ACCLAIMED coloratura soprano, Kim Sheehan, will make her Cork professional debut as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro at the Curtis Auditorium in the CIT Cork School of Music, from Jan 10-12.
Described by The New York Times as “excellent” and by the Financial Times as having a voice “that sets the pulse racing,” Sheehan, 32, left her family home in Cork aged 17 to study in Dublin. After her degree in music at the DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology) Conservatory of Music and Drama, she won an award for excellence to pursue further studies. She received a distinction in postgraduate diplomas in vocal and opera studies at the Royal College of Music, in London. Sheehan is based between London and Cork, and is building a house in Myrtleville with her composer husband, Tom Hodge.
“For me, Dublin was the place to go to get a degree in which I could major in voice,” says Sheehan. “The only other place to go, at the time, was UCC, but the course there was very much theory-based, which I wasn’t necessarily interested in.”
A coloratura soprano “has a very high voice facility and can move around the notes very quickly, or sustain them at really high levels.” Sheehan is much in demand. “I do a lot of work in France, Switzerland and Germany. I was on a full-time contract with Theater Gera, in Germany. I did a lot of training and sang quite a few roles at the Zurich Opera House, which is one of the best opera houses in the world.”
Sheehan is fluent in German and “above average” in French and Italian. As a child, Sheehan’s father insisted that she learn the piano. She wasn’t good at it, but her piano teacher noted her strong singing voice and encouraged her to enter competitions.
“I won the Feis Maitiu when I was about 11, as well as other competitions. Then, I went away from music for a while, although it was always in the back of my head. I used to sing in my brothers’ band in pubs. I started studying applied languages at Dublin City University, because I loved languages so much. But I remember thinking ‘what am I doing? I have singing talent. Why don’t I just give it a bash?’ That’s really how it all started.”
Sheehan is known to Irish opera fans for singing Michaela, in Carmen, and Susanna, from The Marriage of Figaro, at the Lismore Music Festival. She also played Gretel in Hansel and Gretel at the Gaiety, in Dublin.
Last year, she made her Royal Opera House debut at Covent Garden, when she sang a new role in Jonathan Dove’s ballet, Diana and Actaeon.
“I have to market myself in a certain way to get the right roles. People call me for specific roles, such as The Queen of the Night, in The Magic Flute, and Constanze, in The Abduction from Seraglio, also by Mozart,” she says.
The Marriage of Figaro is Mozart’s most popular opera, and this production is conducted by John O’Connor and also stars Cork-born Mary Hegarty and Joe Corbett. “The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy that was written well before Mozart put music to it. Having studied it, the words come off the page, as it is so well written.
“Theatrically, I love it, because there are so many different types of characters on stage. It’s one of the first operas I studied from scratch at a professional level. It has a really special place in my heart. I adore the role of Susanna, the maid.
“She’s savvy and curious and is always there to save the day. You have the countess (played by Hegarty), who has the grand and beautiful lines. I’m like her shadow, always pulling her out of danger and keeping everyone else out of trouble.”
Sheehan says The Marriage of Figaro, which recounts a single day of madness in Seville, is an opera novices should see. “A lot of people are put off by opera. They need to see The Marriage of Figaro, which is funny, as well as having soft moments and magical moments. For this production, Susanna is going to be a bit more comedic than she is normally portrayed. Everything is going to be a little bit more farcical than usual.”
Sheehan’s husband is writing a song cycle for her. “I plan to record it and travel around with it.” Outside of opera, a highlight of Sheehan’s career was singing backing vocals for The Beatles at the National Concert Hall for George Martin, the producer who is often referred to as the fifth Beatle. “That was in 1999, when I was studying in Dublin. George wrote references for me for colleges in London.
“Working closely with him for two weeks, I was a bit star struck, as I know everything about George, because I love The Beatles.”
Sheehan, who also featured in a documentary on Rufus Wainwright’s opera, Prima Donna, says she will be star struck again when she meets Hegarty. “When I was growing up, doing Feis Maitiu, I used to see the name of Mary Hegarty on the trophy. I remember thinking ‘I can’t wait to meet this lady and sing with her’. I’m absolutely over the moon to be going on stage with her. For me, it’s like working with a super star.”
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