Stars in Their Eyes; on BanK Holiday Monday, the Cream of the Singing World Will Be Playing a Special Fundraising Concert for Wales' Only Opera Academy. MiKe Smith Found out More from the Man Behind the Academy - Welsh Operatic Star Dennis O'Neill the Opera World Hear The

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INTERNATIONAL opera star Dennis O'Neill admits he felt "a bit cheeky" when he asked folk hero Max Boyce to help raise funds for Wales' opera singing academy.

"We are not in the same field," says Dennis, "but as soon as I asked Max he was very kind and agreed to take part in our gala concert."

That concert takes place at Wales Millennium Centre on Bank Holiday Monday with a line up of stars that only one of the world's greatest opera performers could bring together.

The Cardiff-based tenor has assembled a glittering bill that includes Dame Kiri Te Kanawa with Welsh stars Jason Howard and Rebecca Evans, and students from O'Neill's Wales International Academy of the Voice. It also sees the triumphant return to Cardiff of Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva.

"I am also very grateful for the generosity of the performers," he says "Dame Kiri has somehow found time in her busy schedule to join us along with the wonderful Rebecca Evans and Jason Howard - who has been in town starring in South Pacific.

"The concert is being compered by Frank Field who is a great opera lover and of course all 20 singers from the first year of the Academy are taking part with solo performances and ensemble pieces," he adds.

For the MA vocal studies students, the finishing line is now in sight. Their work at the Academy, which is part of the University of Wales Trinity St David, has included lessons from a rich variety of singers.

"This has all worked very well because the practical element of the course is key," explains Dennis. "I wanted them to be performing all of the time and in venues including Cardiff and Carmarthen.

"The song recitals, for example, were not only open to the public but they formed part of the students' formal assessment and that included how they chose their programmes to show awareness of the repertoire and what suits their voices.

"They have all lived up to my expectations and some exceed that with three or four who I can already see are really going to be big. When Julia (Lezhneva ) was with us, it was clear she was a phenomenal talent.

Julia studied with Dennis in 2008 at the then Cardiff International Academy of Voice.

"It is important that Julia is coming to Wales for the gala concert as she was a great success following the course in Cardiff and has been signed by Decca," he adds. …