Der Rosenkavalier - Getting to know the Marschallin

Wednesday, 8 February, 2023
Celine Byrne Rose Blogost

We caught up with Celine Byrne during the first week of rehearsals for Irish National Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Celine, a lyric soprano and Kildare native, will be playing the role of the Marschallin in the production which opens at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on 5 March 2023.

Now recognised nationally and internationally as one of opera’s great stars, we wanted to know how it all started and whether opera had been part of her life from an early age. In fact, Celine says she did not know anything about opera until she went to college, but she has vivid memories of her father playing classical music on a Sunday, going around the kitchen and “air-conducting the radio”, she says with a chuckle. Classical music had been a large part of her childhood, but she wasn’t hooked by opera until she saw a live production for the first time in Italy, and later when she returned home and joined the chorus of Opera Ireland.

One of her funniest memories as a performer came from those early days in the chorus, during a production of Bizet’s Carmen which involved real cars on stage. It seems the gods of fate were tempted by the prospect of a literal ‘car crash’ moment, and Celine remembers pushing the car onto stage with such force it nearly collided with another - anything can happen in live theatre! Singing in that production of Carmen is also how she first met mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, who will be playing alongside Celine as her lover Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier.

What’s the most exciting thing about being an opera singer? According to Celine, it is connecting to a character and bringing them to life on stage. Portraying a character from the romantic period is a special treat for her in particular. Practising for this role, she says she sometimes tries and detach because the “music and emotions are so poignant that I can’t help but cry.”

In Der Rosenkavalier, the Marschallin is stuck in a loveless marriage and is having an affair with young Octavian. Celine describes her character as “a mature woman, who is very self-aware and very emotional”. The Marschallin cares deeply for Octavian but realises that this love cannot last due to their age difference. She comes to realise that she must let him go to be with someone with whom he can build a future. Celine feels that there are many facets to her character. “You can see her youth and playfulness in her relationship with Octavian, but there’s also a lot of sadness.”

As a mature woman, the Marschallin is aware of her diminishing status in society; she wonders where her life is going, and what is still to come. Celine says she can identify with this deeply: “Everyone gets to this point in their lives where they realise, oh my goodness, where have the years gone? Where is my life going and what will I do with the time that’s left? In that sense, the opera deals with some very deep and sensitive issues.”

Celine describes the role as “up there with one of the best roles in the opera repertoire”. It is a difficult role, she says, “but so rewarding once you have learned it, because it is simply so beautiful and heartfelt.” She loves performing at home, and with Ireland’s opera scene continuing to grow, she is thrilled to work with other top international artists back where she first started. “It is fantastic being part of such a huge undertaking of INO, with such a brilliant cast involved. I’m delighted to be able to portray this role and bring this kind of music to the Irish audience!”

Although this opera might not be as well-known as La bohème or Madama Butterfly, it is “an opera that stands the test of time” with some of Strauss’s most beautiful music and one of greatest-ever trios for three female voices. With this production, you will be treated to a gorgeous night out with traditional setting, stunning costumes and set. Seeing an opera live is the best way to get hooked, as Celine knows. “Everyone should go to the opera at least once, and this would be a perfect place to start.”