Ask any expatriate in Luxembourg what field of work they're in and possibly the last answer you would expect to hear is “opera singer”.
But for one talented, young musician the love of opera and the career opportunities the Grand Duchy and Greater Region offer were too great to pass up.
“When people realise I'm an opera singer they think it's incredible. They're shocked. It's a funny one to explain,” said soprano Helen Smith, adding: “People ask what you do they, they expect you to say finance or teaching. I say 'I'm an opera singer' they say 'come on!'”
An Irish national, Helen came to Luxembourg a year ago to learn French and German and pursue her singing career in Europe.
In just 12 months the 28-year-old has found a coach, a teacher and singing partner while landing some impressive European gigs.
Before even hearing the artist hit a note, it is clear she has a certain presence. Like Welsh operatic star Katherine Jenkins, with her long, dark hair and striking features, Helen has what she calls the “package” agents are looking for in an opera singer. She explained: “There's such a glamourous side to opera and classical music. Everyone says that nowadays you have to have the full package- nice singing, body and looks”.
Thankfully, the singer manages does not let all the attention go to her head. “Being a diva”, she says is not allowed in her family where she is the only musician or opera singer.
Born as one of six children into a modest family in Dublin, Helen first discovered she had a voice when she was 15 years old and sang in a school concert. From there she studied at the Dublin Conservatoire until she completed college and took a gap year to pursue music.
“It was then I realised I liked singing all the time so I took a degree in music performance doing composition, history, technique and piano playing.”
After graduating, Helen taught English in Dublin before settling in New York for two years to study singing. It was when she returned to Ireland she decided to work on her languages.
The singer explained: “In New York they weren't big on languages and in Ireland it was just English or Irish. My brother lives and works in Luxembourg, where he has his own company. So, I thought if I came here I could work on my French and German for both speaking and singing.”
It seems she did the right thing. In what has been a busy year Helen has forged some solid contacts in the industry. Her diary, if she had one (she stores all the bookings in her head), would be the size of a phone book as she accepts gigs in Luxembourg, Italy and Ireland and helps at charity events.
At the beginning of March, Helen will perform in The Magic Flute at the chateau de Vianden and the Abbaye de Neumunster with Lux Opera Studio. After that she will split her time between concerts and a music festival in Ireland and Luxembourg, where she will perform with a German baritone she met in Luxembourg.
“It's been a bit overwhelming,” Helen admits. “I was at home during Christmas telling friends about all the concerts I've got coming up as if I was talking about what I had for breakfast. They pointed out that it hadn't quite sunk in yet."
The Magic Flute
Hear Helen sing in the Magic Flute by Lux Opera Studio on March 2 in Vianden and on March 3 and 4 at the Abbaye de Neumunster.