Soon after leaving school, in 1946 two determined nineteen-year old women, raised on a diet of music, were offered life-changing opportunities to study opera singing in Milan. When my late mother [Kathryn O’Reilly, nee Byrne http://wp.me/p15Yzr-k7] asked her brothers for the £200 she needed to fund her studies they took the wind out of her sail, fretting over the amorous intentions of Italian men and the dangers of a young woman travelling to a newly formed Republic of Italy still numbed and severely damaged by war. Presumably, as was commonplace for a well brought up Irish woman at that time, she was expected to stay at home and wait for the ideal future husband to come along.
A pivotal moment for my mother, given that the second lady sold her pony and went on to become Ireland’s ‘Grande Dame’ of singing – singing alongside such talents as Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, and teaching nearly every major Irish singer to have come out of Ireland.
My mother and her lifelong “sister” friend Dr. Veronica Dunne (“Auntie Ronnie”) were born within a day of each other, Ronnie arriving on August 2nd 1927… 90 years ago.
Last night, the Dublin Choral Foundation in tribute presented a “Happy 90th Birthday, Ronnie” gala operatic concert at the National Concert Hall (NCH), featuring current and former students including opera stars Celine Byrne, Miriam Murphy, Tara Erraught, YoungWoo Kim and pianist John O’Conor.
As Simon Taylor, tribute host and CEO of the National Concert Hall, noted it was probably one of the greatest operatic celebrations ever witnessed at the NCH. A fitting tribute to Ireland’s most glamourous and outstanding music talent.
Where words come to nothing so music persuades. What a thrilling and emotional night it was, truly unforgettable. Happy Birthday Auntie Ronnie!