Cork soprano: Singing makes me feel so happy...

Cork-born Rachel Kelly is delighted to be heading back to her birth place this month to perform at the West Cork Music Festival, writes AISLING MEATH
Cork soprano: Singing makes me feel so happy...

Cork born mezzo soprano, Rachel Kelly

“IT’S such a joy to be back performing live again.”

So says Cork born mezzo soprano Rachel Kelly, who is delighted to be heading to the county of her birth where she will be performing at the upcoming West Cork Chamber Music Festival in Bantry, which runs from June 24 to July 3.

“ I was actually born in the Bon Secours hospital in Cork, so that’s how I ended up being a Cork girl, I moved to Dublin when I was a small kid,” she said.

Rachel is really looking forward to her summer performances at the festival, which will comprise of three coffee concerts, accompanied by Ensemble Molíere on July 1, 2 and 3 at St Brendan’s Church.

“When you are singing on stage and things are going well, you can really feel it when you are reaching the audience, and you hope the audience are feeling that too, it’s like a rollercoaster, it’s really magical. I just love it.”

Her Bantry coffee concerts come hot on the heels of her recent performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, where she led a stellar cast in Lurline with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Wilson.

A graduate of the Royal Opera house in Covent Garden, on the Jette Parker Young Artists programme, Rachel began her vocal training when she was 14 with singing teacher Professor Mary Brennan.

Rachel Kelly in ADINA by Rossini at Wexford Festival Opera. Picture: CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;
Rachel Kelly in ADINA by Rossini at Wexford Festival Opera. Picture: CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

She went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, the National Opera Studio, and has performed at Carnegie Hall, St Petersburg Academy of Arts, and the Wexford festival Opera House.

Rachel’s many other accomplishments include winning the prestigious Bernadette Greevy competition in 2012.

She has received critical acclaim for many of her roles to date, but holds a special place in her heart for French and Italian composers.

“One of my favourite roles ever was playing the lead in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, which tells the story of Cinderalla,” she said.

She recalls enjoying singing at a very young age, where she first tested her vocal range in the supermarket, giving an early indiction of her wonderful voice, which has been described as lustrous and rich.

‘I always had a big voice and loved singing. When I was a still a toddler, I used to sing at the top of my voice from the seat in the supermarket trolly. I remember how singing made me feel so happy, even as a young child, and that I really loved the acoustics in the supermarket,” she laughs.

Being able to leave the pandemic behind, and being back on stage performing in front of a live audience, is the lifeblood of all performers, and Rachel is thrilled to be able to perform again, and as always, has been devoting meticulous attention to the preparation of her upcoming performances.

“My voice is usually classed as mezzo soprano, but voices, as with colours, can sometimes be the difference in tone between teal and turquoise. For my recent role in Lurline, I was working quietly in the background on my Bel Canto range, and I have been really enjoying this new challenge.’’

Indeed, when it comes to challenge Rachel has no fear. After processing the initial shock and disappointment of lockdown, when all concerts and performances were suspended in the ether of uncertainly, and promotors were unable to give performers any assurances as to when they might start up again, Rachel decided that the time was right to pursue her other dream of studying medicine.

Rachel Kelly in Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ; Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Picture: Tristram Kenton / Glyndebourne Productions Ltd
Rachel Kelly in Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ; Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Picture: Tristram Kenton / Glyndebourne Productions Ltd

“I was in London for ten years, and I did the first lockdown over there, but then when it went on, I decided to move back to Dublin.

“I began studying for the graduate entry programme for medicine in UCD. I have always loved science and it was great to have that to concentrate on after all the trauma of shows being cancelled.

“When the first lockdown happened, I was in Copenhagen getting ready to perform the lead role in The Handmaid’s Tale by Poul Ruders. I had been learning this role for a year beforehand, and had actually been chosen for the role a few years before then. A considerable amount of time goes into these performances, so when everything was just shut down all of a sudden, it was really quite crushing.

“I found myself in the airport in Copenhagen at 4am with my little dog Mimi, begging them to let me on board to fly home. Of course, having my little dog along made the whole thing complicated, but eventually, after all the upset, I managed to make the flight.

“With many wonderful singing opportunities on the horizon, all of a sudden I found myself left high and dry. It was really hard, and honestly, I was stressed out in bed for about a week, realising that my whole season was cancelled.

“When I was able to take stock of the situation, that’s when I decided that it would be the perfect time to go and study medicine.

“I am really interested in eventually specialising in the Ear Nose and Throat area. As a singer myself, I would love to be able to help other singers.

Rachel Kelly in Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ; Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Picture: ristram Kenton / Glyndebourne Productions Ltd
Rachel Kelly in Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ; Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Picture: ristram Kenton / Glyndebourne Productions Ltd

“Unfortunately, although professional singers do not like to talk about it, things like nodules in the throat do occur, and that can lead to disaster for a singer, indeed it could finish off their career, so I would love to be able to help in that area.”

Rachel says one of the most important things for a singer is to keep flexible and fit, and good posture is vital. She has practiced the Alexander technique and finds it an invaluable tool for her singing practice, and she says it’s a really good tool for everybody.

“Singing makes me feel really happy,” she says, and undoubtedly those listening to her singing feel happy too.

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