THE most challenging role of her career is how Cork-born soprano, Kim Sheehan, describes singing Queen Of The Night in The Magic Flute, which runs at Cork Opera House on March 26 — Mother’s Day — as part of its concert series.
And on top of this, Kim gave birth to her first child, Florence, just six months ago. She actually went back to work in January performing Queen Of The Night at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
“It was interesting. I didn’t want to turn down any work after the baby came. Starting back at work with the biggest role in my repertoire was actually just what I needed. It was the kick start that brought me back into action and I never enjoyed a role more,” says Kim.
“I’m keeping it real at the moment, enjoying having the baby and choosing very carefully the work that I want to do. The Queen of the Night is a very angry, slighted woman who was cast aside when her husband died. The Knights of the Realm are basically trying to get rid of her because she has control over the sun and has turned everything to darkness.
“She has an angelic daughter whereas the mother is portrayed as a kind of Cruella De Vil. It’s extraordinarily challenging, one of the most difficult roles ever written for soprano. It’s not the highest aria but it’s high and is renowned as being one of the most difficult roles.
“My character is angry and over the top. When I’m performing her, I have to think the complete opposite of that and release any tension that’s in my body. I’m trying to just stay soft and to not attack any of the singing. That’s something you would naturally do because it’s such an aggressive aria.
“For the role, I have some very specific exercises. It’s mainly lots of quiet work and keeping the voice fluid.”
Kim has plenty of support from her composer husband, Tom Hodge. He works a lot from home, using his studios in the couple’s Myrtleville house and their home in Finsbury in London.
“If I need to do some singing practise, Tom minds the baby.”
Describing their Cork home overlooking the sea as “heavenly”, Kim says that if she was to go with her heart, she would prefer to live in Myrtleville all the time.
“We have so many friends in the area where we built our house. If I was to go with my head, I’d choose London to live in because there’s more work there.”
Having the best of both worlds is a good balance for this musical couple.
Kim had a ‘Eureka’ moment which directed her towards an operatic career. After school, she went straight to Dublin to do a degree at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama.
“When I was in college one day, my tutors said I had to do opera. But I said I’d never done it before. They gave me a score, I learned it from beginning to end and I went into rehearsals and realised this was all I wanted to do.
“You’re confronted with this style which is acting and singing. But you’re also using all of your different techniques such as your language skills.” (Kim is also a fluent German speaker.)
Work makes it way to Kim “quite easily”.
“You have to work hard to do the audition. You walk into a room and the people who are sitting on the panel know exactly what they want. They know the type of voice they want and the look. They know how you work.
“You’re either going to get the role or not. We all have to put up with rejection. One thing that you need to become when you’re a singer is to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Kim and her husband’s career paths rarely cross as he composes music for film, TV and advertisements. He also writes music for ballets, but they still help each other out at home.
“If I find something difficult, he’ll help me to figure out another way to find a solution. And he can play the piano for me.”
The couple met when Kim was on a scholarship with the opera school of the Royal College of Music in London.
“He was studying at the college. We met, fell in love and got married.”
Kim has performed in opera houses all over the world. She is excited about singing at the Cork Opera House, having only ever sung there once, as part of a choir.
“It’s an iconic venue with so much history. I grew up hearing the stories of all the singers that would come to Cork. It will be nice to be able to step into the shoes of that history for one night and hopefully, I’ll enjoy the space. There’s a bigger history of opera in Cork than Dublin.”
Some years ago, Kim sang in Der Vampyr at the Everyman. “That was amazing. I had a very good experience with director, John O’Brien. He is conducting The Magic Flute. It’s such a thrill to work with him. He has boundless energy.”
Kim is also working on a piece of dance with choreographer, Philip Connaughton, a show called Extraterrestrial Event, which premieres in Paris and will feature at the Dublin Dance Festival and Cork Opera House in October.
Clearly, Kim Sheehan is in much demand.
‘The Magic Flute’ at Cork Opera House on March 26. Tickets €30/35 on www.corkoperahouse.ie