Aebh Kelly captivated the audience at the NSO concert this week, more than two years after winning a prestigious contest
One of the delights of Dublin at this time of year is the National Symphony Orchestra’s summer series of concerts. For an hour on a Tuesday lunchtime, the music flows. It’s been my good fortune to have had the opportunity to present some of them, as they’re broadcast live on RTÉ Lyric FM.
This week the sequence finally resumed for its run through until August after a lengthy pandemic interruption. The NSO was in fine fettle under the English conductor Jonathan Bloxham, who drew a wonderfully dynamic performance from the players.
They shone, clearly delighted to be back on the Earlsfort Terrace stage bringing the music of Mozart and Schubert, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Rossini and Saint-Saëns to a most appreciative daytime audience.
There’s always a singer to add something extra special to these entertainments, and on this occasion it was a bright new talent, Aebh Kelly, a mezzo-soprano from Skerries.
The story behind her appearance is well worth telling. With a first class honours degree in music from Trinity gained through the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where her vocal coaches were Virginia Kerr and Dearbhla Collins, she had won the RIAM’s prestigious Maura Dowdall Concerto Competition in 2020, the night, as she tells it, before everything shut down.
Part of the prize was a concert performance with the NSO, which would normally have taken place just months later. It would be two years before Aebh finally got to make her debut with the orchestra. And what a debut it was.
With spellbinding delivery of arias from Rossini’s Barber of Seville (Una Voce Poco Fa) and Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte (Ah! Scostati) she captivated the audience. Two very different songs; the Mozart an expression of the singer’s despair that her fella has gone off to war, the Rossini a declaration of delight at the discovery that the voice she’s heard serenading her belongs to the man she adores.
Then there was Nobles Seigneurs, Salut! from Meyerbeer’s opera Les Huguenots. This is one of those trouser roles where the character singing is male, but the performer is a mezzo like Aebh. “You have to think yourself into the part. I love the characters and telling their different stories. There has to be a bit of an actor in an opera singer,” she says. “It comes easy to me when I’m singing, but if you took the singing away, I couldn’t do it. I’d be absolutely dreadful.”
Aebh grew up surrounded by music. Her grandmother, Peggy Kelly, was a pianist who studied at the RIAM. Her dad Paul is a singer-songwriter, and her mum Clara Neavyn would have Lyric on all day.
It was Aebh’s first singing teacher in Skerries, Fiona Mullaney, who spotted the talent that has taken her to Florence, where she is on an emerging artists programme run in collaboration with the world-famous La Fenice opera house in Venice that premiered Verdi’s Rigoletto and La Traviata among many others. It’s Aebh’s photograph that’s on the home page of the programme’s website.
And her voice is online in all its glory — tinyurl.com/bdpypjfe
George Hamilton presents ‘The Hamilton Scores’ on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.