From trouser roles to feisty female characters, Dublin-born operatic mezzo-soprano Ann Murray has had a dazzling career ever since her first title role in Gluck's Alceste in the mid-1970s. As she retires from the stage and turns her attention towards encouraging the next generation of young singers, her recordings, honours and reputation stand as a credit to her long and extraordinary career in opera.
How do you strike a balance between the world of opera and solo recitals? You are renowned on the opera stages worldwide, from Covent Garden to New York’s Metropolitan Opera and you are also well-versed in recital repertoire such as German Lieder and French chansons.
Lieder and opera go hand in hand, in my opinion. An aria in opera can be influenced by the intimate discipline of song. In a Lied, one can call on the broader canvas of opera to aid with interpretation. I have been so fortunate to have experienced both genres and feel it is vital for young singers to have experience and challenges in opera and Lied.
And within opera, do you have a preference in what type of roles you sing or a certain time period?
I have always been happy on stage. I have enjoyed the demands of playing trouser roles in Mozart, Handel and Strauss. The feisty women of Rossini, Berlioz and Mozart have also been a delight to perform. In opera, the works of these composers have formed the greatest part of my career.
We are talking to you not long before St. Patrick’s Day, a time that the world is reminded of Irish culture. Do you ever perform back home?
I have not sung at home for some years. During my career I have had few opportunities to perform in Ireland, sadly. However, it was a huge honour to be part of the Irish Gala at the Wigmore hall in London in recognition of the wonderful cultural relationship Ireland and the UK enjoy.
It was a most moving occasion with excellent Irish artists performing Schubert in the first half and after the interval the audience were treated to a most entertaining Irish medley.
Have you performed any works by Irish composers?
Sadly and mainly because of my engagements elsewhere I have never had the chance to be involved in Irish contemporary music.
What attracted you to singing in the first place?
My mother noticed I had a goodish voice when I was a child. I was a member of the Young Dublin Singers while at primary school. Like thousands of others, I was entered for all the Feis Ceoil competitions going.
Did you have a long-term dream of singing professionally?
I never had a huge ambition to sing, I just did it. I was so lucky to have had a wonderful agent who built and managed my career. I also had dedicated teachers from the very start who taught me with care and expertise.
Personality is important for any musician, and even more so for a singer because you carry your instrument around with you all your life. How has your singing developed over time as you grew both as a singer and as a person?
The mechanics of singing have not been a huge challenge for me, thanks to excellent teaching. As experience grew, I developed a quiet confidence.
What’s in store for you in the near future, in terms of performances and/or recording?
After consultation with my advisors, I have recently decided to retire from the stage. I have many opportunities now to work with young singers and I hope I can help them on their way to a very challenging yet hugely rewarding career.
Ann Murray in conversation with Rachel Deloughry @DelouRachel