Thursday 21 September 2017

'Unlikely' opera star whose career is hitting high notes

With her funky dress sense and tumbling locks, Claudia Boyle, 30, is used to people's surprise when they discover she's an opera singer. She chats to Anna Coogan about her next big performance, in the production, Nixon In China

SINGING STAR: Claudia Boyle. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
SINGING STAR: Claudia Boyle. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Claudia starring as La Comtesse in a production of La Cour De Celimene, by Ambroise Thomas, in Wexford Opera House in 2011, directed by Stephen Barlow. Photo: Clive Barda/ArenaPAL
Anna Coogan

Anna Coogan

WITH her cascading pop star curls and her Indie music funky dress style, it's not surprising Claudia Boyle elicits astonished responses when she reveals she's an opera singer whose everyday job involves singing arias in Italian.

"Air hostesses used to seeing me on flights, ask why I do so much travelling and, when I tell them, they're surprised and go, 'But you don't look like an opera singer'," says the 30-year-old, her face lit up as she mimics people's surprise at her career choice.

Professing to what she does for a pay cheque almost always brings amazed looks her way, so Claudia tries not to look too embarrassed.

"Or I could be in Vodafone signing a contract and when it comes to putting in what you do for a career and I write 'opera singer' I can see the assistant giving me a sideways look, as if to say, 'Are you sure?' and I just kind of nod," she says of the way people react to the mention of the word 'opera'.

Claudia is about to knock people's presumptions on the head yet again, when she delivers her next major stage role, as Pat Nixon in the opera Nixon In China in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. "It's the first time I've played a real person in an opera, and the storyline involves Pat and Richard Nixon's visit to China, and the tensions around the occasion and their meeting with Chairman Mao," she says.

She has just returned from Denmark where she commanded attention as Lucia in the opera Lucia di Lammermoor. She'll play Gilda in the opera Rigoletto in Rome later in the year.

She says of the changing image of opera, "Maybe people expect opera singers to be large and with scraped back hair, and to be rooted to one spot while singing. But that's very eighties, and it's all changed these days, and an opera singer sings and acts, and being fit is as much a part of the job these days."

It's been an exciting few months for Claudia, both personally and professionally. And she's not even sure she should be mentioning the ring from Argos with which her boyfriend Dave proposed to her last December.

"Let me just say he plans on bringing me to Antwerp and for us to choose a ring there, but when he proposed he presented me with an Argos ring which cost €43, and which he popped on my finger," she says, laughing.

"He proposed on our tenth anniversary, and I think the nicest and most sincere thing about the proposal was that he said he wished he had done it years ago," she says of future husband Dave, an accountant who works in the finance department at Tallaght Hospital.

Performing is in Claudia's family, and her parents Helen and TJ, both retired primary school teachers who live near her in Knocklyon, brought up their four daughters to have a love of music. Sister Emily (34) is a surgeon and pianist, and Claudia often performs with her at country houses around Ireland, especially during the summer months. Sister Antonia (also 34 – the eldest girls are twins) is a barrister and singer, though not at the professional level that Claudia performs at. Younger sister Natalie (25) is a freelance violinist. "I sometimes feel people might think I'm boasting and I'm not at all," Claudia says of her family's embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent. "We were just all brought up to be passionate about the arts and to work hard."

Her own career choice was made while she was studying the cello at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and at a time when she was fully sure her future involved being a musician. Yet she was also studying acting, and one day she looked down from the stage and into the orchestra pit, and decided that she'd much rather stay up there on the stage.

"I had some voice training but I was spending most of my time on the cello, so once I finished my cello degree I decided to go on to do a masters in singing at the academy, and it's been going well ever since," Claudia says.

It was a good choice, and she was the recipient of the Opera Prize at the 2010 Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition, and was awarded both First Prize and the Critics' Prize at the 2012 Concorso Maria Callas Verona.

A typical day for the young singer includes voice training, acting coaching, language classes and exercise. She keeps in shape by running with her boxer dog Bo who today had been put in doggy daycare with the DSPCA, Rathfarnham. "I miss her while I'm away and try to spend as much time with her when I'm at home. But she's happy running around with the other dogs in the DSPCA when I have to go to work," Claudia says.

No doubt Claudia's a great ambassador for Irish opera singers, yet how are we perceived abroad when it comes to reaching the high notes? "We're seen to produce great singers who are very professional and committed," she says.

Nixon In China, at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, tonight, Wednesday May 14, and Saturday May 17. www.bordgaisenergy theatre.ie

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