Thursday 14 November 2019

Anna owes her existence to love in a time of war

Anna Patalong's grandfather escaped the Nazis to meet her Irish grandmother

Opera singer Anna Patalong
Opera singer Anna Patalong
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

When English opera star Anna Patalong takes to the National Concert Hall stage this summer, her performance will represent not only a musical highlight of the season - her voice lifts the spirits and beautifully inhabits every role - but also, for the singer herself, a type of homecoming.

After performing all over Europe in the past few years, she says that her shows here - she will perform in Niall Morris's acclaimed CALLAS and Nessun Dorma - will have a special significance for her.

"It's such a treat to play such a diva as Maria Callas, such an interesting and rich role, she was the ultimate diva really," she says.

"But for me being back in Ireland is also something I really look forward to. My grandmother is Irish, so we spent a lot of time here as a child. She had come over from Mullingar to Coventry after the war. She introduced me to Irish music and really gave me a love of music generally."

Patalong might not sound like an Irish name and that's because Anna's other grandparents are Polish. "When the war was over, Poland was liberated by the Allies. My family had been working as slave labour in Poland. They weren't able to leave Poland immediately after the war because they were held in camps afterwards.

"Their property had been confiscated by the Germans, but then when Poland was supposedly liberated, everything was taken again by the Russians anyway. At the end of the war they got word that everything was destroyed, they couldn't come back then even if they wanted to."

Anna grew up in the English Midlands, where she was musical and played the piano from a young age. "A teacher in school had told my mum to audition for The Sound of Music and then it all got out of control. I played the piano and clarinet but I didn't take singing lessons until much later. In college I did a production of West Side Story and one of the teachers told me 'You've really got a voice there, you should consider training it.'

"I was about 20 when I had my first proper lesson. I fell in love with opera immediately. I au paired to brush up on my languages, and then, after a teacher in college told me I should train my voice, I spent three years at the Guildhall."

In 2013 she made her debut in Covent Garden and also performed at the Opera National de Paris and the English Touring Opera, winning rave reviews and numerous awards for her soaring soprano and expressive performances.

Anna also met her husband, Ben Nelson, himself a noted baritone, through opera, and the couple now have a one-year-old daughter, Scarlett. "She was born in January last year and I was doing Christmas concerts a few weeks before she was born," Anna recalls.

"One of the last operas I did before she was born was Mozart's Don Giovanni. And she was born on my birthday and we played Mozart to her in the first few days. She was completely catatonic, mesmerised, you could tell she had heard the music before, she knew what it was."

She is bringing Scarlett with her later this month when she returns for a few promotional performances. CALLAS is also touring in the UK this summer.

"Maria Callas is so awe inspiring, an icon", Anna says. "Niall (Morris) has put together a remarkable show. Scarlett will have some new music to fall in love with."

'Nessun Dorma, the life of Pavarotti', National Concert Hall, Sunday, May 13. 'CALLAS - as Maria Callas', Bord Gais Theatre, Friday, September 14. Anna alternates the roles of Maria Callas and Jackie Kennedy on the UK tour of CALLAS in June.

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