A LATE starter is how internationally renowned soprano, Celine Byrne, is described by her peers. The globe-trotting singer, aged 37, will perform at the inaugural Drimoleague Singing Festival from September 21 to 24.
She decided she wanted to be an opera singer after seeing a live show at Milan’s La Scala when she worked in Italy as an au pair after leaving school. She started taking singing lessons at the age of 18.
From Kildare, Celine received her Masters in Music degree from the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 2007. She also has an honours music degree from DIT’s conservatory of music and drama. She received coaching at the National Opera Studio of London.of London.
Celine, a mother-of-three, says her career really took off when she was awarded the first prize and gold medal at the Maria Callas Grand Prix in Athens in 2007. She made her operatic debut as Mimi in Scottish Opera’s production of La Bohéme in 2010.
Looking back, she explains that she never grew up thinking she’d be an opera singer. She wasn’t a big fan of classical music, preferring pop music.
“Singing,” she explains, “was a hobby that developed into a career. It wasn’t really an ambition. It wasn’t until I left college that I really decided to focus on getting the work.”
Her Masters Degree enables her to teach.Masters Degree enables her to teach.
“You can’t bet on a career. The arts are a tough field. My luck came after winning the Maria Callas prize. I got a good agent and I got work. It sounds very easy but there’s a lot of hard work and hassle and stress. I suppose the easiest thing for a classical singer would be to be part of an ensemble, working in an opera house.”
But that option, which would have entailed going abroad full-time, wasn’t feasible.
“I couldn’t move in as I have a husband and the children are at school. I couldn’t uproot their lives just for me. It would be very selfish. So, it became about trying to find the balance between work and home life.
“I do concerts in Ireland and the establishment of the Irish National Opera means there are exciting times ahead. But when I was younger, most of my work was abroad.”
On the phone from Germany, Celine is still travelling for work; around Europe, Russia, the US and last year, China.
“I’ve got great support from my family. When they can, my children and my husband come and see me perform. If I have any free time, I try and fly home. But my job involves travel.
“Most people are working from nine to five and seeing their children in the evenings. I’m very lucky to have a job that I love.
“Even though I can be gone for a length of time, I’m also home for long periods. My husband is at home with the children. In this day and age, we’re blessed that one parent can stay at home.”
At the moment, Celine is preparing for three different operas that will be performed back to back. It’s pressurised but she takes it in her stride, using her linguistic skills (as well as English and Irish, she speaks French and has reasonably good German) which sometimes involve learning the lyrics phonetically.
“It’s important that you know the language of the opera and it’s equally important to know exactly what you’re singing and what somebody is saying. You can study that without knowing the language. I don’t speak Russian but I’ve studied work in Russian.”
Celine has performed with operatic luminaries José Carreras and Andrea Bocelli.
“I’ve worked with José for the last eight years. He’s really lovely; a gentleman on and off the stage. I performed with Andrea when he came to Ireland last year. He’s so busy that I didn’t get to talk to him but when I’m working with José, we spend a lot of time together.”
While Celine’s children all learn musical instruments, she doesn’t necessarily want them to follow in her footsteps.
“I want them to do what they want but I do think that every child should have some sort of activity, be it music or sport. It’s important for their development.
“I didn’t play an instrument as a child but I did sports. My children are all very open-minded because they’re growing up with their mother being an opera singer. They’re very sociable.
“I think a lot of young children don’t know what opera is or what classical music is. My children know this world. I also bring them to museums and to the theatre. I believe it’s very important for every child to have an educated view on everything.”
Concerned that music may be taken out of the syllabus, Celine points to her youngest child, eleven year old Cillian, who doesn’t like sports but loves music.
“There’s a wonderful music policy in the school he goes to. They all learn the violin and there’s a school band. If my son was in a school with no music, he’d be ostracised because he doesn’t play sports.”
However, Celine is critical of young singers “who push themselves too hard.”
“They end up damaging their voices. They’re too hard on themselves. They want instant success but Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time. And success is relative. I would say that I’m successful but my success is based on the fact that I have a wonderful supportive family and I’m doing a job that I love. Success is happiness.”
Celine is looking forward to her concert in Drimoleague where she will perform, accompanied by an ensemble, operatic arias, favourites from musicals and traditional Irish songs. The concert is on September 24 at All Saints Church, Chapel Street, Drimoleague.