Ronan Tynan just keeps doing favors for his conductor friend Thomas Wilkins — and Omahans are the richer for it.
Six months after headlining Omaha's 10th anniversary remembrance of 9/11, Tynan is teaming up again with Wilkins and the Omaha Symphony to celebrate the approach of St. Patrick's Day. The opener of their three-concert weekend schedule Friday night delivered precisely what the audience wanted from the well-known Irish tenor: a tour de force of sad and epic songs from or about the Emerald Isle.
But those who come to hear the remaining concerts at 8 p.m. today or 2 p.m. Sunday also will enjoy a deep and humorous rapport between Tynan, the physician who found his singing voice at age 33, and symphony music director Wilkins, who has led orchestras behind Tynan on both coasts.
Their banter started early in the two-hour program, when Wilkins noted that Tynan had "dashed in as a quick favor" to do the 9/11 tribute. He couldn't visit the Holland Performing Arts Center then, Wilkins said, but on his first visit this week, Tynan looked around and "he said, 'Holy smokes!' I said, 'Yeah — and it's paid for, too.'"
A few songs later, Wilkins stepped back from his orchestral podium and said something to Tynan that few people could hear. Tynan replied in a droll tone: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and those who can't teach, conduct." Wilkins joined the audience in laughter, then added: "Before the weekend is over, I'm going to get him back."
The symphony and Tynan, ably backed up on piano and vocals by 12-year accompanist William Lewis, took turns in presenting nearly every signature Irish jig, reel or ballad the audience could hope to hear.
The Holland audience was rewarded with "Danny Boy" about halfway through the first set, with Tynan's vocals on the familiar two verses sandwiched around a beautifully delicate yet clear solo by symphony flutist Maria Harding. Instead of reaching for the soaring finish, however, Tynan chose to end quietly in his lower range with Lewis joining in vocal harmony.
If that choice disappointed anyone, Tynan generously compensated by tapping his full vocal power on such songs as "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," "Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go" and "The Old Man."
Even so, Tynan chose not to resort to an operatic delivery as often as some might expect. His first song, "Ride On," displayed a clear, penetrating but accessible vocal style well-suited to the Irish predilection for storytelling through song.
Two poignant examples were "There Were Roses," about a Catholic man and his Protestant friend permanently separated by sectarian violence; and "Grace," about the marriage of cartoonist Grace Gifford and poet Joseph Mary Plunkett one day before Plunkett's execution for taking part in the 1916 Irish uprising against Britain.
When Tynan yielded the stage, Wilkins and the symphony responded with lively renditions of "The Irish Washerwoman," "The Rakes of Mallow," "The Minstrel Boy," "The Girl I Left Behind Me" and other tunes fit for a St. Patrick's Day celebration.