After years of touring the world individually, the Two and a Half Tenors – Nyle Wolfe, Ryan Morgan and Derek Ryan – chose an interesting venue to debut their new group.
Inspired by tales of classical music being played to Kobe cattle in Japan, their first performance was staged in front of Friesian cows in Pallasgreen, Co Limerick, last summer. Some 400 people also attended the open-air concert.
Though Nyle admits it was a “madcap idea”, they received good reviews from the crowd – and indeed, their bovine fans. “The quality of the milk for the next three months was definitely superior,” says Nyle. “We’ve had the local farmers begging us to do a concert in August.”
In case you haven’t already guessed, the Two and a Half Tenors aren’t like other classical music groups. According to baritone Nyle, their aim is to make classical music accessible for people of all ages – and have some fun along the way.
“Although we’re serious singers, we’re not serious performers. It’s fun and up-tempo – we’re not up ourselves. We’re just there to deliver fun and facilitate the audience’s enjoyment,” says Nyle. “We didn’t just want to be another three-tenor group when we got together. The name suggested that more than anything else.”
The name comes from the obvious height difference – Derek is 6’4”, Ryan stands at 6’7”, while Nyle (the “half”) is 5’6”. The men are joined by Jean Wallace, the group’s “devastating diva” soprano.
“When you put us all together it’s hilarious before you even tell a joke or sing a note. We just look daft. We can’t stand in a straight line – it’s always a triangular shape,” he adds.
Nyle’s debut came at the age of six, after answering a “sing and get paid for it” advert in the then-Cork Examiner.
This led to his professional debut in Cork’s Opera House and a job as a “Bluecoat” in Trabolgan.
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and the Opera Studio in Zurich, Nyle was soloist at the Musiktheater im Revier, Germany, for six years before deciding to move home to Ireland with his wife Riah and their children.
“You have to make a choice: career or family. You can have both, but it means you won’t see your family because if you want to work in classical music you’ve got to accept you’ll be away. The touring is hard. You could be going away for 16 weeks at time, at least,” he says.
“Moving back to Ireland, I knew the opportunities were few and far between, especially the older you get. Even if all the Irish companies employed you all the time, you couldn’t be busy enough.
“Diversifying is the obvious thing, making your own opportunities.”
Derek and Ryan found themselves in the same predicament. Having known each other for years professionally and as friends, the men decided to form the group.
“There aren’t a huge number of groups doing what we do. Because of the lack of opportunities, people have moved away from Ireland to tour. We hope to build our own niche audience,” explains Nyle.
“Derek manages to always look like he’s not interested, but he is a powerhouse of sound. Ryan is the hugely intelligent, analytical one and I’m the joker in the middle. Jean is the boss, ruling the roost,” he adds.
Since the “Farmer Proms” in Pallasgreen, business has been booming. “Everywhere we’ve gone, the level of interest has been quite astounding. We were in the National Concert Hall in January … we didn’t maybe put in the time or publicity that we should have done, but the place was packed to the rafters,” he says.
According to Nyle, the show includes everything from Pavarotti to Elvis, all delivered with humour. “There was a huge divide before in the classical music industry: you were either a classic musician or a pop singer. Those boundaries have broken down over the past 25 or 30 years,” he says.
“I never thought as an opera singer starting out 25 years ago that I would be singing Sweet Caroline, but that’s there. Another song I never thought would be there is Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python, but that’s in the show too.
“The hardest thing is whittling everything down to an evening’s entertainment instead of a week.”
Two and a Half Tenors will be appearing at The Everyman, MacCurtain Street, Cork, on 24 July. Tickets cost €25. Visit www.everymancork.com or call 021 450 1673. Visit www.twoandahalftenors.ie for more.