Andrew Irwin is a professionally trained opera singer who has been working with prestigious opera companies across the UK and Europe. Here he tells The Impartial Reporter about his background in music, the most unusual venue he has performed at and his favourite moment as a performer so far.

What is your background in music and performance?

As a child, I sang in Derrygonnelly Primary School Choir and Rossorry Parish Church Choir. I stepped out of both choirs at concerts and services to sing solos. From a very young age, it was clear to me that I wanted to be a singer. Having tried out all types of music possible in the local area, including pop/rock bands and musicals, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the ‘classical’ style of singing.

How would you describe yourself as a performer?

I like to consider myself a very generous, energetic performer. I give everything I have on the stage every time that I am there.

What genre/genres of music do you perform?

I perform in large scale opera productions, concert hall performances of oratorio, as well as solo concerts and recitals including everything from classical song cycles, folk song arrangements and lighter traditional songs/parlour songs and ballads. In my job, I sing music that as written anywhere between the 1600s and 2020, in English, German, Italian, French, Russian and Czech (so far).

What is your favourite piece of music/song to perform and why?

Difficult question! There is a song “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert that is currently particularly resonant, describing the effect of music as an art form on the soul. The song goes on to thank the art for making the world a better place.

“Oh Danny Boy” is my favourite local song, as it reminds me of home. It is a beautiful melody and very touching words.

How long have you been performing and where do you perform?

I have been performing since I was seven or eight years old, but have made a living purely from performance for two years. I can be found in an opera house, concert hall or church primarily. I however have the privilege of working periodically for the Lost Chord Dementia Charity based in Sheffield, singing in dementia care homes across England and Wales.

What has been your favourite performance/concert to date?

I was honoured to make my debut for Welsh National Opera, singing Amelia’s Servant in “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Guiseppe Verdi. The run started in Wales Millenium Centre, playing to a crowd of nearly 2000 people. We then toured the show across the UK.

At the same time, I was understudying the role ‘Cecil’ in “Roberto Devereux” by Gaetano Donizetti. The person playing the role got ill, and I went on stage in Plymouth.

During my opening scene, I shared the stage with the Welsh National Opera Chorus. Hearing them singing behind me made the hairs stand on the back of my neck.

Who or what are your major influences?

Local influences included Johnston Erwin, who I sang beside in Rossorry Parish Church Choir, and Gillian Rutherford, a former teacher of mine and constant source of support from a very young age.

Influences further afield include the Irish tenor John McCormack and the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. My singing teachers along the way- Helen Francis, Adrian Thompson, and KS Professor Roland Schubert- deserve a special mention for their guidance since I was 16.

Do you write your own music?

My creativity doesn’t stretch that far, I’m afraid.

I have however worked alongside a lot of composers, singing in the premiere of new works.

What would be your dream concert/performance?

I would love to make an appearance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. Another dream is the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

However, to satisfy my personal dream to work more often closer to home, more performances “locally”, for example with NI Opera and Irish National Opera would be brilliant.

What are your hopes/aspirations as a performer?

To get the opportunity to bring music to as many people as possible. Music is an opportunity to escape, and being able to offer that is a special privilege.

Do you always perform solo or do you also perform with a choir/group?

Generally as a soloist: my various jobs could include anything between me along with a partner providing accompaniment, or acting as a soloist in a production including hundreds of people.

What has been your overall best moment as a performer so far?

Regardless of venue size, I love performing at home. It was a special moment for me to perform Franz Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin” or “The Lovely Miller Maid” in the Ardhowen Theatre in April 2018. I performed with Laryngitis, which I would never have done anywhere else in the world or for more money, but bringing this music to an audience of that size in Fermanagh felt more important than me. It was an emotional evening.

What is the most unusual venue you have performed at?

I once performed an opera variety event in a skatepark! I sang to an audience of BrewDog beer drinkers and Barbecue eaters. They are my kind of people!

What’s the best thing about performing?

Performing makes me feel alive. Performing takes me out of reality and the worries that accumulate therein. In that moment, it’s me and the music. When the audience give an extra special reaction to a performance, there is no better feeling than bowing before them and knowing that the years of hard work were all worth it.

I was trained to provide live performance. I have adapted to make more videos in order to ‘remain active’ during this time, but it is not the same. The sound of the orchestra tuning up, the hum of the audience, the performance, the applause: That is what I live for.