Beloved Cork soprano Cara O'Sullivan has died

'We were lucky to have such an international star we could call our own.'
Beloved Cork soprano Cara O'Sullivan has died

Cara O'Sullivan in the City Hall Cork. Picture Maurice O'Mahony

Tributes have been paid following the death of one of Ireland’s most celebrated sopranos, Cara O’Sullivan, following a short illness.

One of the finest voices of her generation, Ms O’Sullivan was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of early-onset dementia in 2018. She died at Marymount Hospice in Cork today. She was just 58.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Ms O'Sullivan had a beautiful voice and the warmest personality.

"Cork is very proud of her legacy and I will always value our friendship."

Former Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mick Finn, who presented her with the city’s first civic cultural award in April 2019 to mark her outstanding contribution to the artistic and cultural life of her native city, paid tribute to her.

“Cara was a world-class superstar,” he said.

Whether she was performing in her local parish hall, a local church, on the stage at City Hall, or in one of the top venues in the world - she performed on the stage of Sydney Opera House - she gave it her all.

“But offstage, she contributed so much to so many local fundraising initiatives. She helped so many organisations in her lifetime.

“And when her health deteriorated, Ireland rallied around her. There was a huge outpouring of emotion and respect for her and the three benefit concerts in the Opera House, City Hall and the National Concert Hall were all sell-outs.

“It was a sign of huge esteem in which she was held.

“We were lucky to have such an international star we could call our own.” 

Denis McSweeney, Chairman of the Everyman Theatre Board, described Cara’s passing as a colossal loss, not just to Cork, but to Ireland.

"We have lost a major cultural performer. She was the darling not just of the cognoscenti of opera but a favourite of the ordinary people of Cork who flocked to her performances whenever they could. 

"She was an engaging personality who brought a smile and warmth to her very personal engagement with those audiences. 

"I had the pleasure of being the “second tenor from the left” when she performed at the opening of the Choral Festival some years ago when she sang Verdi’s Requiem. 

"To go so young, it’s just very sad.’ 

John O’Brien, a conductor, composer and close friend, added: "She was a world-class artist and had a voice that was like gold, or like honey, or like velvet, or all of those things and she had a total mastery of it and with all that, she was just a beautiful, kind, caring person. 

"We first worked together when she was at the top of her career and I was starting out and I was in awe of her but it ended up where there was a beautiful respect and we made so many great works together.

"We did funerals and weddings together and full operas and orchestral concerts. Twenty years of work and friendship. I will miss her terribly."

Theatre producer and concert promoter Pat Talbot, a friend of Ms O’Sullivan’s, who helped organise the tribute concerts in 2019, said Ireland has prematurely lost an iconic figure in the performing arts.

“She was one of the most brilliant sopranos that the country has produced,” he said.

“In Cork, she was adored and loved by thousands of people, so many of whom generously supported our fundraising concerts for Cara in 2019.

“Cara was unique of voice, unique of personality, a supreme professional and a loyal friend. It was always nothing but a pleasure to work with her.”

Ms O’Sullivan was born in Cork in 1962 and was raised in The Lough area on the southside of the city.

She began training as a singer in her teens and attended the Cork School of Music, where teachers told her parents that she had what it takes to make it to the top.

She stopped her training for a period in her 20s, following the birth of her daughter, Christine, but landed her first major role in 1996, aged 34, as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Welsh National Opera.

Renowned for her soaring dramatic coloratura soprano voice, critics hailed her as a “fearsome coloratura” with a “spitfire-like delivery”, with others praising her “spirit and diamantine accuracy”.

She enraptured audiences around the world, and over the course of a near 30-year career performed on some of the world’s biggest stages, including the Sydney Opera House, Paris Opera and London’s Royal Albert Hall.

She had a tumour removed from one of her legs in the mid-1990s and went on to speak about the importance of skin cancer checks, and then she had nodes surgically removed from vocal cords a few years later.

But her diagnosis with dementia in 2018 forced her retirement from singing, and then ultimately her withdrawal from public life.

Three major benefit concerts organised by friends in the music business sold out.

Her daughter, Christine, said at the time.

“We are all adjusting to life now dealing with mum’s illness. Every day is a new day and we are trying to make the most of each day,” she said.

  • This article was changed on January 27 to correct Cara O’Sullivan’s age. She was 58, not 59 as originally reported.

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