Italy's in the blood for Mansfield-born singing sensation Carly

Carly Paoli
Carly Paoli

There's something about Italy - the vibrancy, the energy, the passion, the sunshine.

There's a romance to the place, a sense of beauty, a sense of danger - its a place where 'star-crossed lovers' can take their lives; where Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Caravaggio can work their magic, where the Renaissance exploded . . . where opera was born.

I love Rome, I love Florence - but a trip to Naples this time last year really opened up my eyes to another Italy.

Naples is harder, edgier . . . Italy-plus, if that makes any sort of sense.

And as I speak to Carly Paoli, the Mansfield-born operatic sensation, it is clear that not only does Italy flow through her veins, but that her Neapolitan roots are equally strong.

This, she says is why her latest single, ‘I’ Te Vurria Vasà’, is such an important milestone in her career, a song she first heard on childhood visits to see her grandparents in southern Italy - home to the Neapolitan culture.

Based on a true story, it is one of the greatest anthems to unrequited love.

"This song is absolutely part of my childhood," she says. "I grew up in Mansfield but spent a lot of time in southern Italy, and it's the place where I really started to perform. It's actually a Neapolitan son - they have quite a different dialect down there.

"As a child, ‘I’ Te Vurría Vasá’ is a song that I fell in love with straight away - it has such a beautiful melody and such beautiful lyrics."

It's a song that she first heard through her grandfather, she says, himself a passionate singer and musician, and it seems that while Mansfield may have provided Carly with her training and her early opportunities, it is Italy that invested her with her passion to perform.

"Italy was always a draw for me and I was always lucky that I had two worlds to go to," she says. "Plus, my family out there are extremely Italian and very musical.
"My grandfather was a singer, and so were his two brothers - one of his brothers was a chef to the Shah of Persia and he always used to sing in the kitchens. The Shah used to call him the singing chef."

‘I’ Te Vurría Vasá’ translates to 'I want to Kiss You' - and is seldom performed by a soprano.

A favourite of the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Franco Corelli and Tito Schipa, it was written by Eduardo di Capua, who Carly says originated from the same small Italian town as her grandfather.

“Looking at it from a woman’s perspective was an exciting element that brought into light a new drama in the lyric," she says.

"Spending so much of my life with my very musical family in Italy has influenced my love of Italian music and the music I enjoy performing today.

"Firstly, I was drawn to the romantic melody of this song and, when I listened to the poetic lyric, which is inspired by real life events and the real emotions the lyricist had for the lady he knew he could never be with, I fell in love with this heart-warming song and, in particular, Tito Schipa’s recording.”

And Italy was also the place which provided Carly with one of her biggest breaks, and led to her voice becoming forever linked to Pope Francis.
"I played an open-air concert in Rome, which is where I performed Ave Maria for the first time before a live audience," she says, "and a representative of the Pope was in the audience, and a few days later they got in touch."

Another step on Carly's stratospheric rise to fame, Ave Maria - her debut single in 2016 - was chosen by the Vatican as the official song for Pope Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.
But by this stage her star was already in the ascension, having already made her international debut in Calgary, Canada, as part of a star-studded gala.

" That's when It first became a reality for me," she says. "I didn't know what to really expect and I found myself on the stage with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and Jennifer Hudson.

"It was mind-blowing to find myself on that stage. But that's where all those years of training comes into play.

"Although I did say a little prayer at the side of the stage before I went on though. "

That was a pivotal moment for me and I know that I've never really looked back.

"But those moments keep happening to be honest, and I know that my Italian roots have also played a big part for me, being bi-lingual."

The 30-year-old grew up in Berry Hill, Mansfield, and initially trained at Directions Theatre Arts in Chesterfield, before moving on to Tring Park School for Performing Arts.

She returned to the Derbyshire town - where her mother Tina hails from - to teach at Directions for two years after completing her studies at the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music.

But she says that Mansfield is really where it all started - where she first cut her teeth as a singer, competing in, and eventually winning, the town's long-running Junior Showtime event.
"Mansfield gave me amazing opportunities such as Junior Showtime," she says.

"Mansfield's where I first plucked up the courage to sing on stage. For my first audition for Junior Showtime I had no music and I sang acapella - it was really me making a decision that this is what I'm going to do.

"I did the competition for quite a few years and I even won eventually. Looking back, I was experimenting with music that wasn't necessarily right for my voice type, but it allowed me to experiment.

"I still go back to Mansfield often - my grandmother still lives there, so I usually bunk with her when I'm back. She makes the most incredible stew, and my brother still lives there as well. I love going home."

And she says that for any young people who would like to follow in her footsteps, then training and perseverance are the key.

"I would say 'go and take classes and get as much help and support as possible'," she says.

"I still have between four and five singing lessons each week - it doesn't stop.

"I would also recommend the Cantamus Choir - if you're aspiring to be a singer it's an amazing place to start. They can really take you up a level before you start formally auditioning. All the tools anyone needs is around them."

Not only has Carly been embraced by the Italian music world - she performed widely at fiestas as a teenager - she has also become a poster-girl for the British classical music scene.

She was honoured with Puglia’s prestigious ‘Premio Barocco’ award in recognition of her achievements in art and culture - previously awarded to Sophia Loren, Dame Helen Mirren and Luciano Pavarotti.

Dubbed ‘The Heart of Puglia’, Carly is lauded by classical luminaries, including Andrea Bocelli and José Carreras.

Closer to home, her debut album ‘Singing My Dreams’ stormed the classical charts in 2017, and last year she performed her sell-out debut UK headline concert at Cadogan Hall, in Chelsea.

She has also performed at New York's Carnegie Hall, and London's O2, with some of the world’s greatest tenors, including Andrea Bocelli and José Carreras.

She was shortlisted for the first ever Sound of Classical Poll at the Classic BRITS, and was also appointed an ambassador for BBC Music Day alongside Kylie Minogue, Nile Rodgers and Lisa Stansfield.

And it looks like Carly is in for yet another busy year.

"I'm going to be in the recording studio this year,which I'm very excited about as there's nothing quite as lovely as recording with a live orchestra," she says.

"I'm also going out to Kazakstan to do a concert, which is a first. Doing this has given me the opportunity to have lots of adventures, and I'm so pleased that the people who travel with me are my parents."

And no doubt, when the dust settles, she'll be heading back to southern Italy to put her feet up for a while, recharge her batteries, and bask in her passion for Neapolitan culture.

* ‘I’ Te Vurria Vasà’ was released on Friday, March 15.

* Carly will also return to Radio 2 tonight (Friday, March 22) for a special Friday Night Is Music Night concert with Michael Bolton.

Carly taught singing in Chesterfield for two years.

Carly taught singing in Chesterfield for two years.

She was invited to record for Pope Francis after performing in Rome

She was invited to record for Pope Francis after performing in Rome

Carly performing with Jos Carreras

Carly performing with Jos Carreras

Performing with Andrea Bocelli

Performing with Andrea Bocelli