Irish-American dramatic mezzo-contralto Gráinne Gillis studied at University College Cork, the CIT Cork School of Music, after which she studied at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. A classically trained actress with a voice described by the Observer as having 'rich, dramatic potential', Gráinne is drawn particularly to the ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk and her voice is particularly suited to the works of Verdi, Wagner and Strauss. 

She also enjoys championing new work, especially that which is female-centric: she has originated the role of Ella in Clem Ishmael's Looking at the Sun and played the Transvestite in the second performance of Marion Ingoldsby's Hot Food for Strangers. Her particular interest is in celebrating women sidelined by history: to that end she has played Annie-Jump Cannon in The Observatory (a BSL multi-sensory opera) by Stephen Bentley-Klein and Sarah Grange, supported by Improbable; and Captain Flora Sandes in Dead Equal by Rose Miranda Hall and Lila Palmer, supported by ENO and the IOA as part of Formations 2016. This interest stemmed from a self-taught seminar in her final year at UCC about female composers, which was later made into a critically acclaimed radio series on RTÉ Lyric FM, written and presented by Gráinne herself.

 

In addition to operatic premieres by Ishmael, Bentley-Klein and Hall, Gráinne's other roles include Juno [Semele], La Nourrice [Ariane et Barbe-Bleu], Zita [Gianni Schicchi], the Mother [Hansel & Gretel], La Zia Principessa [Suor Angelica], Dryad [Ariadne auf Naxos], Baba [The Medium], 3rd Witch and Dama [Macbeth], Madame Popova [The Bear], Suzuki [Madama Butterfly], Dritte Dame [Die Zauberflöte], Frugola [Il Tabarro], Lucia [Cavalleria Rusticana], The Sorceress [Dido and Aeneas] and Annina [La Traviata]. Companies worked with include the ROH (as an actor), Grimeborn, Operaview, EPOC, Secret Opera, Pavilion Opera and the Helios Collective.

 

A charismatic, innovative performer at home as a recitalist, Gráinne has also performed the soprano solo in a staged production of Pierrot Lunaire at the Camden and Grimeborn Festivals, conducted by Andrew Charity. She is re-discovering her love of solo recitals and concerts, and to that end has performed Dvorak's Biblical Songs, and more recently the Wesendonck Lieder and Sea Pictures in London. She believes that opera brought outside of the opera house can be a powerful, therapeutic, life-changing experience, and so she regularly performs concerts for the charity Music in Hospitals, opera-cabaret at the up-and-coming deli-bistro Flavours of Naples in London and has been part of the Pavilion Opera Educational Trust over the last 3 seasons.

 

She also has a deep love of oratorio and sacred music, and was the Cantor at the Honan Chapel in UCC for 3 years. In addition to a wealth of church singing over that time, she also has performed the Coronation Mass and Messiah (her Desert Island Discs work) a number of times.

 

Conductors and MDS Gráinne has worked with include Richard Bonynge, Bryden Thomson, Colin Mawby, Christoph Tietze, Alice Farnham, Ben Woodward, Maite Aguirre, Andrew Charity, Peter Bailey, Susanna Stranders, Stephen Barlow, Noah Mosley and Leo Geyer. Masterclasses include working with Mark Shanahan, Raina Kabaivanska, David Pountney, Mark Wigglesworth, and Cheryl Studer. She has won several prizes, including the Capriccio Composition Competition, two Italian Government Scholarships, the Contralto Prize at Feis Maitiu, Dublin and the Donal Gleeson Prize for Best Recitalist in her native Ireland.

 

Future plans include directing, producing and performing in a strongly female Baroque work, and developing two one-woman shows. More details to be announced in late 2017. Gráinne also plans an audition tour of Germany later this year - for more details on this, click here.

 

"....Gillis - whose voice has rich, dramatic potential - [is] powerful in the title role" - Fiona Maddocks (The Observer) on The Medium 

"A special mention must go to the singer [Gráinne Gillis] who took over the role of Suzuki at very short notice, so short she had to perform holding a tablet with the score. She did a remarkable job despite the circumstances - her flower duet with Bork was delicate and harmonious..." - Manuel Munoz (A Younger Theatre) on "Madama Butterfly" with Secret Opera, 2016.