Irish opera singer Veronica Dunne dies aged 93

Operatic community loses highly respected figure and ever-present artist for over 60 years

Renowned Irish opera singer Veronica Dunne has died aged 93. She was a constant and highly respected, figure in Irish opera for more than 60 years, first as a soprano and later, and until recently, as a teacher.

Known to her friends as Ronnie, Dunne made her operatic debut in 1948 in Dublin as Micaëla in Carmen. The following year she appeared as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust.

In 1952, having won the Concorso Lirico Milano, she secured the role of Mimì in Puccini's La Boheme at the Teatro Nuovo, Milan. She later landed a contract with the Covent Garden Opera House in London, also singing with the Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Wexford Festival Opera.

She had first studied in Dublin under Hubert Rooney in 1946, before travelling to Rome to study with Soldini Calcagni and Francesco Calcatelli.

President Michael D Higgins led tributes to her on Monday. He said news of her death would sadden deeply all who loved "the power and beauty" of music.

“Throughout her life Dr Veronica Dunne captivated millions with her singing. The legacy she leaves lies in the talents of those scores of others whose talents and performances she unlocked with her enthusiasm, energy and commitment as a teacher and friend,” he said.

"Guided by her warmth, passion and energy, she developed the Veronica Dunne Competition from its beginnings in 1995 into one of the foremost international singing competitions in the world. I had the privilege in 2014 of presenting her with the National Concert Hall Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Sabina and I send our deepest condolences to her family, her many friends, including her former students, and the community of music lovers who will feel her loss so keenly.”

Minster for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin described Dunne as "a real trailblazer" in all her roles, and as "an utterly inspiring woman".

“She leaves in her wake a long line of gifted singers and she has inspired generations of musicians worldwide.”

In 1962 Dunne began a new career as a vocal teacher at the then Dublin College of Music, retiring 30 years later.

She continued to teach at the Leinster School of Music and the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and in 2014, aged 87, she was still teaching 39 hours a week.

Artistic director of the Irish National Opera Fergus Sheil said in her more that 50-year careers as a teacher she "just produced the most astonishing list of singers", including Celine Byrne, Tara Erraught, Miriam Murphy, who died last year, Suzanne Murphy and Niamh O'Sullivan, "who have performed and are performing in all the major opera houses around the world".

He had played piano for many of her students as she taught them.

“She was very old-school as a teacher – very demanding, very strict, but always encouraging. She could be quite outspoken, but never to put someone down, always to rise them up. She inspired students to want more of themselves.

"Nobody comes near her in terms of what she has done over years and years for opera in Ireland. And she did it with such style and panache.

“She is a huge loss and a current loss. She was still teaching, still coming to all the operas we produced. She supported people, was a bundle of energy and positivity. You almost thought she was never going to die.”

The triennial Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition, organised by the Friends of the Vocal Arts in Ireland, awards bursaries in her name.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

READ MORE