Sarah Dolan sings in tribute to famous Limerick opera star

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200 years after the birth of world-famous opera singer Catherine Hayes, soprano Sarah Dolan will pay a special tribute to her fellow Limerick woman when she headlines a gala concert in St Mary’s Cathedral on this Thursday, November 8.

A long-time fascination with the life and career of the Limerick musical legend, described as the 19th-century operatic equivalent of the world’s most famous rock star, brought Sarah Dolan from her heroine’s birthplace in Limerick’s Patrick Street to Central California where a street in named in her memory.

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Born into abject poverty in 1818, Catherine Hayes was an opera star by the time she was 15 years old. Five years later, she entranced the world from the stage at La Scala in Milan. The young Giuseppe Verdi became interested in her for one of his new operas and she earned high praise from critics as she toured Europe, America, Asia and Australia.

Her life and work will be celebrated in Thursday night’s concert which is in aid of the Hunt Museum. Along with Sarah Dolan, the concert will also feature tenor Patrick Hyland, pianist Colette Davis, the Voices of Limerick Choir and a 30 piece orchestra conducted by Sinéad Hayes.

“November 8 is a very significant date, because that’s when Catherine was baptised in the cathedral. A lot of the repertoire would have been things that she would have performed, so it’s a mixture of bel canto, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi and some Irish classical songs that she sang in North America and Canada.

“And I have a fabulous arrangement of Kathleen Mavourneen, which was her party piece. That’s what she sang as her encore with Queen Victoria which is marked in her diary, which is cool,” said Sarah.

Sarah graduated with an honours Degree in Vocal Performance from the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Conservatory of Music and Drama, and holds a Masters in Music from the San Francisco Conservatory. She has received many awards and has performed in Ireland, USA and Germany and is highly sought after as a soloist. 

Sarah’s interest in Catherine Hayes was sparked when she was asked by Limerick Civic Trust to sing at a lecture they had organised several years ago, “I sat and listened, I was fascinated by her story. I went to O’Mahony’s and bought her book by Basil Walsh.

“Then when I finished studying in DIT I was thinking about going to San Francisco and I remembered that she had a street in California named after her, and when I went to do my audition there was a Hayes Street, and I thought, this might be a sign.

“So I ended up going to that conservatory. But a couple of years ago, I did go and see the street, it’s in central California, in this really kind of, cowboy feeling town, it was really interesting. Kate Hayes Street? I had to do it”.

Sarah’s interest in her fellow Limerick soprano persisted and while she was in the USA, she kept coming across books that mentioned Catherine Hayes and her significant musical legacy.

“So I’ve just been picking up things along the way,” said Sarah who now lives between Ireland and Seattle in the USA where she does a lot of concert work and has her own vocal studio.

“I just wanted to make sure that something was happening to mark this, so it’s been on my mind for a number of years to do something. This is something I’m really passionate about, and I’ve put a lot of work into it. The Hunt, the Cathedral and the Council have been brilliant so without all that, this wouldn’t have happened.

“Hopefully people come and experience it. They will learn a bit about her and we keep this heritage. It’s our history; when I meet Americans who are fascinated with Irish heritage and history, it is important,” added Sarah.

Led by the Hunt Museum supported by Limerick Arts Office, and Limerick City and County Council other events celebrating Catherine Hayes’s anniversary include a curated exhibition on her life and career from November 8 to the end of the year. There will also be a video-installation documenting Hayes’ life projected onto the façade of her birthplace at 4 Patrick Street. It will include snippets of opera and song from her repertoire from November 4 to December 8.

A fundraising supper at the Hunt Museum will take place at 6pm followed by the concert at 8pm. Proceeds from ticket sales will go towards planned refurbishment work at the Hunt Museum.

Tickets can be purchased from www.Dolans.ie or from the Hunt Museum.