Enchanted Isle

Irish soprano Fiona Murphy

By Angela Sammon

‘Enchanted Isle – Ireland in picture, song and story’, an event which hopes to attract people to participate in The Gathering Ireland 2013, looks set to be an exceptional showcase of Irish culture. An original Irish Heritage production, it takes place on Wednesday, April 17 at St John Smith’s Square, London and will include songs and stories from the Irish counties, using visual scenes to match the storyline and show the beauty of the Irish landscape.

Written and devised by Irish Heritage Artistic Director and co-founder, Ethna Kennedy and presented by renowned Irish actor and storyteller John Cormack, it will feature a talented group of professional musicians, one of whom, hailed as “dramatically deft and vocally splendid” by the Irish Times, is Dublin soprano Fiona Murphy.

“I’ve done a few events with Irish Heritage now, and they’re always fantastic”, says the rising star, who has performed everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to The Late Late Show. “Ethna Kennedy always puts so much thought into these nights; it should be a wonderful journey through Ireland and its culture.”

Murphy is equally enthused about the ethos behind The Gathering. Having spent and continuing to spend so much time outside of Ireland (including seven years working and training in America and a couple in London) she feels the pull of her native land strongly.

“I know what it’s like to be based abroad and come back. The connection we have with our little country is usually really deep-rooted. The idea of The Gathering is fantastic; that through sport, music, culture, whatever it is, you’re gathered together celebrating that connection”.

The concert on the 17 April is something a little different for Murphy. As an opera singer, it gives her the opportunity to perform songs she wouldn’t necessarily sing in the operatic arena. She says: “Obviously I’ll be singing a couple of arias; we have a little homage to Delia Murphy; a homage to Margaret Burke-Sheridan, who would be well-known to Irish female singers, but I’m also doing more traditional pieces like The Hills of Donegal, as well as more modern Irish songs like Raymond Loughborough’s Ireland, Mother Ireland.”

Even the arias are connected to Irish singers. Murphy’s mother is from Mayo and her father from Cork, so these are ballads that she grew up listening to. “It’s lovely to not lose those songs, and to sing them in a classical parlour-room environment is refreshing and exciting. The programme spans hundreds of years and many different genres, which is a unique opportunity for me as an opera singer”.

Murphy has always wanted to be a singer– minus a brief spell as a little girl in which she wanted to be a newsreader. It’s been a dream come true, even if the realisation of that dream happened gradually. “I’ve always loved singing. It was the one thing that always made me feel happy. It’s certainly the thing I’ve felt most passionately about.”

You would need to be passionate about it; it’s certainly not a nine to five job which allows for a normal social life, is it? “No, not at all”, she laughs. “It involves so much travelling, being away from family and friends, uprooting on a regular basis. If you didn’t have that passion for it, you would do it. But when the singing bug bites, it touches a part of you that nothing else compares to.”

There is, Murphy explains, a great deal of preparation before any performance. You naturally have to look after your voice, so something as small as a cold can be disastrous. She says: “I’m very horsey and active; I love to get out, so I hate coming across as precious, but you have to be careful. A normal Saturday night out with friends doesn’t exist for me! It’s a calling of sorts. Yet because of all that preparation, people come to a concert and see an incredible, polished performance.”

To be a great opera singer, as Murphy points out, is about keeping several different balls in the air. “My old singing teacher Dr Veronica Dunne used to say, ‘You have to have the singer’s mind, lovey”. And she was right. You have to have a way of thinking, plus the tenacity, dedication and raw talent. But you also need a good bit of luck, ironically. If you’re a working, successful singer today you’ve already done incredibly well.”

Fiona Murphy is certainly one of the success stories, having sung with some of the world’s most renowned orchestras and in some of the most stunning venues. She travels regularly, too– a nice plus which counteracts less attractive aspects of her chosen profession.  Perhaps unsurprisingly given its musical heritage, Vienna is one of the places that has inspired the singer the most.

“It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it’s just steeped in musical history. I’m a big fan of Mozart, and to see places where he played and composed and lived was really breathtaking for me – in the actual sense of the word! I remember walking through Vienna, turning a corner and just gasping when I saw a certain building. And the coffee there is fantastic. Coffee has been one of the great loves of my life across the world! I love America, too. I lived on the east coast for a while and I definitely have a soft spot for Philadelphia and New York. But I love London, too. It’s amazing how you travel around and then realise the great things you have close to home.”

For the full interview, see the April 6 edition of The Irish World.

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