Saturday 24 February 2018

Harmonious romance hits every note

Gavan Ring is a baritone, his wife Nicola is a soprano, and the ensemble is completed by their two baby girls

Gavan and Nicola Ring now live in Carlingford. Photo: David Conachy
Gavan and Nicola Ring now live in Carlingford. Photo: David Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Gavan Ring was immediately captivated when he first met his wife Nicola in 2006, while they were performing with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. "Nicola was singing a solo during rehearsals, and I was absolutely spellbound by her voice as it's such a brilliant instrument," he says. "And of course, she's gorgeous. I think every male in the room was looking at her with an open mouth."

They were both 19 at the time, and Nicola was so excited about her role that she didn't pay much attention to Gavan. She noticed he had a habit of arriving late to rehearsals though, which shocked her as she was always early. "I took everything so seriously back then and I was scandalised that he was always late," she laughs.

It took two years before they encountered each other properly when both were studying at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. They had been eyeing each other up a bit and flirting in the corridors, and then both ended up in a nightclub in Wicklow one night. Knowing that Gavan really fancied Nicola but was afraid to make a move, fearing she was out of his league, his pal Dean decided to go over and suss out if the feeling was mutual? Happily, he returned with good news for the Kerry baritone and the pair got together that night.

"Gavan is very funny," says Nicola. "He's thoughtful, genuine and loyal, and always has my back. I'm not into fashion or shopping, but he'll traipse around every shop with me and tell me what looks nice or what goes with what? He's my very own Gok Wan."

Soprano Nicola, now 30, is from Dundalk and is the second-eldest of Kathleen and Fra Mulligan's five children. She played the lead in a school production of Jesus Christ Superstar aged 11, and a local singing teacher, Geraldine McGee, spotted her talent. She was with Geraldine for six years and went on to the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) for a four-year degree. She then had Veronica Dunne and Mary Brennan as singing teachers.

Gavan, now 29, is from Cahirciveen, and his parents divorced when he was young. He and his younger sister lived with their mother, Emer, who upskilled to become a primary school teacher. They lived for a time with Gavan's late grandparents, Owen and Clare, who were influential in his life. Clare was a member of the Radio Eireann Singers in the 1950s.

Gavan was musical and took piano lessons with Barbara Gloinson, and then won a music scholarship to Schola Cantorum at St Finian's College in Mullingar, where he received a rich musical education. He began singing lessons with Mary Brennan, and entered the RIAM to do a Master's and a PhD after completing three years' primary school teacher training at St Pat's.

After they graduated, Gavan and Nicola worked in opera in Ireland and then moved to England. Nicola worked with Glyndebourne opera house in England for a couple of seasons, but had a change of mind about her career. "It was really intense once I got to that level, and career-wise, it wasn't really for me," she admits.

While they were in England, Gavan worked with the National Opera Studio and Glyndebourne, and now performs mainly in the UK but has been branching out to Europe lately. Oh, and his time-keeping is impeccable these days. He and Nicola were married in September 2013, and decided to move home and now live in Carlingford. Nicola has been teaching music and singing at weddings and at events around Ireland. She also has her hands full, as she and Gavan are the proud parents of Clara, 17 months, and Ava, two months. They're so happy to be parents, although it can be hard as Gavan is away for work a lot.

"We don't see each other as much as we would like, so the time we have together is quite precious," says Nicola. "It makes us put things into perspective, so if we argue, we apologise and move on very quickly. The babies have made my life, but I definitely want to go back to teaching in the next year and keep up the singing. I never would have gotten to Gavan's level as it's so intense and you are always on flights, and that is definitely not for me."

Gavan won't need to take a flight when he plays the role of Greek shipping billionaire, Aristotle Onassis, in the forthcoming production, Celebrating Callas. Taking place on the 40th anniversary of Maria Callas's death, Irish soprano Maire Flavin, regarded by many as the upcoming voice of her generation, takes the title role. Featuring classics from La Boheme, Tosca, Carmen, Madame Butterfly and La Traviata, the show offers a fascinating insight into the private life of one of opera's most enigmatic figures, focusing on Maria's doomed love affair with Onassis.

The talented Gavan is looking forward to it and is also delighted that he'll be part of our new national opera company, which will make things easier as he'll have more work in Ireland. He couldn't do any of it, he says, without Nicola. "Nicola is devastatingly beautiful and has unquestioning loyalty," he smiles. "She is always up for a laugh and has been there for me since day one. This career can be tough, but she has always been so supportive and has been a very stabilising influence in my life. To have that sheer loving consistency is something I really value, and it has made me immensely happy."

Celebrating Callas - The Life, Loves & Music of Maria Callas, National Concert Hall, September 17 at 8pm. www.nch.ie

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