ONE OF the highpoints of Galway’s musical calendar and festive season is coming up shortly when Music For Galway, the Irish Baroque Orchestra, and the Resurgam choir join forces for a presentation of Handel’s Messiah at St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, on Saturday December 8.
The Irish Baroque Orchestra is synonymous with superb performances of baroque music and Handel’s Messiah in particular, giving music lovers the opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous authentic colours and textures of the baroque sound world.
For the fourth consecutive year the orchestra is joined for Messiah by Resurgam, a choir well-known to Galway audiences and renowned for its presentation of the great sacred repertoire of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, frequently in partnership with the country’s premiere period instrumentalists.
Among the featured soloists in this year’s performance is mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty, winner of the RTÉ Lyric FM Classical Breakthrough Music Bursary and a native of Celbridge, County Kildare. Her credits include roles with Frankfurt Opera Studio, Lyric Opera, Dublin, and the English National Opera, as well as regular appearances with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
With her singing career very much on the up and up, it comes as a surprise to learn Sharon’s initial career ambitions were focused more in the direction of sport.
“All I wanted when I was a teenager was to become a PE teacher,” she tells me during an interview about her upcoming appearance in Messiah. “I was just always sports mad and saw that as the only thing for me.
“I think I initially took music a little for granted. I played trad violin as a child and then later took up the piano, which I still enjoy, and my secondary school had an exceptionally high standard of music and singing - we regularly undertook big concert performances of works like Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Faure’s Requiem, and won numerous choral competitions.
“It was there that I gained my first experience of singing Oratorio as a soloist. Music was just such an intrinsic part of school life, I just took it as a given really, and the idea never entered my head it might be something I could do professionally.”
It was the school’s music teacher who steered Sharon toward pursuing music seriously, as she reveals.
“I really owe a huge amount to my music teacher there, Aideen Lane, who spotted something in me and guided me in that direction,” says Sharon. “It wasn’t until I finished my PE teaching degree that I thought about going back to give singing a go, and from there I did a diploma at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, went to work as a secondary school teacher for four years, before finally deciding it wasn’t for me. I then applied to do an opera course in the university in Vienna, was accepted, luckily, and I haven’t looked back since!”
Another key step in Sharon’s blossoming career was joining the Opera Studio of the Frankfurt Opera in September 2010.
“The Opera Studio in Frankfurt was just fantastic, although I actually didn’t want to take the place on the course initially!” she states. “I didn’t audition through the normal channels, the Intendant of the House heard me sing, and based on that, invited me to come and take a place on the programme in the following year.
“I didn’t really give it any thought then as, because I was somewhat of a late-starter in my singing career, I thought it would be better to audition for a small opera house in Germany, and just put my head down and get some bigger roles under my belt.
“A couple of months later a very persuasive email came through my agent, with the guarantee of smaller and medium sized roles like Tebaldo in Don Carlo, and second lady in Die Zauberfloete, with the possibility of more responsibility in the second year.
“I went on then to sing the role of Aloes in a new David Alden production of Chabrier’s L’Etoile, a role which I’m currently reprising here at the opera house. The stage experience in a house the size of Frankfurt as well as all the wonderful singers, conductors, coaches, directors with whom I’ve worked has been really invaluable, and also great fun!”
And so to Messiah; Carty is eagerly looking forward to the performance:
“The Irish Baroque Orchestra and Resurgam are both world class ensembles,” she enthuses. “It’s my first time to work with either of them, and I’m really looking forward to hearing Resurgam live for the first time. I’ve been to many Irish Baroque Orchestra concerts and have several of their CDs - I can only recommend them - but it’s going to be very special to perform this tour with them.
“The other unique aspect will be that the Irish Baroque Orchestra play on period instruments, that is, copies of instruments from the Baroque era, the time when Handel wrote Messiah. The sound is very different from that of an orchestra playing on modern instruments, due in part to the use of gut strings on the stringed instruments. It’s a much fuller, earthier, sound, and makes a huge difference in the performance of Baroque music.”
The performance of Messiah will be led by Roy Goodman, guest conductor with more than 120 orchestras, choirs, and opera companies all over Europe and joining Carty as featured soloists are Roisin O’Grady (soprano ), Oliver Mercer (tenor ), and Nathan Morrison (baritone ).
Sharon concludes our interview by declaring how much she personally enjoys Handel’s timeless oratorio.
“I love the piece,” she says, “It’s something I really closely associate with Christmas, I think everyone does! I have a few favourite bits...the opening couple of chords of the opening Sinfony always give me goosebumps, it’s like the curtain going up in an opera house, signalling the story is about to begin, I always find that very exciting.
“Otherwise I have loved singing ‘O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion’ since I was a teenager, for me it’s the quintessential alto aria of the piece, and I just love the bass aria ‘Why Do The Nations?’ - I’m looking forward to hearing Nathan sing that!”
Messiah is at St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church is on Saturday December 8 at 7pm. Tickets are €25/€20 and early booking is advisable. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie