passing.

Whether that be Carmen or La Traviata. And you’ve more than likely heard of some of the biggest names in opera – Celine Byrne, Paula Murrihy, and Claudia Boyle.

The three women are teaming up for an upcoming performance of Der Rosenkavalier.

VIP Magazine caught up with the three titans to discuss their careers, the opera and bringing it home to Ireland.

Hello, everyone. We hope you’re well. Straight off the bat, what is it like performing in your native country? 

Celine: We haven’t done a performance yet so we don’t know what the audience’s reaction will be of Der Rosenkavalier. Irish National Opera was created to bring opera to Ireland and so far in the Bord Gais, we’ve presented popular arias, like Carmen, Madame Butterfly and Traviata. But what Irish National Opera is trying to do is present opera that might not be so popular and might not be performed here so regularly.

The last time we performed this here was in 1984 in the Gaiety Theatre, so it’s important to perform this opera because it’s not regularly done. We are presenting art and we can’t just present all the popular ones all the time.

People might not know its name, but it’s hugely enjoyable, we have a fabulous orchestra, and incredible singers, most of them are Irish as well. The three main roles are Irish and it’s going to be amazing.

How exciting. Tell us what can audiences expect from Der Rosenkavalier.

Paula: I think opera brings everything together, we have incredible music, that will be in German but we have sur-titles [subtitles above the stage], we have an incredible orchestra, we have the most glorious sets and costumes. The spectacle itself is going to be absolutely amazing. When you go to the opera you get to hear and see everything together in this incredible art form.

It can’t be easy performing opera for an extended period of time. How do you prepare for that?

Paula: We don’t actually do it night after night because I would say we’re vocal athletes. It’s a huge test of stamina for each of our roles. We will do a performance every second day, which even at that will be very intense with the lead-up and the rehearsals. It’s about stamina and keeping ourselves fit and healthy. It will be an amazing experience for people to come see this opera, particularly here in Ireland. It’s an experience.

Claudia Boyle, Celine Byrne and Paula Murrihy Pic: Brian McEvoy

You must have some very emotional reactions from viewers. Tell us a bit about that.

Claudia: There is something very carnal about opera. We have been singing the exact same way for years and years and years. Ever since it first came out of Italy. There is a lovely feeling in the soul because we’ve been singing it the same way for hundreds of years. It’s lovely that we’re still doing that now.

It’s a really heightened art form. And I think that’s why it is so emotional because it’s just a human being on stage with their voice. There are no technological advances, it’s just the human voice and human biology. It does really touch people more than other art forms definitely.

I don’t want to be cheesy but it can be transcendent sometimes. You’re so heightened and you’re so concentrated and you’re in front of all these highly skilled musicians and on top of an orchestra. And you’re singing to an auditorium, it really is a spectacle and it is on a grand scale. It’s breathtaking and it is a privilege to sing it. I got a lot of people who are so moved by the wonder of the human voice.

How have Irish audiences reacted to your performances in the past?

Paula: Irish people respond really well to music. The harp is our national symbol. We punch above our weight when it comes to opera internationally. The most amazing thing about Irish National Opera is that we can come home and sing at a level we want to sing at. We don’t want to come home and sing at a standard we haven’t trained for.

We have such an incredible legacy already. There are so many singers coming out of Ireland. It’s not a recent phenomenon but with the advent of social media, we’re getting to hear about it a bit more. The fact we have an incredible platform here in Ireland is the most important thing.

We think people would assume you grew up constantly listening to classic musical, but that’s not the case, is it?

Paula: I didn’t grow up in an opera background or a classical music background. None of us did. I think what my family and friends know about opera is what they’ve gotten through me. Some people love it and some will be asking me questions for months.

Yes, people might think that opera isn’t for them. What would you say to those people?

Paula: The thing I would say to people is just come and try it, come and experience it. Especially post-COVID there is this thirst for live theatre. This is the absolute height of theatre.

Claudia: There are sur-titles, so it is sung in German but there are sur-titles in English which are just subtitles but at the top. So people can follow the story along as well.

Claudia Boyle, Celine Byrne and Paula Murrihy Pic: Brian McEvoy

So opera is for everyone then?

Celine: My husband has nothing to do with opera and it’s his opinion that matters to me the most. He is the majority of people out there. Of course, I want experts’ opinions as well. But my husband’s opinion is so important to me because I want to appeal to everyone.

I want the masses to engage with opera. I think it’s really important that you don’t just appeal to a small niche of people. I think that’s what Irish National Opera is trying to do here.

You are all so passionate about opera. It must be a privilege to be able to perform some of the most iconic arias in the world.

Claudia: Yes it is. We all trained and studied to do this. This is what we wanted to do with our careers. With any career, be it singing or a doctor, people who study it and have become successful are thanking their lucky stars that they got there.

I think we’re all very, very lucky, especially Paula who has done incredible things in her career. I’m very proud of Paula and I think it’s really important that we all support each other and we can all acknowledge each other’s strengths. Not just as musicians in our field but as women and as mothers.

Celine: It is a privilege to do something we love and earn a living from it. It’s never too far away from my mind. It is an absolute privilege.

Der Rosenkavalier will play a limited run in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on Sunday 5th, Tuesday 7th, Thursday 9th, Saturday 11th of March 2023. Tickets on sale now.

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