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A €10k international singing competition is taking place in Ireland this week

We talked to one of the contestants – who said it’s not all glamour, but a lot of graft.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

A SINGING COMPETITION with a prize worth €10,000 is taking place in Ireland this week – and singers from across the world have flocked to Dublin to take part in it.

The prestigious Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition is in its ninth year, and this year’s events kicked off on the 25th. The winner will be announced at the live public final in the National Concert Hall Dublin this Thursday, 31 January 2019 at 7.30pm.

The night itself will feature six finalists, alongside the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, and will be streamed live by RTÉ lyric fm. The winner will be announced at the end of the night.

Who is Veronica Dunne?

90403175_90403175 Veronica Dunne Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Dr Veronica Dunne is an Irish woman and a legend in the singing world, and the competition – which takes place every three years – attracts international attention for good reason.

To get into the competition is no easy task: a total of 160 singers competed for places at auditions in New York and in cities across Europe during last October and November.

All six finalists in the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition receive prizes. The winner receives a prize of €10,000 – and would also enjoy a major career boost. 

The competition was inaugurated in 1995 to honour the lifetime work of Dublin-born Veronica Dunne, who has had a glittering operatic career on the world stage. Suzanne Murphy, Patricia Bardon and Tara Erraught are amongst her students who have gone on to enjoy international careers. Dunne currently teaches at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

‘It’s not all glamour’

One of the Irish competitors through to the semi-finals this year is Navan man Andrew Gavin. Now 27, he studied English literature in college and did an M Phil in children’s literature before changing direction radically and deciding to become a full-time singer. 

“Competitions like the Veronica Dunne Singing Competition, they represent huge opportunities for young singers to be heard singing the repertoire you want to sing, for the kind of people who employ people to sing that repertoire,” he says.

You have to have four rounds of repertoire prepared for the competition, and you need to choose them wisely. “It’s knowing when to put in the pieces so you don’t peak too early in the competition,” says Gavin.

With singing, most of the work is in the practice.

The adage goes that for 99% of the work you do, it does not get seen by a jury or an audience. It’s only the 1% when you’re on the stage. That all goes towards what makes what we do so effortless. When you see a really well performed performance on stage it’s nearly a feat of superhuman ability. It’s a huge amount of work over weeks and years.

This week, 38 singers visited Dublin to compete, including five Irish singers: 13 sopranos, 9 mezzo-sopranos, 1 countertenor, 5 tenors and 10 baritones, from the countries New Zealand, Indonesia, Korea, China, America, Venezuela, Turkey, Italy, Ireland and Germany.

In this year’s competition, Gavin has sung arias by Stravinsky, Mozart, Handel and others. In preparing for an event like this, you have to get your practice in – but you can’t practice too much.

90406742_90406742 Last year's winner, Fatma Said from Egypt. Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

“You still practice every day regardless of whether there’s something coming up, which is part of the lifestyle you have. It can be detrimental to over sing – ‘I’m going to sing for three or four hours now’ – you could potentially do a lot more damage to your voice,” warns Gavin.

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As well as an hour’s singing practice a day, Gavin works on phrasing, language, style, and making sure he doesn’t smoke, that he exercises, eats well and doesn’t drink too much. 

“One of the things about being a singer as opposed to being an instrumentalist is an instrumentalist can step away from the instrument,” he says. “The voice literally lives inside you and it’s with you all the time and you’re constantly trying to mind it.”

Is it difficult to make a career out of being a full-time singer? “People don’t get into singing because they want to make lots of money,” says Gavin.

They do it because it’s a  vocation, it’s the reason why you get out of bed in the morning. You love what you do – no two days are the same. That makes it wonderful and exciting.

But opera singing isn’t always what people think it is, says Gavin.

“When you see a singer walk out onto a stage in a fabulous gown and sing repertoire that would lift the roof off a concert hall, people go ‘it’s a glamorous life’… it’s amazing, it is wonderful. But it’s hard graft, it really is.

“I think sometimes the perception is with singing you just open your mouth and off you go – but I cannot describe how much more is to it than that.”

Members of the public are able to go and watch this year’s finalists perform at the event tomorrow. “I’d encourage people who are interested in music in any way, who don’t necessarily have a pre-existing interest in opera, to come and see this. It’s such a wonderful and exciting world of entertainment,” says Gavin.

“And there are reasons why people get hooked on it.”

The final of the Veronica Dunne Singing Competition takes place tomorrow night at the National Concert Hall. To book tickets call 01 4170000 /or visit www.nch.ie. Tickets: €25 & €35. For more information on the competition, visit the official website.

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