Thursday 19 April 2018

Love is in the aria

They're just about to move to different countries, but Aoife Gibney and Killian Farrell plan to make their relationship work, writes Andrea Smith

Killian Farrell and Aoife Gibney are sad but excited as they prepare to leave Ireland. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Killian Farrell and Aoife Gibney are sad but excited as they prepare to leave Ireland. Photo: Gerry Mooney

She's a beautiful young soprano and he's a handsome young conductor and they're madly in love. They're also just about to be torn apart as they embark on the next chapter of their very promising careers. This will presumably give them some heartache to draw on to inform their operatic work, although the very charming and talented pair probably don't see it that way right now.

Aoife Gibney, 23, will begin a Masters in opera in Germany next week, two days after Killian Farrell, 22, moves to London to pursue his training as a repetiteur - a vocal coach or pianist who specialises in opera.

"We're moving away, but we're not breaking up," Aoife insists. "It's hard for two musicians to find work in the same place, but we hope to get to see each other every three weeks."

Aoife and Killian met when he heard her perform solo with the Dublin Bach Singers in 2013. He invited her to sing at a performance with the Jubilate choir, which he founded when he was 16 in Templeogue to perform Bach's St John Passion.

As rehearsals progressed, Killian and Aoife became friends and then embarked on a relationship.

"When we first met, I was in awe as I knew who Killian was and when he asked me to sing in his choir, I was gobsmacked," says Aoife.

"Aside from his musical talent, Killian is highly intelligent and I found that quite attractive and he is quite funny in his own way."

The modest Killian would probably be mortified if we mentioned that he got all A1s and 625 points in his Leaving Cert, but one joke between this fun-loving pair is that Aoife beat him when they took an online IQ test. She has also "improved" his wardrobe over the years, managing to get a particularly offensive pair of shoes consigned to the bin.

"Killian has a sense of confidence that I find very attractive," she says. "He just had no idea how to dress himself. I love doing concerts with him on the piano, because he knows me so well."

Killian is from Templeogue and is the elder of Orla and Paul's two children. He began piano lessons at five and was also in the Palestrina choir at St Mary's Pro Cathedral. His singing career came to an abrupt end at 12 when his voice broke, so he focused on piano. He studied music at Trinity College, while still running the Jubilate choir. He leaves it behind next week to take up his repetiteur training contract at the National Opera Studio in London. His ultimate aim is to become a full-time conductor at an opera house.

By his own admission, Killian looks even younger than his 22 years, but after an air steward thought he was a child who needed to be accompanied through the airport, he decided to grow a bit of what he calls "miscellaneous man hair" and now sports a beard.

"I looked like an eight-year-old when Aoife and I met," he jokes.

"She's extremely attractive, and is also very bright and kind and has an amazing sense of integrity. It was our shared interest in music that sparked things off between us. Music is such a difficult career emotionally and it's amazing to meet someone who really understands that."

Aoife's parents are Carmel and Paul and she grew up in Clonsilla, Dublin as the middle child of three. She began piano lessons aged seven and sang, and embarked on a degree in music at DIT with the intention of becoming a pianist.

Alas, she developed tendonitis in first year, so she switched to singing and trained with Stephen Wallace at DIT and Patricia MacMahon in Glasgow. While it was heartbreaking at the time, she is doing extremely well as a soprano.

Aoife graduated in 2015 and earlier this year was named winner of the RDS Music Bursary of €15,000. Her next move is a Masters in opera under Hedwig Fassbender at the Hochschule Fur Musik Und Theater in Frankfurt. Working in Germany and central Europe has always been her goal, because so much investment is put into the arts there.

"They are over 100 opera houses in Germany alone and if you get a contract with one, it's a very regular job and you're paid by the Government like a civil servant," she says.

"You also get to sing so many roles. It's much more difficult here."

Aoife also loves contemporary music and will perform next Saturday at Composing the Island, which runs through this month at the National Concert Hall, celebrating music written between 1916 and 2016.

"It's my last concert in Ireland for now, although I'll be back for one with the RTE National Symphony orchestra in June," she says.

While Killian and Aoife ultimately see themselves working and living together somewhere in central Europe, they also know that they could end up anywhere. Sadly, the one place they don't think they will come back to is Ireland, as it would be too difficult to make a living here.

"We've had a sad couple of weeks as we were preparing to leave, but we're in the excited stage now." says Aoife. "While we will miss it so much, the opportunities are better if we move. For us, career has to come first for now while we are young."

Aoife Gibney will sing at Composing the Island: Closing the 20th Century in the Kevin Barry Recital Room next Saturday at 7.30pm, as part of Composing the IsIand: A Century of Irish Music from 1916-2016, which runs for three weeks until September 25 at the NCH. Tickets €10 from www.nch.ie

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