Irish tenor Anthony Kearns comes from modest stock

What: The Irish Tenors

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

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Where: Royal Theatre

Tickets: $45 and up 250-386-6121


Anthony Kearns, who is one-third of the Irish Tenors, notes some of his singing heroes emerged from humble beginnings.

There’s Irish soprano Margaret Burke Sheridan (1889-1958), an orphan raised by nuns who later sang at La Scala and Covent Garden. And there’s famed Irish tenor John McCormack (1884-1945), whose parents once toiled at Ireland’s Athlone Woollen Mills.

Born into a working-class Irish family and once known as “The Singing Barman,” Kearns’s roots are similarly modest.

“I supposed I was just the lucky one who had a good voice and wanted to take it forward,” the 43-year-old singer said recently from Palm Springs.

Kearns performs Irish favourites and Christmas songs Saturday with the Irish Tenors and the Victoria Symphony.

Formed in 1998, the trio (which once included Canadian tenor John McDermott) soon became an international hit. The Irish Tenors, originally assembled specifically for a PBS special, rank as one of the American network’s highest-grossing acts.

Kearns has had a successful career, performing not only with the Irish Tenors but as a sought-after soloist singing popular songs, classical and opera.

One of six children, he grew up in Kiltealy, County Wexford. His father had a succession of jobs, including drilling wells. As a youngster, Kearns not only sang but played accordion, harmonica and the spoons. “I knew I could sing. I was involved in school musicals from an early age. I did music since I was a very young child, playing traditional Irish music. I knew I had some kind of talent, but wasn’t sure as to how to develop it or go about it.”

His big break was competing in Ireland’s Search for a Tenor. Kearns auditioned over the telephone. To compete in the finals, Kearns hitched the three-hour ride from Kiltealy to Dublin. He was the only finalist lacking formal training. And he won the contest, wowing judges with The Impossible Dream and Danny Boy.

Kearns then began formal voice studies. However, he hedged his bets, working in the hotel industry and earning the nickname “The Singing Barman” for his performances at the Grand Hotel in Wicklow.

His career breakthrough was being chosen for the Irish Tenors. “It’s about getting the opportunity … making the contact,” he said.

The group was formed on the model of the Three Tenors: Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. (The blockbuster success of the original Three Tenors spawned a flurry of imitators from other countries, including Canada, China, the Philippines and Australia.)

Because he didn’t study voice seriously until the age of 23, Kearns considers himself a late bloomer. However, he views this as a plus rather than a handicap.

“I’ve seen singers in the past who were burnt out at 18 and 20 years of age because they started too young,” Kearns said.

On tour, he takes care of his voice. It’s common sense stuff — Kearns tries not to speak or sing too much, makes sure he eats properly and gets plenty of rest. For the Irish Tenors, partying on the road is off limits.

“You’ve a job to do. You have to get up on stage. People expect to be entertained, and they’re paying top dollar. And that’s the bottom line, in my book,” he said.

Although he now lives in the Orlando area, Kearns makes regular visits to Kiltealy, a village of 1,600. He plans to spend part of a three-week vacation there following his Victoria concert.

“And then,” he said, “I can party until the cows come home.”

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