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2006-06-07 Singing her way to fame

by Orla Hearns for
Western People (


Ballina singer, Donna Malone, has spent the last year performing around the world with the renowned Irish Celtic Tenors. Orla Hearns met up with her when she returned home for a summer break.


Ever there were proof that first impressions matter then 19-year-old Ballina-born, Donna Malone is it.


Just under a year ago, Donna, who is a daughter of Patricia and Enda Malone, Woodlands, Kilmoremoy, was attending the induction day for her chosen third level course. That very same day a phone call was made to Donnas parents home that would change her life beyond belief.


The call was from the management of the world renowned classical trio, the Celtic Tenors. They were looking for someone to replace the female singer who had been performing with them. Donna had been recommended to them and they wanted to know if she would consider doing a six-week tour of Canada and the US with them.


Bubbly and confident, Donna did not need to be asked twice. She deferred her college course and was soon on her way to Dublin to meet the Celtic Tenors just weeks in advance of the departure date for their tour.


Life has been one phrenetic whirlwind ever since for Donna. She has only recently returned to Ballina after another month long tour of America with the Tenors. She has also been to Dubai and Oman with the boys and has a number of performances lined up with them over the summer months.


Its the realisation of a lifelong dream. Ever since she can remember, Donna has been passionate about singing and classical music in particular. She adored participating in musicals at primary school in Scoil Croi Iosa. But Donna credits local singing teacher, Lavinia Slater-Gilmartin with exposing her to the joys of the musical world.


I had been going to classes with her for about 10 years. She got her hands on me and introduced me to the stage through Feiseanna, recitals and musicals. And it was Lavinia that gave me a love of classical music, Donna explained.


Donna has been classically trained by Lavinia through the Royal Irish Academy of Music and is currently studying to pass the eighth grade exam.


Although Donna had had plenty of experience of performing locally, she had yet to have a debut at a national level. Even so, the Celtic Tenors knew of her talent and wanted her to perform with them on their upcoming tour.


A link had unwittingly been forged between Donna and the group almost a year earlier. She was in Dublin for a singing lesson and agreed to attend an audition for a classical girl band. Niall Morris, one of the Celtic Tenors, was on the judging panel. He must have been hugely impressed with Donna. Although she did not end up in the classical girl band, Niall kept her in mind for the Celtic Tenors show.

Donna had just a couple of weeks in which to get to know the three tenors and familiarise herself with their show and musical arrangements. It did not seem to phase her:


I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was about to go to college for four years in the hope that an opportunity like this might some day come up. The opportunity of life time landed in my lap. I just grabbed it because I knew that it might not come around again, she remarked.


It was daunting going on tour with mostly guys. There were a lot of longhaul and interconnecting flights. But we all just gelled so well. It was a rollercoaster experience for me. It was all so new. I just loved every minute of it.


Anyone who knows classical music will realise that the Celtic Tenors repertoire features some compositions that would be regarded by many as being too advanced for a singer as young as Donna. She says she relished the challenge.

She had been to see the Celtic Tenors in concert once before and loved their musical style:


They are so dynamic and diverse. That is what I love about them. They can go from a ballad to accapella. They do all of the classics but they put their own stamp on it. Its just amazing when the three of them are standing around you singing.


Donna was bowled over by the reception the Celtic Tenors got wherever they travelled. The group has a huge fan club and people frequently travel thousands of miles to see them perform. With their own adaptation of the greatest classical songs, The Tenors have succeded in introducing classical music to a whole new generation.


We did about 30 shows over six weeks (during the tour of Canada and the USA). We were out in British Columbia and we did a show there after just two hours sleep. We got a standing ovation after every song, Donna recalls.


Donna did an Irish tour with the Celtic Tenors over the Christmas period in 2005. Early in the New Year they were on the road again. This time they travelled to Oman and Dubai. It was thrilling to witness the opulence and incredible hospitality of those countries.


Its really amazing what you get to see even though you spend a lot of your time in hotel rooms and airports, she said.


Donna got to see even more of the USA during her most recent tour there with the Celtic Tenors. They performed in Los Angeles and she got to see Hollywood in the run up to the Oscars. They also travelled to San Fransisco, San Diego, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas and Florida.


The tour also took in Washington State where Donna and the three tenors performed with the National Symphony Orchestra to a 3,000-capacity Opera House. The concert was a spectacular success.


Donna has several more performances lined up with the Celtic Tenors over the summer period. These include music festivals in the US and Munich and a week-long stint at Dublins Gaiety Theatre in September.


Im not really sure what the future holds for me thereafter. Music is definitely my path. It always has been. I would love to go on to do conventional opera, she said.


For now she is hoping that the collaboration with the Celtic Tenors will continue. She continues to attend a professional singing teacher.


Im booked until September and I guess I will talk to the boys (the Tenors) then. I would like to stay with them. They are very nice guys. I know they are going to perform in Carnegie Hall at some stage and that is every singers dream.


This has been a real learning curve for me. They are all the time giving me advice and I hang on to that. They have all had such acclaim and have travelled the world with various opera companies, she said. It has given Donna invaluable experience and exposure.


Nevertheless, she is delighted to be able to spend much of the summer in her hometown. And she reveals that she is working hard to entice the Celtic Tenors to perform in Ballina.


James Nelson (who is originally from Sligo) was saying that it is a must. They have sang in Mayo before but never in Ballina.


I would really love for them to perform here, because I am from Ballina and the people in the town have supported me so much, she said.