A ‘Fiver for a Tenor’ is a one-hour radio documentary that will transport us back to May 1963, when a then unknown tenor took to the stage of the Town Hall, Dundalk for his first ever solo performance not in an opera outside of Italy. His name? Luciano Pavarotti.
‘A Fiver for a Tenor’ explores a story that at first read, could be dismissed as local legend. But as we dig deeper, even local legends are often grounded in fact.
It was the spring of 1963 – Eamon de Valera was President and Sean Lemass, Taoiseach. In the South of the country, preparations were well underway for the visit of US President John Kennedy early in the summer. In Dundalk, on May 7th, a group of opera lovers who together formed St. Cecilia’s Gramophone Society were on their way to Belfast to see a performance of Puccini’s La Boheme in the Grand Opera House. Waiting nervously behind the scenes before his performance on that day, was a man whose name would soon become recognised world-wide. That name was Luciano Pavarotti.
A few days later, the then 27-year was to perform in Dundalk, stopping over with other Italian singers as he was travelling to Dublin to take part in the opera Rigoletto hosted by the DGOS – Dublin Grand Opera Society (as Opera Ireland was then called) – in the Gaiety Theatre.
The sum paid for his performance in Dundalk? Five punts, with each ticket sold for a half crown. Five days later, on May 12th 1963, the now world-famous Pavarotti took to the small stage of the Town Hall in Dundalk and performed his first ever solo concert outside of Italy, to a small but appreciative audience and accompanied only by a piano. He performed Che Gelida Mamina from Puccini’s La Boheme, La Donna E Mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto along with a role in the Duet from Puccini’s Butterfly.
‘A Fiver for a Tenor’ explores the story behind how such a world-famous name began his international solo career on a humble Town Hall stage in Ireland. Helping us piece together this story is Sr. Leonie Marron, a lifelong friend of Monsignor Peter Shields, who helped organise the night. Sr. Leonie recounts the strange rules that existed in the church at the time that meant that Monsignor Shields could organise the trips for the Society to these concerts to places like Dublin and Belfast, but was not allowed to attend many of the performances as it was forbidden by the Archbishop of the Diocese. Also interviewed are Paddy Brennan of the DGOS and Niall Morris, a founding member of ‘The Celtic Tenors’, who staged a show about Pavarotti’s life.
In the creation of this 1-hour radio documentary, ‘A Fiver for a Tenor’, we seek to elevate what was once local legend to the realms of fact and in doing so, recount an almost unbelievable tale for a modern audience.