BBC Music Magazine

Music that Changed Me


- Interview by Amanda Holloway

Soprano Ailish Tynan

A Vilar Young Artist at the Royal Opera House and a BBC New Generation Artist, Irish soprano Ailish Tynan won the Rosenblatt Song Prize at BBC Cardiff Singer in 2003. She has sung opera around the world and is a regular recitalist at Wigmore Hall. She is recording and performing a programme of Ravel and Judith Weir with the Hebrides Ensemble this May.

Icame to music fairly late – my parents didn’t listen to classical music and we didn’t even have a record player. So the first pieces of music I remember hitting me between the eyes, and getting into my heart, came when I was already a singer.

Not long after I met my future husband, [Keith Mcnicoll, principal bass trombone at the Royal Opera] he played me a beautiful Salvation Army piece called ‘SHARE MY YOKE’ with trumpeter James Watson. I looked at Keith and thought, ‘Oh my God, you are definitely the love of my life’. ★ere was this lovely man, playing me this deep, soulful, spiritual music, and I knew I wanted to spend my life with him. Ten years later, we have baby Daisy and I couldn’t be happier.

Early in my career I encountere­d JUDITH WEIR and I was amazed – I thought composers were dead men from 300 years ago. We hit it off; I loved her music and was involved in recording several new pieces, including Natural History and The Welcome Arrival of Rain.i was so happy to think that classical music was alive and happening and I was part of it. Judith is fantastic at rhythm – her music is not easy but it’s been an education for me. She wrote a piece for me in 2016 called Nuits d’afrique, a companion piece to Ravel’s Chansons madécasses, and I was so tickled to see ‘To Ailish Tynan’ on the first page. In 100 years’ time somebody might be learning this music and they’ll wonder, who was Ailish Tynan? The premiere was delayed first by an accident – I stuck a score in my eye and damaged it quite badly – and then I was pregnant. Nuits sets poetry by contempora­ry African women and the first song is a lullaby from Senegal. A year after the postponed premiere we were finally rehearsing it at Wigmore ★all and I was singing the lullaby with Daisy in my arms when Judith walked in. That was a very special moment.

Another life-changing piece that advanced my technique was GLIÈRE’S Concerto for Coloratura Soprano. I was asked to sing at the BBC Proms with the Bournemout­h Symphony Orchestra and of course I said yes – I love the Proms – and then I found out what I was singing. I’m not a coloratura soprano although I have an agile voice and the first movement was fine. But the second movement! I was singing Papagena at La Scala and Albina Shagimurat­ova was the Queen of the Night, and she told me, ‘I spent six months working on it’. Well I did too, and learning the piece transforme­d my technique. It was like a vocal gym for six months. On the night I pulled it off, but I recently turned down the chance to sing it again!

Lieder and song recitals are so important to me – I sing a lot of Schubert and

Wolf, but my heart lies in FAURÉ. My French-language coach, Michel Valat, has given me the key to understand­ing Fauré; a poetic soul, he talks through the translatio­n and fires my imaginatio­n. I’ve chosen Fauré’s Cinq mélodies ‘de Venise’, which are intoxicati­ng and erotic. At first you think, ‘Oh, a simple little tune’, but you find yourself awash on a sea of emotion. The recording I made of Fauré songs with Iain Burnside is one of my favourites.

Since having Daisy my voice has grown richer and more powerful and I’m excited to be moving into new repertoire. PUCCINI writes the most romantic operas ever – I defy anyone not to be moved by Madam Butterfly or La bohème. As a Young Artist at the Royal Opera I used to watch top sopranos sing Mimì or Tosca and think, ‘Gosh, that must be difficult’. Now I’m preparing those roles and it almost feels effortless – my ‘Vissi d’arte’ was televised at Proms in the Park from Glasgow last year and it took no energy to sing. In fact it feels indulgent, like eating a box of chocolates.

I’ll be singing my first Mimì in 2020, but keep it under your hat!

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