- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

Canadian balladeer John McDermott is out as a member of the celebrated Irish Tenors.

The formal announcement was posted Sunday on the singer's Web site and on that of the Irish Tenors.

Mr. McDermott whose concert special with tenors Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan, first broadcast in March 1999 by the Public Broadcasting Service, is one of the network's biggest pledge-week draws has been replaced by Finbar Wright, a classically trained operatic tenor born in Ireland and known as "the king of the high C's."

The formal statement was prepared by Mr. McDermott's U.S. public relations firm in Boston and, after long negotiation and hours of conference calls, signed off by PBS and the media companies that operate the Irish Tenors franchise TV Matters, Point Entertainment and Radius TV.

The Toronto-based Mr. McDermott, 44, suffered the death of his mother Jan. 11. The statement said that because of his bereavement, he was unable to give the concert production his full time and emotional commitment and, rather than risk the quality of the performance, he "has requested that he be replaced."

Yet late last week, Mr. McDermott was e-mailing fans, informing them that the producers had removed him.

" … the decision was not mine, thank you for taking the time to write your kind words," he wrote one admirer, who then posted the message on a fan Web site.

Mr. Wright, a former priest in his mid-40s who is a native of County Cork, where he lives with his wife Angela, was referred to pointedly in the statement as a countryman of tenors Kearns and Tynan. He is by no means a last-minute stand-in.

"Finbar Wright was one of the first tenors ever asked to become one of the Irish Tenors," Executive Producer Daniel Hart of TV Matters said by phone from Dublin.

Mr. Hart added that when he was first asked, Mr. Wright turned down the offer. "It was an unproved concept at the time," Mr. Hart said, "but now that it's worked, it's worked out."

The tenor switch became evident last Tuesday, when concert-goers logging on to Ticketmaster's Internet site for the United Kingdom saw that the usual Irish Tenor lineup of "McDermott-Kearns-Tynan" had become "Wright-Kearns-Tynan."

Sunday's statement came just days before the trio are to tape their second concert for PBS. Rehearsals began Sunday in Dublin. The performance in Belfast, Northern Ireland, will be taped for PBS this coming Saturday.

Mr. McDermott's relationship with Mr. Kearns and Mr. Tynan has been marked by admiration and a boisterous warmth. His view of the role the concept of the Irish Tenors has played in his career has seemed more tempered. In an Internet chat with readers of the Toronto Sun on Nov. 15, Mr. McDermott cautioned: "[W]e don't want to make any mistakes here, this is just a part of our careers … as a solo artist, my devotion is to the plans for 2000 and 2001."

The Canadian has been dogged from the start by complaints that he not only had no classical training but was born in Scotland. Last spring, on the heels of the Irish Tenors' first PBS success, the Irish Echo, New York's Irish-American newspaper, floated a rumor that there was about to be "a change in the tenor lineup" with a new voice that "could take things to a higher plane." Sources within the Irish-American community say Mr. McDermott was, in fact, the target.

No contracts have been signed with any arena for any Irish Tenors U.S. tour this summer. The possibility that Mr. McDermott might play a small part in Saturday's concert was closed out yesterday; he will not appear.

The singer will arrive with a film crew this week in Northern Ireland to explore his roots in Ballymena, County Antrim, northwest of Belfast, where his mother's family had its home, and in Bunnagee, County Donegal, in the Irish Republic, where his father was born.

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