Cork opera singer returns to where her career began

Cork opera singer returns to where her career began

Niamh O’Sullivan returns to her home city for Cork Operatic Society’s anniversary concert, writes Cathy Desmond.

While there is lamentation at the lack of an opera house in our capital city, Leeside has long rejoiced in having a theatre named Cork Opera House, a symbol of the city’s proud tradition of the genre.

The original Cork Operatic Society celebrated its diamond jubilee in 1978. In the following decades, Cork City Opera, Opera South, Kinsale Opera and Irish Operatic Repertory Company all kept the flame burning.

Opera in Cork was down but not-out when professional company Opera 2005, folded and a new amateur company rose from the ashes. In 2009, the revived Cork Operatic Society mounted a production of Candide at Cork Opera House.

In 2019, the company can look back on a successful decade in which the society has been involved in many memorable opera, operetta and musical theatreproductions that scored high with box office and critics alike.

The revived Cork Operatic Society will celebrate the anniversary with an early-evening concert tomorrow featuring a star-studded line-up of soloists who have appeared in their past productions.

One of those flying home to sing on Saturday is a singer who grew up and came of age with the company.

Niamh O’Sullivan got a taste for opera as a schoolgirl singing in the chorus for productions of Der Vampyr and Orfeo.

Still in her early twenties, the Douglas native is busy forging a career as a freelance opera singer appearing with established stars such as Placido Domingo and Tara Erraught.

Based in Munich, the mezzo-soprano performs regularly at the National Theatre and has debuted at Carnegie Hall. Speaking to me by phone from Italy, she gave me a sense of her whirlwind trajectory.

“I started in musical theatre at the Cork Arts Studio. I met Mary Hegarty there and started to study with her.”

It was Hegarty who suggested that her voice was suited to classical singing. A pivotal moment followed when she heard an operatic voice at full throttle.

“Cara O’Sullivan came to sing at Regina Mundi School. I thought, ‘How is she making this incredible sound without a microphone? I want to try that’.”

Niamh had her next big break in the Veronica Dunne Competition in 2016.

One of the judges was director of the Young Artist programme at Munich. He asked me to come and audition. There were lots of other singers there much older than I was and when I heard them all warming up, I thought- I can’t - I am not ready.

But when a place was offered that very day, there was no hesitating. After two years of intense training at the Bavarian State Opera, there is a sense that O’Sullivan is ready and raring to go with the next stage of her career.

She reminisces on her return to Cork Operatic Society last year to sing as a fully-fledged cast member in in Rigoletto.

“I am delighted to come home to sing and to feel that warmth of a Cork audience again is so lovely,” she says.

Cork Operatic Society Anniversary Concert, Cork School of Music, Saturday, 5pm.

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