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2002-02-24 Celtic Tenors put new life into classic

from Irish Sunday Independent
written by Padraic McKiernan

 

Singers have an access-all-arias approach to music, says Padraic MacKiernan

THE message on my answering machine was concise and to the point: Hamburg, tomorrow, the Celtic Tenors in concert, can you be there?

The reply was emphatically in the affirmative. I've an eclectic taste in music and all that, but tenors aren't a strong suit. I'd mostly associated them with opera and sad guys in tuxedos singing about their broken hearts.

M y ear was uneducated in regard to the art form's subtle nuances. You could say I wouldn't know my arias from my elbow.

 

I was looking forward to learning though, and the more I talked to the Celtic Tenor's manager Pat Egan the next day, the more I sensed I could be about to witness something a little special. His protégés, the Celtic Tenors, Matthew Gilsenan, Niall Morris, and James Nelson, were in town to perform on one of the country's biggest TV stations. Talking to Pat, I quickly realised my uneducated ear wasn't going to be a handicap after all.

 

Unlike more conventional tenor acts, the Celtic Tenors favour a more contemporary, access-all-arias approach in their repertoire.

 

There's plenty to please the purist, but their playlist also points to a refreshing affinity with the populist. This triumvirate of classically trained tenors are in the business of preaching to the unconverted.

 

Backstage later that evening, the mercury was rising. We might have been counting down to a performance by Irish tenors, but the pre-concert buzz was pure rock 'n' roll.

 

An already electric atmosphere was accentuated by the expectant hum generated by a capacity crowd taking their seats out in the auditorium. When the time came to join them, I found myself sitting beside an American woman, Tanya Bliss, an executive from PBS television who's interested in breaking the Celtic Tenors Stateside.

 

It was a case of Bliss by name, bliss by nature Tanya had seen the dress-rehearsal the previous night and she's still waxing rhapsodic at the recollection: "Prepare to be wowed," she said.

 

Tanya wasn't kidding. Any lingering fears I might have had about being confronted by a Boyzone for the blue-rinse brigade were firmly dashed within 10 minutes of the Celtic Tenors taking the stage.

 

These Celtic Tenors might have swapped the tuxedos for cool leather jackets, they might be handsome devils, hell they might even be funny.

 

But what ties it all together is the fact that they're also seriously talented. Their rendition of songs like the evocative Caledonia and Will ye go, lassie go hit all the right notes with the audience, while a capella treatment of Danny Boy had them in raptures.

 

The show's backers are obviously shooting for the spectacular and the inclusion in the line-up of stellar performers like the Vard Sisters, Celtic dance troupe Gael Force, and the fiddling phenomenon that is Mairead Nesbitt give a move-over-Riverdance feel to proceedings.

 

The tenors are undoubtedly the show's star-turn, but this 'Celtic Tenors and Friends' approach works wonderfully.

 

If your anything other than stunned after Deirdre Correa has joined the tenors on stage for a performance of that haunting Moore's melody, The Last Rose of Summer, it could be time to have someone check your vital signs. I discovered later that she's a sister of one of the Celtic Tenors (Matthew). Talent doesn't just run in that family. It clearly gallops.

 

And who ever suggested German audiences lack passion?

 

The audience had been charmed into submission from the off, but an opera medley that included favourites from the likes of Joseph Locke and Mario Lanza got them clapping, while a rousing ensemble rendition of Ireland's Call brought them to their feet.

 

The Celtic Tenors might have only got one standing ovation but it lasted about five encores! A final rendition of Whisky in the Jar brought what was left of the house down.

 

The aftershow mood backstage was euphoric. Tanya from American TV had an I-told-you-so look in her eye. I couldn't argue.

 

Prepare to be wowed.