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Right path to success

TALENTED: Abigail Kelly

OPERA SINGER or genetic researcher? That was the dilemma facing Abigail Kelly when she got to the stage of filling in forms for university.

When the talented soprano opted for the musical route her decision was met with raised eyebrows from her parents.

“They weren’t too happy about it,” smiles the 29-year-old, but she says they calmed down when she won a scholarship to Birmingham Conservatoire and emerged with a first class degree in music, plus an award in her first year for achieving the highest marks.

The genetic research ended up on the back burner, but she has no regrets, and her father, Tony, is proud of his only child.

“Dad loves performances and from when I was small he was always taking me to operas, the pantomime or musicals. I was also busy with piano and violin lessons, dancing and a church choir, so it’s not surprising that some of the music stuck with me,” laughs Kelly, who went to King Edward VI Handsworth School, where she was head girl.

“I always say it took me a while to find my instrument, but when I did it was my voice, not something I was being trained to play.”

Her dad will have yet another proud moment when Kelly’s voice fills Birmingham Symphony Hall in July, as she sings the Jamaican national anthem to thousands of people who will gather to celebrate the Caribbean island’s 50th anniversary of independence at a special concert.

The event is also a way of wishing the Jamaican Olympic track and field team good luck before they leave their Birmingham training camp and go to London for the start of the Games.

Once Kelly chose music her career took off. After completing a postgraduate degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, she has toured the world singing.

“One of the highlights of my life has to be singing with Opera South Africa, run by Nelson Mandela’s grandson Unathi Mtirara. We were accompanied by the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. In South Africa singing means so much to people.”

A singer with English Touring Opera (ETO) for the past five years, Abigail is busy taking part in performances of Eugene Onegin and The Barber of Seville at venues across the country.

Life with ETO also involves a teaching programme with primary age youngsters, where players visit schools and perform productions such as In the Belly of the Horse and RedBlueGreen, a multi-sensory performance for infants and children with severe special needs.

Very few black people inhabit her world but Kelly feels the tide is turning, with more ethnic minorities being exposed to classical music through education programmes such as that offered by ETO.

In fact, teaching is her other passion and when not touring Kelly goes straight back to schools near her Birmingham home – The Priory and West House – where she is a popular singing teacher to pupils from the age of five to 16.

She loves her work with ETO, and hopes for a “major role” in the future.

“I usually play young, happy-go-lucky, flirtatious characters,” laughs Kelly, who still takes lessons from a singing teacher. “I would love a more major role in a performance, a chance to play a complex character.”

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