Sunday 18 March 2018

The Soprano

Fintan Lambe talks to international star Deirdre Masterson about her amazing journey all the way to Carnegie Hall

IT'S THE NIGHT before St. Patrick's Day, 2004, at Carnegie Hall in New York. The venue is packed. The Irish tricolour is raised, the orchestra strikes up, and the Hibernian singers lead the audience in a rousing rendition of the Irish national anthem. Then a singer from Ballycanew, Co. Wexford, and her two fellow sopranos step out onto the stage, and sing their first song on the hallowed stage.

' That was my proudest moment,' said Deirdre Masterson, who along with Kay Lynch and Wendy Dwyer, as The Irish Sopranos, fulfilled a lifelong dream of singing in world famous venue in New York. Also performing on the night was tenor Ronan Tynan.

' There were nearly a thousand of us on stage for the finale. It was such a massive production,' she explained. 'A plane load of our family and friends had come out, and when I saw them there in the audience, they were all crying. It's the closest thing to winning an All-Ireland you could get.'

At times it had been a long and difficult road to Carnegie Hall, and at one dark point in her life, it looked as if Deirdre might never sing again.

Among the songs she sang that night in New York, was 'Boolavogue' to represent her home county, a place where her talent was first spotted at a very young age.

Born in 1975, Deirdre is the eldest daughter of Lili and Frank Masterson. Siblings Gary, Aisling and Kelli-Ann are also singers and have made their own mark in the industry, and Deirdre is incredibly proud of all their achievements.

Lili, while not a singer, has a wonderful appreciation of music. 'She's one of the people I would ask for an opinion, said Deirdre. 'Her background is in drama really. In recent years, she went back to college and studied drama, and she's now a drama teacher.

'Dad can belt out a tune, no bother to him, and he plays the accordion,' she added. 'His family would have been heavily involved in the Irish music scene.

'Mam says I started singing before I started talking,' she continued. 'I was mesmerised by musicals, and old black and white ones. The best way of keeping me quiet was to put on music.'

In the local primary school, two teachers in particular, Mrs. Laurent, and Mrs. Mary Kinsella, encouraged her by putting her forward to sing at various school events. 'Mrs. Kinsella would have been a big promoter in particular and still is,' said Deirdre. After she sang at her Confirmation, people started encouraging her to get her voice trained.

She added that Dolores Rapple from Ballymoney also had entered a group of them in various Feis Ceoil when she was around eight or nine, and taught them the songs and brought them to competition.

She later went for an audition in the Wexford School of Music. ' That's where I was first introduced to classical music,' said Deirdre. 'Within six months I did my first opera, Dido and Anaeas by Purcell. I played the part of the Spirit. That was in connection with Wexford Festival Opera. I also joined the local chorus to create a full chorus for the operas.'

Artistic Director Elaine Padmore was auditioning local singers, and at 12 or 13, Deirdre was brought along to meet her.

'Alan Cutts my teacher brought me in to the Theatre Royal,' she recalled. 'Alan didn't tell me what I was doing, just that I was singing a song for somebody. He got me to sing Cherubino's Aria from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.'

'We'd started looking at it in the session,' she added. 'It wasn't even as if I'd prepared something. Elaine was a lovely lady, but I'm sure she was thinking what a bizarre set up with this child with half a song learnt.

'Alan was my vocal tutor. He was fantastic. I was with Alan for four years, and then he said he could do no more with me, and that I had to go somewhere else.' Deidre said she learnt a wealth from Alan, in terms of repertoire, musicianship, languages, and basic vocal technique.

'He introduced me to the whole classical world which had been completely alien to me,' she said. ' He gave me a wonderful appreciation for that side of things.' Meanwhile, Deirdre was attending secondary school at the Loreto Convent in Gorey. 'It was quite intense,' she said. 'I was in school in the Loreto, then down to Alan, and doing a lot of things with him, including Oratoria exams, feis ceol concerts in Arklow and Dublin, recordings, and the festival every year, whether it was a recital, or the chorus. It was a huge commitment, but I loved it, craved it.'

She was also involved in Acorn Productions with Dolores Deacon in Courtown. This dinner theatre event ran for two or three nights a week in the Courtown Hotel during the summer. 'It was a fully staged two and a half hour show with Musical Director Lar Duffy,' said Deirdre. 'I learnt my musical trade with them, and did some straight drama too. Again, I loved that.'

She said that Acorn were very supportive when she went on to study in Dublin. They put on benefit nights in Christ Church, and Brenda Dunbar made a stunning ball gown for her. Dolores and Eric Deacon were also among the Irish contingent on that night in Carnegie Hall. ' Those benefit nights were nearly the difference between making it happen or not,' she said.

At school, Sr. Evelyn Hallahan was her music teacher, and was also a big promoter along the way. Dr. Veronica Dunne had been invited down to do a master class in the convent concert hall. 'I met Ronnie doing these master classes, and my life took off in a different direction than I was actually planning it to be,' said Deirdre.

Alan had suggested she attend the Royal Northern in Manchester and do languages and music A levels, after the Inter Cert. However, she felt she was too young to go to a different country.

That summer, when she was deciding her future, she met Dr. Dunne, and decided to continue in the convent. The convent had later allowed Deirdre host a farewell recital in the convent, and Dr. Dunne was in attendance. 'Kay Halford organised this event. Ronnie came down and gave a big speech. It was the end of an era for the convent, and the start of a new chapter for me.'

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