Revelling in the real job of singing: Ailish Tynan is coming home to Mullingar

Ailish Tynan.

After making her Carnegie Hall debut last month, Ailish Tynan is coming home to Mullingar, writes Cathy Desmond

Ailish Tynan is coming home to Mullingar to make her debut at the Great Music in Irish Houses Festival at the historic house where she made her first solo appearance. It will be déja vu for the distinguished international singing star who sang for president Patrick Hillery at the Georgian villa, Belvedere House as a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

Tynan is a refreshingly down-to-earth personality with an infectious sense of fun and there is much mirthful chortling as she talks about the latest adventures in her high-flying career by phone from her home in Lewisham, London.

Despite having lived almost two decades in the UK, the soprano has lost none of her Mullingar brogue. Petite and unassuming, she projects none of the mien of a grand diva. Rather, she has the air of a gal that would be as happy with a bag of chips on the prom as a cordon bleu dinner at the Ritz.

She admits to sometimes “letting on to be a nurse” to avoid the incredulity of taxi drivers when she mentions that she is an opera singer. But by any standard, Tynan is arguably the most successful Irish singer of her generation.

Tynan attended a local convent school in Westmeath where her talent was noticed. “The nuns spotted me and I had a singing teacher called Dorothy Horan in Mullingar who ran a choir called Studio 3. It was Dorothy that selected a few soloists to sing for the president’s visit.”

A career in singing wasn’t initially in her sights. On leaving school, Tynan came to Dublin to train as a teacher — being a professional opera singer seemed “not a real job”. She kept her interest in singing alive

having lessons with the late Jennie Reddin.

“She was my absolute rock and inspiration. Everything I learned about musicality was from Jennie.”

Two weeks into teaching music and history, Tynan decided that maybe a career in singing might be worth a go after all and began a master’s degree in performance following on to an opera course at Guildhall School of Music.

When I came to London, things flew. I was a Young Artist at Covent Garden and then I was a BBC New Generation Artist. That gave me such a huge boost and it was plain sailing for me after that.

In 2003, Tynan won the Song Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World, the only Irish winner to date. Although now a vastly experienced professional, who has sung for kings and dignitaries in the world’s grandest halls, there is the sense Tynan is still pinching herself at discovering that singing can be a ‘real job’.

“As you get more experienced, you get more used to handling the stress of performing but you never get used to it. It still feels surreal and amazing to sing at these occasions. After I made my Carnegie Hall debut in May, there was a gala dinner afterwards.

I could see there was a man who was dying to talk to me at another table. He was the man who had discovered the Salvator Mundi — the lost Da Vinci painting. Imagine. Here’s one of the top men in the art world and he wants to talk to me about my singing. It’s a mad world.”

For her programme at Belvedere House, accompanied by Finghin Collins, she will sing songs by Fauré and also a set of rarely heard songs by a little-known composer. Muriel Herbert was a British composer from Liverpool born at the turn of the 20th century. Much of Herbert’s work is for solo voice and piano. In Paris, she met James Joyce who gave her permission to set some of his texts.

“The well-known novelist Claire Tomalin is Muriel Herbert’s daughter. Claire discovered these beautiful songs in her mother’s manuscripts. I was asked to record them. I can’t wait to come home and sing them.”

Ailish Tynan sings at Belvedere House, June 14 as part of the 49th Great Music in Irish Houses Festival

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