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2007-01-30 The Celtic Tenors

Faith McDuffie, Staff Reporter for the Smithfield Herald


CLAYTON - Husbands, if your wives swoon over any man with an accent, you might want to stay home on Saturday, Feb. 10.


Matthew Gilsenan, Daryl Simpson and James Nelson are handsome, well dressed and devastatingly Irish. What's more, they can sing.


The three 30-somethings make up The Celtic Tenors, The Clayton Center's fourth performers in the 2006-07 Palladian Series. Signed on the spot after an audition with record label EMI in 2000, they have since captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.


But this trio might not be exactly what their audiences are thinking.


"When people come to hear us, they expect one of two things: Celtic music, or tenor music," says Gilsenan. "They're usually surprised with what they get."

"We're excited to get out there and show a little bit of Ireland [but] maybe not the Ireland that is often portrayed by normal Irish acts," Gilsenan says by way of clarification. "So many awful Irish songs, they paint the Irish as loveable rogues and drunks. But it's not all shillelaghs and leprechauns. We're trying to paint a picture of Ireland today."


So how exactly are the Celtic Tenors going about reflecting a "bright, new Ireland"?


After describing a shillelagh, a traditional Irish fighting stick, Gilsenan explains: "What sets us apart, in a way, is that we're all fully trained operatic singers on one hand. And on the other hand, we've decided to throw out the formality that is associated with opera.


"We sing classical pieces, and in the next breath, we're singing a mildly Irish rock song."


Simpson is the newest member of the trio. In October 2006, he took the place of Niall Morris, who opted to take a break for personal reasons. Simpson is the only member of the Tenors who hails from Northern Ireland.


"There's been a lot of political strife and violence there; that's what Daryl brings to the group - violence," Gilsenan says, laughing at his own joke. "No, what he brings is that part of Ireland. It offers a complete view of the country - James and I from the South, Daryl from the North. And in a way, it's the definition of what we're about: reflecting a new, hopeful and energetic Ireland."


The Celtic Tenors' show promises to be an exciting one. Their repertoire includes a balanced mix of classical ballads, traditional Irish songs and pop tunes. From their rendition of "Danny Boy" to their cover of Air Supply's "All Out of Love," the trio guarantees something for everyone.


"We're a selfish group: we sing what we like," Gilsenan says. "But that's why our audiences are so wide."


"There is a bright, new, Ireland happening, and we want to share that with our audiences," he adds. "We're not a political movement or anything. We're more like a mirror holding itself up to our generation."


Joining the Celtic Tenors at The Clayton Center will be soprano Deirdre Shannon, who appeared as a soloist in Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" from 1997 till 2001. Her popularity on what has been called the "classical crossover" scene has allowed her to perform with artists from Michael Crawford to Elvis Costello.


If you're still not convinced, take it from Ray Jordan, executive director of the Sampson County Exposition Center, where the Celtic Tenors performed in October 2006: "This was undoubtedly the best performance that we have ever been privileged to host. [The Celtic Tenors] wrapped their music, personal stories and spirit around each person in the audience, and I know they touched people deep within their hearts.


"When the beautiful Deirdre Shannon took the stage, you could literally have heard a pin drop." Faith McDuffie, Staff Reporter for the Smithfield Herald