Celtic Woman Might Be a Bit Too Perfect

Fresh off their recent Grammy nomination, a new iteration of Celtic Woman brought their Celtic Woman: Voices of Angels tour to the Durham Performing Arts Center on Thursday, March 23rd. Celtic Woman (“woman” singular) features three uniquely gifted vocalists — Susan McFadden, Mairéad Carlin, and Éabha McMahon — and violinist/harpist Tara McNeill. McFadden brings the energy of a Broadway performer, Carlin the virtuosity of the classically trained, and McMahon a mastery of the haunting sean nós method. Each of these singers are remarkable their own right and blended together … well. Angels probably do sound like this.

The show opens on a single musician playing the uilleann pipes (a more complex form of the bagpipe) center stage, while huge video screens display video of lush Irish vistas. If you have never heard a uilleann pipe played, it can only be described as what the feeling of “longing,” sounds like. I have never been to Ireland, but listening to this instrument made me homesick for it.

Celtic Woman is an extravaganza of Irish singers, dancers, drummers, and bagpipers. The lights and costuming are a feast for the eyes, but here is the rub: the Celtic Woman: Voices of Angels show is good; and, in some parts, it is even great (Mairéad Carlin singing “Ave Maria” is life-altering and worth the price of admission all by itself); but the show is so rigidly choreographed and scripted, the women so beautifully flawless with their gorgeous voices and their gorgeous gowns, that it all feels disconcertingly … unreal.

Celtic Woman include (from left) Tara McNeill, Mairéad Carlin, Susan McFadden, and Éabha McMahon (photo by Lili Forberg)
The North American tour of Celtic Woman: Voices of Angels, which played DPAC on March 23rd, stars (from left) Tara McNeill, Mairéad Carlin, Susan McFadden, and Éabha McMahon (photo by Lili Forberg)

There is a hypothesis in the field of design and aesthetics called, “uncanny valley,” which asserts that when robots or animated characters appear too human, it is unsettling for us. Celtic Woman might be the human equivalent of this phenomenon. At one point, all of the singers made a precise left turn at the same time, and then stopped for two seconds before moving again; and my first thought was that they had somehow lost power.

These singers are technically perfect, but it feels as if someone has programmed them. Their movements and facial expressions seemed manufactured as if someone said, “Turn 35 degrees, tilt your head to the left, smile, look seductive for .68 seconds, and then resume singing.”

There are unguarded moments of course. The song, “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” written by Brendan Graham the tells the story of Annie Moore, who was 15 when she became the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. When they sang, “Courage is your passport when your old world disappears,” it seemed like they felt those words in a way that only the Irish might.

Another great moment was Éabha McMahon singing alone and unaccompanied in the sean nós way. The beauty of this cannot be described adequately and simply must be experienced.

Celtic Woman’s band is authentically wonderful; and the female percussionist, Caitríona Frost, is a standout and joy to watch. Frost looks to be sincerely having fun with the music. and I hope that this spirit rubs off on the primary performers during this long North American tour, because sometimes perfection is the enemy of passion, and passion is what people really want from their artists.

Celtic Woman's lineup for the North American tour of <em>Celtic Woman: Voices of Angels</em> includes (from left) Mairéad Carlin, Éabha McMahon, Susan McFadden, and Tara McNeill (photo by Troy Fisher of Fisher Fotography)
Celtic Woman’s lineup for its tour of Celtic Woman: Voices of Angels includes (from left) Mairéad Carlin, Éabha McMahon, Susan McFadden, and Tara McNeill (photo by Troy Fisher of Fisher Fotography)

CELTIC WOMAN: VOICES OF ANGELS, starring Susan McFadden, Mairéad Carlin, and Éabha McMahon and violinist Tara McNeill (Durham Performing Arts Center, March 23 in Durham, NC, in the American Tobacco Historic District).

SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/celtic-woman-4 and https://www.facebook.com/events/1228218780585376/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DftQxwof0SM.

DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/celtic-woman-coming-to-dpac-march-23.

THE TOUR: https://www.celticwoman.com/tour-dates/, https://www.facebook.com/celticwoman/, https://twitter.com/Celtic_Woman, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Woman:_Voices_of_Angels.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.


Celtic Woman: Voices of Angels (2016 album): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Woman:_Voices_of_Angels (Wikipedia).

Celtic Woman (all-female Irish musical ensemble formed in 2004): http://www.celticwoman.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2683242/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/celticwoman (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/Celtic_Woman (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Woman (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCay9vtYnfg1CEX96rXWG5Qg (YouTube).



Nicole Noel is a former U.S. Army journalist-turned-Technical Knowledge Manager, with a love for the arts. At age seven, she wrote her first story on the wall of her basement after being told the family might have to move: “There once was a girl named Nicole who had a dog named Rat and they lived in this house.” She liked the way that you could capture a moment in a sentence, and still does. These days Nicole lives with her daughter, and a dog named Buffy, in a house in Fuquay-Varina. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.