Irish Tenors Tug at Heartstrings
by DAVID LYMAN
Sent to me by Sandi Steiner from New York
They're the Three Other Tenors. Unlike Pavarotti and Pals, these guys have no zillion-dollar fees, no Hollywood-style stage sets, no giant billboards touting their presence. But don't underestimate the three Irish Tenors, who bring their drag-out-the-hankies brand of music to the Palace on Tuesday evening.
After wowing TV audiences as part of PBS's spring fund drive in March, they've found the response to their barnstorming North American tour -- they're plowing through 13 cities in 15 days -- nothing short of spectacular. In fact, tenor Anthony Kearns admits a bit sheepishly that the reaction of North American audiences has been more enthusiastic than the one they got back in Ireland. "In Dublin, you can go out any time and hear these songs sung," says Kearns, who, at 27, is the baby of the trio. "But here? It's like we're bringing a piece of the culture over for them. They're wonderful."
No one really was sure what to expect when the three -- John McDermott and Ronan Tynan are the other two tenors -- launched the tour July 14 in Toronto. The singers had performed together on occasion, most notably for the TV special, which was recorded at the Royal Dublin Society. But they were hardly intimate longtime colleagues. The three come from markedly different musical backgrounds. Tynan is a physician who parlayed an impassioned performance in a national talent show into a part-time singing career. McDermott, who was raised in Canada, is more of a balladeer and has toured with the Chieftains and the Seekers. And then there is Kearns, whom many regard as the finest singer of the bunch. He's a lyric tenor, cut from the same mold as the legendary John McCormack. But unlike McCormack, who was best-known for his performances of traditional Irish songs and religious works, Kearns sees his future on the operatic stage. "The role I'd really love to do now is Nemorino in'L'Elisir d'Amore'('The Elixir of Love')," he says, eliciting a raucous response from those sitting around him on the tour bus as it makes its way down the New Jersey Turnpike. "Excuse me a moment," he says, laughing at the outburst.
It's not that the others aren't supportive of his goals. Rather, it's that the operatic repertoire is so far from the go-for-broke, tug-at-the-heartstrings selections they perform on this tour. It's a deliciously weepy Irish hit parade: "The Minstrel Boy," "Love's Old Sweet Song," "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," "Mountains o Mourne"and, of course, "Danny Boy." And then there's Keams'favorite, "Boolavogue." The title comes from the name of a town in Kcams'home county, Wexford. "The song has become like the national anthem for Wexford," says Kearns, who sent the tune's popularity skyrocketing when he performed it on the playing field before the Wexford football team competed in the All Ireland Hurling and Football finals in May. "They hadn't reached a final in 28 years, so it was an extreme honor to be asked to sing." For all the extraordinary emotional peaks of this tour -- they sold out Madison Square Garden last week -- there has been nothing in his career to top the day he sang in front of 70,000 football fans in Dublin. "It's our national sport, you know, and as it happens, we won. And I like to think I did my part to help. Ever since, there has been a little joke that I was the 16th player on the field that day."