How do you get to Carnegie Hall, again?
Life’s not too shabby these days for 27 year old mezzo soprano and Douglas native Niamh O’Sullivan.
Described as a ‘rising star of opera’, Niamh has already ticked some major boxes in the opera world, including her concert performance of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Her immense talent was first discovered during her time with the Regina Mundi College Choir in Cork.
After that, Niamh set her sights on the big smoke where she further honed her skills at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin under the late Veronica Dunne. Then, in 2016, she moved to Munich and has been based there ever since.
But what is life actually like for such a young talent whose operatic diary is almost full until 2025 and who has just bagged the Cork Person of the Month award for August?
“It's mad to feel like my life is planned so far in advance at such a young age. It's really exciting. I could never have imagined that I'd be on this world journey at such a young age - the young girl from Cork. It's everything I've dreamed of,” says Niamh.
“Even when I was in college, I really knew what I wanted to do. I was so focused on my lessons and my rehearsals, that I'd miss a lot of my social life. You have to compromise when you're an opera singer because your instrument is your voice. You can't overdo the socialising aspect of things.
“Now that I've started the career, if I have 3 weeks off I can say ‘Okay, I can enjoy myself here now’, whereas in college, the lessons were just so intense. So, I can kind of plan my social life now but there isn't a lot of it, I have to say. There are definitely things I miss out on but it's all worth it in the end.”
When it comes to her appreciation for opera, it could be described as a “chicken or the egg” scenario for Niamh, who says true appreciation only came after she was comfortable with her craft. And then there are the languages – so many languages.
“I feel like when you're feeling comfortable with your voice and your technique and things are working without much effort, then the appreciation comes because you can enjoy it more.
“It was hard at the beginning because there's so much to learn and it's so frustrating, I mean it's still frustrating. I'm frustrated every day with my voice because it changes all the time.
“It's not a bad thing. It's usually a good thing when the voice is changing and developing but sometimes you need someone to track it with you because it can be hard to do it alone.”
Niamh, whose German is coming along nicely, says a singer definitely doesn’t need to be fluent in a language in order to sing it, but it certainly helps - a lot. For the Cork southsider, French is the toughest of all when it comes to pronunciation.
“There's a lot of vowels and some of them are so close to each other,” Niamh explains.
“With Italian, it is as it's written. When I do nail something in French, it is actually my favourite language to sing in. It's so beautiful how one vowel flows into the other. They're all beautiful to sing in to be honest. Some people don't really like German because there's a lot of consonants and people say it takes away from the flow, but I do love German because I feel more at home with it.”
Niamh’s latest role will see her back on Leeside this month when she stars as the “yummy mummy” in renowned Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s ‘The First Child’ on 17 September in Cork Opera House.
“I'm playing the kind of yummy mummy from the southside of Dublin who comes across as though she had this perfect life and actually, she doesn't. She's actually not very happy at all.
“I feel like everyone will relate to it. You know, sometimes opera can seem so far from what people know, but it’s almost like a play.
“I do feel like Cork audiences will enjoy it – the language is really funny and there's a few 'fs' in there.”
As for the future, Niamh’s schedule is chock-a-block with projects and performances including a stint at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London. She will also be returning to Carnegie Hall, and having lifted the roof there once already, certainly won’t need directions this time.
“I'm going to trust the career and whatever happens will happen, and whatever doesn't happen, doesn't for a reason.”