While I knew she had been ill, news of Cork-born soprano Cara O’Sullivan’s death on January 26 – aged 59 – came as a shock. Cara possessed a wonderfully vibrant voice to match her vivacious personality and had a natural artistry in a wide-ranging repertoire from the baroque through the classical and romantic to the contemporary.
Her inherent ability to communicate with any audience had her equally at home in opera house and concert hall as well as leading the rousing choruses of the sporting anthem Stand Up and Fight, particularly at Munster rugby matches. Musically, there was ‘no side’ to Cara O’Sullivan.
She studied at the Cork School of Music in the late 1970s along with co-Corkonian soprano Mary Hegarty. They later appeared together at Garsington Opera in Mozart’s Il Seraglio with Cara in the role of defiant Konstanze, which includes one of the composer’s most demanding arias, and Mary as her impetuous English maid, Blonde.
Cara excelled in other Mozart roles not least the sinister queen of the Night in The Magic Flute and aristocratic Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, which she sang at Glyndebourne in 1995 and with Welsh National Opera the following year. She repeated the queen for the DGOS in 1996 and Donna Anna for Opera Ireland in 2009.
Having taken time out for a period in the 1980s to rear her daughter, Cara then came under the guidance of the ubiquitous Veronica Dunne and through the latter’s influence was tutored by diva Dame Joan Sutherland.
Once back on track Cara became RTÉs ‘Musician of the Future’ in 1990, was Ireland’s entry in the Cardiff ‘Singer of the World’ in 1993 and took first prize in the Stanislaw Moniuszko International Vocal Competition in Warsaw in 1995.
She toured with Glyndebourne Opera as well making regular appearances with Welsh National and other opera companies that took her as far afield as Cincinnati and Sydney Opera House. Ever versatile, Cara O’Sullivan was awarded her first class honours MA from the Cork School of Music in 2006.
Occasional battles with cancer disrupted Cara’s career from time to time and, very sadly, early-onset dementia brought her public appearances to an end in 2018. The following year she was honoured with the inaugural Cork Cultural Award for her outstanding contributions to the artistic life of the city she dearly loved. May her soul rest in peace.
Continuing to trawl through the Dublin Operatic Society’s archives I was amused to find NO ENCORES in bold block capitals in the programme for the opening production in 1928. However, audience appreciation was unbridled as Welsh tenor Ben Williams “brought the house down” in Mignon in 1937.
The same year DOS presented two seasons at the Gaiety Theatre with La traviata, Mignon and Madama Butterfly in one and La bohème, Carmen and The Daughter of the Regiment in the other. Making her debut as Philine in Mignon, Dublin soprano May Devitt “impressed everyone…with her coloratura showpiece I am Titania admirable for its light-heartedness, beauty of tone and vocal display”. More on DOS anon.