Soprano Cara O’Sullivan is a bright light in midwinter

Soprano Cara O’Sullivan keeps a family tradition alive by singing with a church choir every Christmas Eve, writes Liz O’Brien.

Cara O'Sullivan faced challenging times to say the least juggling family and career when cancer struck. Picture: Dan Linehan

CHRISTMAS is a busy time of year for esteemed Cork soprano Cara O’Sullivan. Between rehearsing and performing, her schedule is packed. But despite that she keeps up a family tradition — she goes to Christmas Mass in Cork city to sing with the choir, just as her parents did.

“In memory of my parents I go to St Francis Church in Liberty Street for the nine o’clock vigil on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning midday Mass and I sing with the choir.

“I like to sing along quietly with the choir, I wouldn’t kind-of be like drowning them out... I sing a solo or two and sing O Holy Night with the choir.

“I always get very emotional and it brings back lovely memories and it’s nice. It’s important not to forget.

“They were a huge part of my life and I would’ve been lost without them — that’s the truth.”

The choir was important to her parents, who she says were “fine, accomplished singers,” and it’s also important to Cara.

She had a powerful voice from a young age, but in her early 20s took a complete break from music — she didn’t sing for four years.

Then along came her beloved daughter Christine and, soon after being given the chance to sing with the Welsh National Opera, Cara decided to return to music.

“I got a second chance and I grabbed it.

“I was in my late 20s at that stage and I was ready. I had a higher level of appreciation of what I was given, what God gave me, and what I inherited and the skills I was able to bring to the table.”

But just before heading to Wales Cara was faced with a devastating blow — she had had an operation that revealed she had cancer.

“I had an opportunity — my first chance of singing with the Welsh National Opera and I wasn’t going to let it go.

“I was told: ‘Oh, you have to have your treatment’. And I said: “I am going to Wales; I am going to Wales’.” And sure enough she did; Christine was in good hands with her mum and, with the help of her radiologist in Cork, her treatment was administered in Cardiff.

“My mother had this kind of an attitude, ‘Get on with it’, and I did… and she allowed that to happen. Daddy was gone at that stage.

“I’ll never forget it, people were just so good to me — it was a stressful time.’ Cara was in Wales from August until December. After her treatments she’d rehearse and perform. In 14 weeks she did 20 shows.

Her mum brought Christine to visit during school holidays, but it was a lonely time for Cara.

“I’ll always remember people were always very supportive and kind at a time when I was at a low ebb in myself.” Her international career was demanding, she was homesick, there were language barriers — but the self-confessed home bird made it work by commuting.

“I used literally zoom back the M4, tearing full-steam-ahead after finishing an opera or a tour, and back to Fishguard or Pembroke on the boat in to Rosslare. It could be six in the morning, seven and I’d be home by 11. When I had an opportunity to go home I grabbed it.”

While she loved to travel, she was always glad to return home, and home was where her beloved Christine was.

Just recently Christine moved out, leaving Cara to cope with empty nest syndrome.

“It was difficult — most of the time I was OK, I was fine, but then there were times when I would find it sad.

“It’s typical empty nest syndrome and she took the two dogs. I was heartbroken after that, but I can’t look after them when I’m on the move.”

Cara and Christine catch up often for lunch or coffee and Christine, who still has a key, lives close by.

“We’d be very, very close. She’s a huge part of my life and I believe I’m a large part of hers.

“She has a lovely young man in her life now and they have their own home and I miss her a lot, but at the same time I’m thrilled that she has a lovely house and a lovely man to share it with — I couldn’t ask for any more for her.”

While Cara misses her daughter, she has plenty to keep her occupied with a string of upcoming shows this month and next. And to end the long run of festive shows, in January she’ll perform in one of her favourite venues, Cork’s Everyman Theatre.

  • An Evening with Cara O’Sullivan, accompanied by John O’Brien and special guests runs from Thursday January 28 to Saturday, January 30.
  • See www.everymancork.com .


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