I didn’t know I’d be a singer. I wasn’t involved in stage schools or singing classes as a child. Elizabeth Foran was my music teacher in secondary school and I went privately to her for lessons. Nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary until the director of the Cork School of Music, the late John C Murphy, told my parents that I could have a career in music.
I’ve had many career highlights so far. Getting an opportunity to sing in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House was surreal. The No 1 dressing room is huge, very plush, with an incredible view of Sydney Harbour and the bridge. Artistically, singing the Benjamin Britten ‘War Requiem’ in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra is one that sticks in my mind and my heart.
My earliest memory of singing is doing a rendition of ‘Polly put the kettle on’ for the Misses Hassetts, neighbours of my Granny Byrne in St Finbar’s Park on Glasheen Road. One lady was tall, the other small with a shock of white hair. I did the actions to go with the song and was rewarded with a brown paper bag of biscuits from Haddens of South Main Street, which I brought back to Granny bursting with pride.
After I finished school at 18, I got a job in a music shop. Then I worked in a restaurant once I started studying voice, theory of music and sight reading at CSM in the evenings.
Sometimes I feel you can make your own luck. Although there are times when things just line up in a positive or negative way and there’s little can be done to change that.
Rehearsing, practising and performing take precedence over everything else in my life. I rest and recuperate in between. Any free time is spent catching up with friends, doing jobs around the house and sleeping.
Maintaining good health is a challenge in my work. I try not to be paranoid, but when someone in the supermarket or on the street sneezes, or coughs near me without covering their mouth and nose, they get a filthy look. Occasionally I let a roar out of me ‘hand to mouth please’! I wash my hands a lot, I think it helps to stave off colds, and I try to keep my hands away from my face ...OK, I’m paranoid!
My first job was in Bennett’s of North Main Street. I got a Saturday job there as I was tall for my age and looked older than my young years.
I would love to live in a society where every child has the opportunity to enjoy reading, like I did, from a very early age. I understand that it’s so difficult nowadays, with so many parents pressed for time and resources, but my mum taught my two sisters, my brother and me to read before we started school and I’ve always been thankful for that.
One piece of advice I’ll never forget was from John O’Flynn, a wonderful bass whose career took him all over the world. When I was quite young he told me, ‘don’t ever tell me it’s not fair when things go wrong’. I remember being a bit put out at the time because I wasn’t expecting him to say that, but I mulled over what he said and took it on board.
I have a strict routine on performance days, it’s like a countdown to show time. It’s boring stuff but involves travelling (sometimes), rehearsal, hair and make-up, eating, resting and hopefully time for a walk to clear my head.
One of my favourite places is the Lough, a lovely green space in the suburbs of Cork near where I come from. I am one of the few that never fell in! My greatest pleasure is seeing happy people who have enjoyed a good night at the theatre or concert hall. Job done.
Cara O’Sullivan is performing in the Cork Opera House production of Henry Purcell’s masterpiece Dido and Aeneas at Mermaid Arts Centre, Wicklow, on Sept 6.