The Sydney Opera House, the Royal Opera house in London….here in Dublin, we feel a million miles away from these revered centres for the performing arts. But here we are, in the heart of the city centre, putting on a new performance of one of the best operas around. Can Dublin compete with its international counterparts? Is there such a thing as an Irish opera singer? In meeting the cast for Pagliacci, it seems the answer is ‘yes’, but they are few and far between. In casting Pagliacci, Wonderland Productions have picked some of the best young talent in Ireland, but they’ve also taken on board singers from the UK and from Poland. Quite simply, there are very few opportunities for singers in Ireland, and consequently, few singers.
Tristan and Donna are Pagliacci’s chorus male and female, and have followed a similar path to their current roles. Both have studied on the DIT course in Music Performance, and both came to singing quite late in life.
Tristan had a business background, but gave it up to return to the singing he had enjoyed while in school. “I basically thought, ‘If I don’t give it a shot now I’ll never get another chance.” Similarly, Donna was halfway through a science masters when she discovered she could sing, took some classes, “and the rest is history!”
This doesn’t mean that their current position is an easy one to maintain. Both bolster their income by singing at functions and ceremonies, or hiring themselves out to choir’s across Ireland.
Donna says “Most opera singers in Ireland go abroad. In terms of female singers, I can only name one who has stayed in Ireland and done really well and made a name for herself and that’s Sandra Oman. Almost everyone has to go abroad.” But this has not stopped Wojtek Smarkala coming to Dublin to fulfil his passion for singing and performance.
He has been singing for years, and has trained from a young age. Singing has taken him travelling across Europe, first in Poland and in Germany, working for agencies that put on musicals. For him, “singing is like a drug! I love opera, I could talk about it for hours.”
Wojtek has been in Dublin for three months, and playing the part of Beppe in Pagliacci is his first major role. It seems like a long time to wait, but as he points out with a smile and a shrug, “If you love to sing, then you need to be patient. The work will find you.” He has been training with Ireland’s leading voice coach Veronica Dunne, and clearly loves his time here.
Another fine import on the cast is Rhys, originally from Wales, who is playing the part of Tonio. Like Tristan, he came to singing later in life, when he became bored of his office job. “Voices for opera develop later in life anyway, as opposed to musical theatre where you can have a very short career. You’re past it at 22. I can thankfully continue until I’m really old and crusty!”
Like Wojtek, Rhys has also travelled around for his art, studying in Manchester and in Glasgow. However, this doesn’t bother him too much. “When I wake up in the morning, all I have to think is ‘Is there any other job in the world I’d rather be doing?’ And the answer is always ‘no.’ 99% of the days are really good.”
So it seems, that despite the lack of operatic opportunity in Ireland, our cast are simply delighted to be here. Hopefully, this performance of Pagliacci will encourage a new wave of interest in Opera in Ireland, and more roles for the hard-working cast.