Irish-American dramatic 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 particularly suited to the works of Verdi, Wagner and Strauss, and works that call for a strong singing actress. 

2018/19 has seen Gráinne performing Flora in the Olivier award-winning King's Head Theatre's production of La Traviata (nominated for an Offie), as well as performing Bernstein's Songfest for the London Song Festival. She also attended private workshops with the legendary dramatic mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick in August 2018 (one of only 5 singers invited to participate at her home in Reno). In 2017/18 she played the part of Annina in Pavilion Opera's La Traviata; Helene in Faust et Helene by Lili Boulanger, the Old Woman in Candide, and Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica at Llangollen International Eisteddfod; and produced her own one-woman show on Shakespeare and opera for the Wandsworth Arts Fringe, Mezzo Sings the Bard. Future plans involve performing Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance at the Cork Opera House; singing Aksinya in Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk for Fulham Opera Orchestral Study Days; and singing Zia Principessa and Lucia in Suor Angelica and Cavalleria Rusticana respectively, for the newly formed North Wales Opera Company.

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 created the role of Captain Flora Sandes in the original production of 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, EPOC, 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. 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 Flavours of Naples and Manuels 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, Ben Woodward, Maite Aguirre, Peter Bailey, Susanna Stranders, Stephen Barlow, Noah Mosley, Leo Geyer, Marco Belluzi and Panaretos Kyriatzidis. Masterclasses and coaching include working with Dolora Zajick, Dame Felicity Palmer, 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. 

 

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

"Gillis' charismatic performance....Gillis's strong mezzo tones were even more impressive, bestowing Flora with suitable gravitas." Matthew Lunn, BritishTheatre.com, La Traviata at the King's Head Theatre, 2018

"Gráinne Gillis brings a touch of Katie Hopkins's brutal ruthlessness to club owner and landlady, Flora, though with pleasing timbre rather than shrillness in her voice." - Gary Naylor, Broadway World, La Traviata at the King's Head Theatre, 2018
"The final character in the story is Flora, the proprietor of the club, wonderfully played by Grainne Gillis as a business woman, hard of heart. " - LondonPubTheatres.com, Heather Jeffery, La Traviata at the King's Head Theatre, 2018