An Irishwoman's Diary
IN THESE days of corporate and cosmic doom and gloom, it lifts the heart to hear a good news story involving a real person. So let me tell you this one. It involves a young man from Romania. Like many others from Eastern Europe he comes to Ireland and he works, first in the construction industry and then - when the economy begins to slow - as a taxi driver. But this young man has a beautiful voice, and what he really wants is to sing.
One day a friend hands him a newspaper clipping about a Dublin choral group. Before the year is out he finds himself standing on the stage at the National Concert Hall, singing Nessun Dormawith choir and orchestra.
OK. That's the fairy story version. But this story isn't a fairy story. It's a tale of hard work, courage, resourcefulness and trust. Perhaps we should hear how it really happened. "My brother used to work here in Ireland," says Catalin Lazurca. "He is a manager back in Romania now. But when I was looking for work to support myself at university, he said, 'Come - it's a nice country'. I first came in 2004. Then, in 2006, when I graduated, we moved over here."
Fair-haired and easy-going, Lazurca gives the impression of being the kind of guy who could get on with people anywhere. But then, he has had plenty of practice. He got married during his second year in college, which made an already tight budget just that crucial bit tighter. "I travelled the world to support myself and my family," he says. "London, Chicago, New York. . ."
He shrugs happily. If his singing voice is anything like his speaking voice, it must be all smiles and sunshine. His English is fluent, mild and slightly accented, though the accent is hard to pin down - central Europe via north Co Dublin, maybe.
Born in Suceava in the north-east of Romania, he has settled in Donabate, in the north-east of Dublin. He grins. It's a cold morning in Dublin, no doubt about it: one of those frosty jobs which made a white Christmas look likely for the first time in living memory. But right now, in Suceava, there is snow - he places his hands either side of his hips - up to here. It's a beautiful spot, though. Nestled 1,000 feet up into the hills over a wooded river valley, it was the capital of Moldavia until the 16th century, and now serves as a gateway to the famous painted monasteries of southern Bucovina.
As Lazurca talks, it becomes clear that he has three passions in life - his social worker wife, his five-year-old daughter Sara Alexandra, and his singing. "I was born in Suceava in 1980, and sang a lot in my local church. That's how I developed my voice. Then I went to study music pedagogy at the Emmanuel University of Oradea."
Which is a long way away, at the other side of a very big country, close to the Hungarian border. "It's a Bible college, and I come from a Baptist background," he explains. "I think it's the only one in Eastern Europe that is accredited as a university."
Church music, in any case, is what he likes to sing. He produces programmes and flyers from his previous solo outings: the Mozart Requiem, Easter cantatas. "I sang in various venues with the university choir, but I am not that big in my repertoire as a soloist," he says. "I'm only starting. I'm a small kid. So hopefully things will turn out."
Singing the solo part in Puccini's Messa di Gloria with the Lassus Scholars has to be a good start. The smile becomes broader than ever. "I always wanted to sing since I came to Ireland, but at first it was very hard work and I had very little time."
He had a few contacts, and made some tentative calls "to see if I could join a choir or something".
Then a friend produced a newspaper clipping about the Lassus Scholars singing at Westminster Cathedral. He called the director of Dublin Choral Foundation, Ite O'Donovan, who told him he was free to come to rehearsals, which took place every Tuesday and Thursday.
"And I went, and I sang. She liked it, so ever since that day I'm singing with them. They're a great choir to work with - every single person. Very nice people. And I'm very proud that Ite had the trust to let me sing solo in this concert. It's a big thing for me."
Puccini's Messa di Gloriais, in truth, more opera house than cathedral cloister. It's full of exuberance, confidence and the sheer joy of being able to make glorious music.
"Puccini is not easy to sing," Lazurca says, "because it has a lot of ups and downs. Not like Mozart, who is always on the top of the voice. But I think it suits my voice - and I'm enjoying it one hundred per cent."
He'll be in good company on December 14th. Besides the Lassus Scholars and Piccolo Lasso, O'Donovan will be conducting the Orlando Chamber Orchestra.
The guest baritone will be William Gaunt, a lay clerk from Westminster Cathedral who has performed and recorded with The Sixteen and The Gabrieli Consort. The soprano is Miriam Murphy, winner of the Seattle International Wagner competition in 2006.
Besides the Messa di Gloriathere'll be a selection of operatic arias - including, inevitably, Nessun Dorma- and the traditional ending of carols, with the audience invited to join in.
So that's the story of Catalin Lazurca. A happy ending? Not at all. Sara has just had her tonsils out, which had her dad - and, presumably, her mum - worried sick. But he keeps on working, and he keeps on singing. That's the story of human life.