Watch this space,” Sinead O’Kelly said. A search is looming for local women who can help develop a new musical production on stage – about domestic violence.
he project is the brainchild of Northern Irish opera singer Sinead who wants to merge – not confuse – electronic dance music and pop with opera.
It’s Op, Pop and Away right now for the Belfast-born artist who is currently performing in the NI Opera version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods at the Lyric Theatre.
Because at the same time, she is also writing an album of folk songs, on the theme of growing up in the province.
“I think there has never been a better time to be involved in the arts in Northern Ireland,” she said.
“And I’m excited to see what the arts and culture landscape has to offer.”
The domestic violence drama, which would be played in the province, which she calls her “new project”.
And it already has a title: The State of Her which has an Irish resonance.
“I hope to be able to work with local women who have been impacted by domestic violence and abuse and use this piece as a way to tell their stories,” Sinead said.
“I want him to come to Belfast and we’ll also be performing in a range of venues around the country, in places where you wouldn’t normally find an opera house.”
The project has already benefited from what Sinead calls “big” funding from several different organisations, including the Arts Council and the European Network of Opera Academies (ENOA).
“It will be a fusion of opera, EDM and pop music, and will involve digital projection mapping and hopefully take a fresh look at how to make opera more accessible through modern translation” , explained Sinead.
So where did the idea come from?
“I came up with the idea during lockdown, after watching lots of hard-hitting TV shows like I May Destroy You.
“The idea was born out of a desire to write a female operatic character with depth and dimension – so often women in opera are just fodder for men.
“If you think of the best female characters in opera – Carmen, Violetta, Mimi, etc., they’re all so-called ‘fallen’ women. They are not allowed to be human, to have flaws or to make mistakes. The lack of fleshy characters for women in opera is one of the many issues I have with this art form.
“So I decided to change that by writing something myself.
“We want to use raw materials from real women and women from all walks of life and walks of life, appealing to a wide audience, not just your standard opera lover.”
The production will be staged in the setting of an old factory/nightclub using video mapping “like a rave,” she enthused.
And when are we likely to see it?
On top of everything, Sinead is heading to motherhood.
“I am currently five and a half months pregnant, so the timeline of everything must have changed a bit!
“I hope we will launch it – as part of a triple program with two other solo operas by Handel and Poulenc next summer.”
Sinead grew up in North Belfast, where her parents still live, and attended Aquinas Grammar School, becoming a member of the Fortwilliam Musical Society Youth Group, which performed a musical every year at the Ballyearl Theatre.
Sinead continues: “The experience I gained there was invaluable. I started singing as soon as I could talk and did all the musical activities I could find.
“I also joined all the school choirs and played piano, cello and a few other instruments.
“I didn’t have formal singing lessons until I left school.”
She applied to the Royal College of Music, won a scholarship and from there went to the National Opera Studio in London, followed by a two-year contract at the Zurich Opera. “It was definitely a fish out of water story – a big culture shock for a little girl from North Belfast – but I had a great time throughout my training and lots of opportunities to learn the craft and to develop as a performer.”
A versatile singer, who can handle Handel or Hozier, Billie Eilish to Bernstein and with years of stage experience, Sinead doesn’t think the wider theater audience in Northern Ireland has an aversion to opera.
“When I’m at home and people find out that I’m an opera singer, they’re either surprised and interested or it’s not something they know about.”
The NI Opera Company, which has held an annual non-opera show at the Lyric in recent years, “works very hard to bring opera to people from all walks of life,” she said.
“At its core, and when done well, opera is just another way to tell a story and connect, human to human.
“I hope people leave Into the Woods feeling entertained, enlightened and with a newfound love for this incredible music.”
Meanwhile, in his spare time, so to speak, Sinead continues to write the 10 songs that will make up his folksong album, which will likely be released in the fall of next year.
“The pandemic has given me time to reflect and take stock of what I want to say and who I want to be as an artist,” she said.
“That means not just focusing on opera, which is just part of who I am as a musician and that’s how I ended up playing the role of the bakers wife in the Into the Woods show.
“I grew up immersed in and embraced all facets of being a musician and set out to do more in the future.”
Sinead also has a solo cabaret show, Songs About Me, but will struggle to find the time to play it here.
“Songs about me! was a show I did in Switzerland where I was living recently, but I just got back to Belfast and I’m really excited and inspired to be back here,” she said.
“All of this plus concerts around the country and roles with the English and Irish National Opera, so I certainly won’t be bored on maternity leave!”
Into The Woods with NI Opera runs at the Lyric Theater until February 27. For more information, see lyrictheatre.co.uk