Young Mullingar classical singer awarded Veronica Dunne Bursary

Anna-Helena MacLachlan from Mullingar has been announced as one of six recipients of the Veronica Dunne Bursary for Young Opera Singers.

Currently in her second year at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM), studying under Derbhla Collins and Mary Brennan, Anna-Helena is a past pupil of St Finian's College who began developing an interest in music under the tutelage of Helen Hassett.

The bursary will support Anna-Helena in further developing her musical career, contributing to her development through stagecraft, musical and language coaching.

“It was my current teacher Mary Brennan who actually encouraged me to apply for the bursary,” Anna-Helena tells the Westmeath Examiner.

“I basically had to record some videos of myself singing with an accompanist, and send them in, along with a CV, letter or recommendation and headshots.”

She was one of 26 singers initially shortlisted, and then invited to compete for the award by performing live in front of an artistic panel at the Museum of Literature Ireland in Dublin.

The panel included mezzo Tara Erraught; Mark Shanahan, conductor and Head of Music at London’s National Opera Studio, Tobias Truniger, Director of the Opera Studio, Bavarian State Opera, who assessed the applications.

For the first round, competitors sang two contrasting operatic arias, and then ten singers were then selected to compete in the second round the following day. Finally, the winning singers were selected based on their performance and an interview with the artistic panel.

“I was thrilled to be selected because the bursary gives me an opportunity to expand my education I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” Anna Helena continues.

“For classical singing language is really important, because we’re singing in Italian, French and German and it’s so important to sound authentic when you’re singing in those languages. So this bursary will allow me to travel to those countries and study language courses there, which without the bursary, I wouldn’t have been able to do.

“The big question with Covid is, when I’ll be able to go and do that now but there are plenty of resources here in Ireland as well. The plan is I’ll do a language course here first, and then next year I’ll be able to go abroad to further my studies.”

Overall her coursework this year has been very different to last year.

“It’s definitely different this year because of Covid. Luckily we still get our one-to-one lessons in person because we’re in a course that’s learning a skill, so the government has still allowed us to go in for those lessons.

“All our academic lessons are done online and because it’s a performance course it’s meant to have several performances throughout the year, so now we’re doing a lot more recording and uploading online, whereas last year we would have had several concerts throughout the year.”

Once she finishes at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Anna-Helena hopes to do a Masters in either the UK, Germany or Italy.

Her dream is to one day sing in the big opera houses such as The Met or Covent Garden.

“That’s the dream but the goal really is to have a successful career, performing in opera houses and travelling the world.”

This is the inaugural Veronica Dunne Bursary, named after the renowned Irish singer and vocal teacher.

“We’re excited about this initiative which we’ve created to develop the potential of our young singers,” commented Veronica Dunne.

“We look forward to mentoring them in vocal and technical training, and to help guide them towards achieving their particular career goals… I want this bursary to be my legacy to future young Irish stars of opera.”

The Veronica Dunne Bursary was established in 2020 with funding from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

Commenting on the bursary announcement, Diarmuid Hegarty, President of Griffith College and Chairman of the bursary committee, said:

The distinguished international jury was certainly impressed with the calibre of contestants. It is appropriate that Tara Erraught should sit on the jury panel as she has been such an exemplar to these young singers. I thank Tara, Mark Shanahan and Tobias Trungier for their advice and encouragement to our competitors.

The Chairman also thanked Minister Catherine Martin for her support for the bursary and said, ‘I know her Department will join with these singers in encouraging them to take full advantage of this bespoke programme to improve their skills and confidence in pursuing fulfilling and successful careers.’

The six singers are Ava Dodd, Jade Phoenix, Karla Tracey, Carolyn Holt, Aebh Kelly and Anna Helena MacLachlan.