At Home with Cara O’Sullivan
Cara O’Sullivan is one of Ireland’s most well known coloratura sopranos. Loved for her warmth and talent, this Cork-born singer attacks both her music and life with admirable aplomb. She is constantly in demand for her keen interpretative skills across the repertoire of oratorio, art song and opera. On a rare time off, we meet with Cara at her home in Frankfield.
Being able to sing and being able to perform are two very separate skills. Having a combination of the two is vital."
As a professional singer, how terrifying was it having nodules removed from your vocal chords, and did you worry about the prospect of your voice not recovering?
It was frightening, but my surgeon made an interesting point to me at the time. I had ‘painted’ myself vocally into a corner, and surgery was my only way out. I was very fortunate to have a few people — family, friends and professionals, around me to help me get vocally back on my feet.
In the past you’ve been described as ‘fearless’ in your interpretations — are you, and how?
Dramatic coloratura roles require a certain ‘devil may care’ attitude. I found I needed to think beyond the fast running passages and high notes and not worry if I fell off! It’s like riding a bicycle for the first time, there might be a few wobbles and then you are off!
The word ‘diva’ is all too often attached to the title ‘soprano’ — are you a diva Cara or would you consider yourself to be more down to earth?
Well I was given the nickname ‘Caradiva’ by a chum years ago — I used it as a title for a CD I created for Marymount Hospice in Cork. It made a very tidy sum for them. Am I a diva? I don’t know…I can be if I need to be!!
...I think it helps to avoid the highs and lows that are very much a part of a performer’s life. I avoid after-performance parties and look forward to a bit of silent time after concerts.
How do you ground yourself against the stresses of being a performer?
I try to keep everything on an even keel, I think it helps to avoid the highs and lows that are very much a part of a performer’s life. I avoid after-performance parties and look forward to a bit of silent time after concerts. However, I am always happy to meet an audience after a concert, because without their support there would be no career or opportunities to sing new repertoire.
Many young sopranos have an idealised vision of their future career, from your experience, how should they prepare themselves?
Practise, preparation and packing…..
Take the time to learn your repertoire properly, prepare for a sometimes back-breaking series of concerts by building up vocal stamina and pack your suitcase wisely, don’t forget the essentials — that can be a major panic and not good before a performance. I make lists, to make sure I am organised.
Maintaining a public profile is a crucial part of the arts today, what do you do to promote your artistry?
PR isn’t my strong point, I usually get someone in to help me work all that out.
You are well respected for your fine vocal talent and ability to charm your audiences, does this (the ability to read the room) come naturally to you, or have you had to work at it over the years?
I honestly don’t know. In a more lighthearted performance I like to keep an eye on what’s going on around me, and I see everything, dozers, munchers and texters! In an opera it’s quite different, the audience are invisible to me.
Would you consider yourself a spiritual person Cara, and what inspires you?
Yes! Fellow musicians whose interpretive skills can sometimes take my breath away!
Is it important to you to have Cork/Ireland as your base, or do you ever see yourself moving away for your career?
No, Cork is and always was home. I commuted everywhere over the years from here. It never occurred to me to move elsewhere.
How is life treating you at the moment?
Life is fine, some small changes afoot, learning new music, allowing myself some down time, trying not to shout and roar when Munster Rugby are playing! My late Father could be heard roaring at the TV in the next parish when there was a match on, I must have inherited that trait from him!
Following your recent successful appearance in Gounod’s Faust in Cork, are there further operatic productions on the immediate horizon?
No operatic productions at the moment, but I am for the first time, performing Richard Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs’ with the Hibernian Orchestra, conducted by John Finucane in The National Concert Hall On Wednesday 10th June. I’m also performing Verdi’s Requiem in University Concert Hall Limerick with Limerick Choral Union on Saturday 25th April.
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