Tenor Paul O’Neill joins son Thomas in WA Opera’s double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci at The Maj

David CusworthThe West Australian
WA Opera star tenor Paul O'Neill and his son, Thomas, 13.
Camera IconWA Opera star tenor Paul O'Neill and his son, Thomas, 13. Credit: Iain Gillespie

West Australian Opera star tenor Paul O’Neill will sing with eldest son Thomas, 13, when the company takes the stage next weekend in a double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

The popular program was carried over from last year’s lockdown.

“Working with Thomas on the stage has been a really wonderful experience,” Paul says.

“Who wouldn’t enjoy sharing their passion with their own son?

“And it has been a great eye-opener for him, too. He has seen firsthand the amount of effort, emotion, passion and sacrifice that goes into bringing this amazing art form to the public.

“He is also very fond of the perks, like the free Milo at break time.”

Thomas is in the Schola Choir at Aquinas College, where middle brother Joseph, 9, also sings, and the youngest Matthew, 8, is about to audition. With piano teacher mum Aleisha and daughter Sophia, 14, a drummer with Seton College rock and concert bands, it makes one big musical family.

“Thomas has been singing in the choir mainly,” Paul says. “He has a teacher but occasionally I give him a few pointers — breath control and placement.”

Thomas has a routine of four rehearsals and one lesson a week, singing on Saturdays at St Patrick’s Basilica in Fremantle, and is warming to opera.

“It’s exciting, there’s nothing like it,” he says. “It’s a whole new experience.”

Will he follow his dad on to the stage?

“It could be an option,” Paul says.

“He’s now gone on to the tenor part of the choir. Hopefully he stays there and doesn’t become a baritone,” he laughs.

“I like being a tenor,” Thomas chimes in. “Because I like the sound that Dad makes.”

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are both adult tales of passion and murder.

How do you explain that to a 13-year-old?

“I haven’t gone through everything,” Paul says. “He’s just excited that we get a bit of stabbing. I get stabbed in the first one, and I do the stabbing in the second.”

There’s also a bit of history repeating. Paul was a WAO young artist two decades ago when Welsh tenor Dennis O’Neill — no relation — sang the lead in “Cav and Pag”.

Dennis invited Paul to his new school in Wales, where Paul studied on his way to an international career now on pause during COVID.

“I’m looking forward to (Cav and Pag) because I played the small role of the guy who mocks Canio (the lead), and now I’m playing Canio,” Paul says.

He’s sung each opera separately but never together. “This is going to be the big one because it’s quite an effort,” he says. “It’s a big sing.”

It also helps at home, Aleisha says.

“These are the two that made me like opera,” she says. “I didn’t like it, then I saw these two.”

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci run at His Majesty’s Theatre, July 17-24.


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