Shirley Keane

Opera singer who takes historical theatre to a new level at 'The No 1 Pery Square Hotel' this autumn

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Shirley Keane

From Limerick originally I recently returned to live at home after a number of years in the UK.

I attended Scoil Íde primary school, Ardscoil Mhuire secondary and later studied acting at Rose Bruford College, followed by post-graduate voice and opera studies at The Guildhall School of Music and Royal Academy of Music in London.I have always loved singing and was involved in the choir at school, school productions, the Cecilians, and spent many summers performing at the banquets in Bunratty, Knappogue and Dunguaire.

The people, who really had the biggest influence on my life, were my parents, Jean and David Keane.

They were incredibly proud and supportive of me even though they knew mine was a risky career choice yet encouraged and supported me and did everything possible to help me. My first public performances were singing with my Dad in Myles Breen’s pub. I love an impromptu sing-song. I took my first serious singing lessons with Olive Cowpar and later moved to London when offered a place on the BA Acting Degree course at Rose Bruford College. Most recently I have had the good fortune to meet and work with the actor, director and trusted mentor, Dinah Stabb. She is a colleague at The Guildhall School of Music where we both teach acting to singers and direct opera showcases.

I have worked in theatre and opera for over 20 years.

I love the making and challenges of performance and creating productions. Limerick is home, but there is no opera company west of the Shannon, as far as I am aware, therefore, I am working to develop this branch of the arts here. My aim is for ‘The Opera Workshop’ to become a hub for singers, musicians, composers and other arts companies to make and create new productions and projects. The long-term vision is a company that will offer new challenges to experienced professional performers, while nurturing younger, local artists, and which develops strong community links across the city and county. Acting or singing is often something people do by accident, perhaps at school or through a choir. Ask any devoted choir member, it becomes for some, completely addictive.

I love music, singing, the theatre, and live performance, with opera bringing all these elements together.

For me, opera singers, the best ones, are the Olympians of singing. They can do things with their voices, whether it is higher, faster, sustain breaths for far longer, than us mere mortals and in the process use these glorious voices to surprise, to entertain and to move their audiences. It is a crazy, difficult, challenging and utterly beautiful art form. I am interested in projects that offer the chance to mix it up a little. Being able to collaborate with other artists or groups is always a draw for me. I am happiest when working with other people to bring an idea or project to fruition.

A personal quest for me is the development of music projects for people with dementia and their carers.

I worked for many years with community and out-reach focused companies such as ‘Live Music Now’ in the UK. Then my Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She died a few years ago after a long decline due to this devastating illness. She did not know me towards the end of her life, but when I sang to her, she would relax a little and smile and let me hold her hand or sometimes even say my name, which was a little miracle really. We connected through music when she, her vibrant personality, her wonderful character, her sense of herself, was utterly lost. There is no cure for dementia, but music, especially singing, provide, if nothing else, moments of release and ease from the confusion, anger and fear that dementia can cause to the person suffering and in a different way too, for their families.

I turned to directing when I started a community opera company in East London.

When you have no budget and no money, you find that you have to do a lot of things you have never done before, such as marketing, producing, writing, and directing. I produced and directed opera in pubs, young people’s community theatre projects, and massed choir events in concerts halls. It felt so good, a little crazy, but good to throw myself in and try it. As I experimented with producing and directing I drew on my training and work experience as an actor and singer which provided a strong foundation of practical, skill-based learning and expertise. For example, I greatly admired and learned from directors like Annilese Miskimmon at the Opera Theatre Company or John Ramster at the Royal Academy.

This autumn I will be producing a number of performances at The No 1 Pery Square Hotel. The Opera Workshop’s first concerts are called ‘The Countess’ Salon’, inspired by the elegant setting of the Georgian drawing room.

A mysterious Countess with a dubious past holds a musical soiree for Limerick high society. Escorted by her devoted nephew, the evening will include arias and songs by Puccini, Mozart, Bizet and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Captivating, vivacious, renowned for her sparkling, brilliant evenings, the Countess is unprepared for a number of unwanted gate-crashers who perhaps know a little bit too much about her, her nephew and her past. We invite audiences to dress in their finest, consider themselves as guests of the Countess, and make the most of the charm and welcoming atmosphere!

The Opera Workshop ensemble will perform at the No 1 Pery Square Hotel on Sunday, October 15; Sunday, November 12 and Sunday, December 10 at 8pm tickets are €20/concession €15. Booking is essential as places are limited at the email address info@operaworkshop.ie