Belfast born soprano Aoife Miskelly will be making a welcome return to home soil this month when she graces the stage of the Grand Opera House in Opera North’s new production of the Russian fairytale Snow Maiden.
As a child Aoife had a passion for music, and it was thanks to a scheme funded by Belfast City Council and the Arts Council that she discovered her love for classical music and the cello. However, it wasn’t until she started her undergraduate degree at University College Cork that she uncovered her vocal talents in earnest.
“I was always really keen on singing but only started taking lessons when I was at university, and did half my degree in cello and half in singing,” explained Aoife. “My voice is particularly suited to opera rather than musical theatre. I have quite a high soprano voice with a basis in classical training so it seemed the logical step, but I love listening to all different styles and my favourite band is the Dixie Chicks.”
After finishing her degree in Cork, Aoife decided to audition for London colleges and went on to study vocal performance and opera. Her singing career took flight when she signed a contract with Cologne Opera and relocated to Germany.
“It was a big move and I didn’t realise how much of a challenge it would be,” she said. “The biggest challenge was definitely the language because I didn’t speak German.”
Despite the language barrier, Aoife settled into life at the Cologne Opera House and took on a host of fabulous roles during her time with the company. “I had a great time working out there,” she continued. “A lot of roles were added to my CV. It was a heavy workload but it was great for starting out.”
Although she loved her time in Cologne, Aoife knew in her heart that she always wanted to come back to the UK to further her career. After spending last summer performing in Japan, she returned home to perform with Northern Ireland Opera before beginning rehearsals with Opera North for her current role as the Snow Maiden. “The beauty of the job is that you get to travel and you are constantly meeting really nice and interesting people from different cultures and backgrounds,” Aoife explained. “It is quite a privilege.”
The soprano is delighted to be back in the UK and is thrilled to be coming to Belfast to perform with Opera North later this month, when the company will stage three fairytale operas - Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Snow Maiden over four days in the Grand Opera House. “It is really special to come home to work,” she continued. “A lot of the time when you are on the road everywhere can look the same so it is lovely to come home and catch up with family and friends and it is really great to have people in the audience who are rooting for you.”
The Grand Opera House has a poignant place in Aoife’s heart, bringing back childhood memories of her longing to be on the stage. “The Grand Opera House is quite a special place for me being from Belfast but also because I made my stage debut there when I was 11 as part of a touring production of The Sound of Music. It was a brilliant thing and I knew at that age that I absolutely loved it and that it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Now Aoife will be back treading the boards in Belfast in the challenging role of Snow Maiden, retelling the beautiful, magical Russian fairytale of the girl with a tragic secret - she has a heart of ice and if she falls in love it will melt. Snow Maiden, which is being professionally staged for the first time in over 60 years in the UK, features some of Rimsky-Korsakov’s most lyrical music, including the ‘Chorus of the Birds’, and the ‘Dance of the Clowns’.
“The story is largely unknown to us,” explained Aoife. “But I tell people it is loosely aligned to ‘Frozen’. It is a beautiful production and the music is really stunning. It is lovely to be bringing it to Belfast.”
Snow Maiden will be staged at the Grand Opera House on Friday March 17. Opera North will also be staging Hansel and Gretel on March 15, 16 and 18, and Cinderella on March 16 and March 18. For further information or to book tickets contact the Grand Opera House Box Office on 9024 1919 or log onto www.goh.co.uk.