The rise of Emer McCallion - Ireland’s greatest soprano

Derry Soprano and President of the QUB Music Society, Emer McCallion, who is also short-listed as the First Trust Student of the year, is to attend intense vocal training at one of Germany's leading opera schools.
Derry Soprano and President of the QUB Music Society, Emer McCallion, who is also short-listed as the First Trust Student of the year, is to attend intense vocal training at one of Germany's leading opera schools.

Queen’s University graduate Emer McCallion has just completed her degree in Music and having won just about every trophy for singing there is in Ireland, will attend the prestigious Hochschule fur Musik and Theatre, school in Munich for intensive training and auditions this summer.

Emer’s talent has already ensured she is attracting the attentions of the best Opera Houses in the world. Little wonder then that the former St. Mary’s College pupil has been shortlisted for Student of the year 2011 at the First Trust student awards.

The President of QUB Music Society has certainly been wracking up the plaudits in 2011. Having completed her degree Emer will undertake her Masters Studies in Music in October but before that there will be auditions and tours at some of the world’s leading musical theatres.

“It’s a big point in my career. It’s a mind blowing experience,” she told The Journal. “I love Opera. I love it so much that if anyone stole my I-pod they would return it immediately, I love being able to get lost in the emotions of Opera, so to be able to travel and learn in Germany is a wonderful experience.”

There are 250 Opera Houses in the World, 72 of which are in Germany, therefore, said Emer: “That is the next logical step for me, that is where the work is. I’ve been focused on Germany since I started at Queen’s”

So dedicated to her career path Emer’s summer holidays will be spent learning the German language. “Singing Opera is what I’ve always wanted to do so I’m looking forward to it.”

The middle of three children, Emer turned 21 on Monday. The birthday crowns a week, if not a year of celebrations for the talented Soprano. In March she collected the Potato Ring Cup for best Irish Folk Song, The Boal Cup for interpretation and the Irish Medley award at the Ballymena Music festival, these awards were dwarfed by the presentation of the Chairman’s Cup for Northern Ireland Singer of the Year award at the same festival. A trophy with a £400 prize attached to it.

Having attended the Derry Feis from Primary 3, Emer, who also plays piano and violin, collected the Danny Casey Dramatic Cup and a bursary of £500 at this years competition.

Emer said: “I’m very grateful to the Derry Feis as that bursary helped me pay for more tutition and classes.”

It is however her battle to collect the Soprano Cup at this years Dublin Feis Ceoil which proved the most dramatic.

Having attended the competition, Emer returned to Belfast in the evening to rehearse for a QUB recital of Handle’s Alcina’. The next day she rose at 6am to return to Dublin to contest the Soprano Cup, however a Dissident Republican bomb scare ensured her train never made it further than Newry.

“I had to get a replacement bus service but it was a long wait. When I arrived in Connolly Station I just took off running with my dress in one hand and bag in the other.”

Emer arrived at the RDS show as the last performer was on stage singing. “I was so grateful they would still let me perform nevermind compete as I was very late but they were very understanding. I changed in three seconds and was on stage within minutes of arriving at the RDS.”

Emer’s performances of Willam Bogue’s ‘By The Bank’s Gentle Stour’ and Herbert Hughes ‘The Leprechaun’ was, evidently worth waiting on. Emer waltzed off with the Soprano Cup adding to her already impressively bulging trophy cabinet.

“It was just unbelievable. My lecturer who was in Dublin said it was a day she’ll never forget.”

Having studied at The Sandra Biddle School of Drama and the Una McCafferty School of Music, Emer is delighted to be continuing to build on; “the solid grounding and love of singing they gave me.

“I owe St. Mary’s a lot. The Principal Marie Lyndsay even attended my final recital at Queen’s. I’ll never be able to thank her or my tutor Dr. Angela Feeney for the support they’ve given me. Words just aren’t enough.”

Though not quiet from a musical family: mother Paula doesn’t sing and “give my father Michael a note and he’ll flatten it,” joked Emer, her grandfather, tenor Charlie Meehan was a regular winner at the Derry Feis.

“My family are very sporting, my sister Michaela and brother Michael are much more into sport but I always say singing is just like a sport. You have to practice hard, warm up every time and you are exhausted after it all.”

No doubt this hugely talented 21 year old has many more international fixtures and performances ahead of her.