Majella Cullagh – Evening Echo Feature
MY WEEKEND – MAJELLA CULLAGH
Soprano Majella Cullagh is guest soloist in the concert Chorus! at Cork Opera House on Saturday 21st October. She will join the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra, under the baton of John O Brien, and a chorus from Cork Operatic Society, to sing some of the most well-known and best loved opera choruses such as The Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata, The Humming Chorus from Pucinni’s Madame Butterfly and Va, Pensiero from Verdi’s Nabucco. It promises to be a special treat for both seasoned opera-goers and newcomers.
1 Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I was born in St. Finbarr’s Hospital and grew up near Gerald Griffin Street, Blackpool. Later on we moved to Old Youghal Road near Dillons Cross where I spent most of my youth. My Mum and Dad, Kitty and Tom, should have had ten children. They were amazing parents. As it happened I was an only child, although they did say that I was worse than ten!
Mum worried that I would suffer from separation anxiety when I started school and so, hoping to acclimatise me to being dropped off somewhere, she brought me along to Mrs. McBirney’s singing and elocution classes above the electrical shop on the Grand Parade. I loved it and we discovered that I was able to hold a tune. Things stalled a little after that and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties and working as a dental nurse that I decided to apply for singing lessons at the Cork School of Music. I think I sang “The Bold Fenian Men” at my audition.
At the School of Music I was extremely fortunate to study with Robert Beare and Maeve Coughlan. This was also the dying days of the amateur dramatic society tradition and I appeared in numerous productions with Kinsale Opera, the Blarney Choral Society and the Irish Operatic Repertory Company among others. It was only much later that I realised how lucky I was to tread the boards with people like Dave McInerney and James N Healy. I learned a huge amount by osmosis from these giants of the stage.
I continued my studies at the National Opera Studio in London and set off on an international opera career which brought me to most European countries as well as the United States and New Zealand. I’ve been stationed back at home for a few years now and along with performing, I teach at The Montfort College of Performing Arts. I’m also very honoured to be a board member of the Cork Opera House.
2 What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?
My ideal Friday night is but a fantasy. How lovely it would be to put on a pair of slippers, open a bottle of wine, light some candles, cuddle under a cosy blanket on the couch and watch a new (or an old) movie. Yes I am that boring! As it is, I teach until 8.30pm and back at home I usually have to catch up on some studying or administration. No rest for the wicked!
3 Lie ins or up with the lark…which is it for you?
A bit of both….I am definitely a night-owl. If I am writing or studying or partying, I can keep going until the wee hours. However, nowadays if I have any hope of functioning at all the next day I need to hit the leaba by eleven. I teach afternoons and evenings, so if I don’t get up early enough nothing else gets done.
4 Does work creep into your weekends at all?
Absolutely! Weekends are where it’s at for performers. Most of my concert work would occur on a Saturday or Sunday and so my time is spent packing a Diva’s essentials; gowns, sparkly shoes, jewellery (as much bling as possible), a ton of make-up, the sheet music and bottled water. I get to the venue, warm up my voice, rehearse and on with the show.
5 If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?
Let me see…if money was no object I would insist on a private jet that I would fill with all of my friends. We’d pop over to London to pick up the cousins and head to the private yacht that would take us on a spin up the Grand Canal of Venice. We would smile down at the gondoliers as we clinked our champagne glasses and stop off to dine in Piazza San Marco. Or even better, the jet would fly us to Juneau, Alaska to do some serious whale watching. Humpback whales, gray whales, orcas, seals and otters and eagles all live in this stunning place. We would wonder at the natural beauty while sipping the auld champagne. You have to dream big dahlings…
6 Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?
Closer to home is a no-brainer for me. My Dad adored Camp Beach near Castlegregory on the Dingle peninsula. It’s where I feel closest to him. The beach goes on for miles and miles and is almost always deserted. I’m at a loss to describe the exquisite beauty of the rolling waves, the sound of the sea birds and the sight of a sunset over Mount Brandon. I’ve walked for hours breathing in the tranquil sea air. Just thinking about that magical place makes me feel calm.
7 Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?
I’m the richest person in Ireland when it comes to friendship and it grieves me that I get to see so little of the people who are extremely important to me. I wish that a weekend could last half a year at least. Rehearsals, performances and studying music can cancel out any prospect of connecting with my pals. If I’m lucky I’ll get to do a visitation, meet up for dinner, or catch a show. If work doesn’t interfere, then grabbing precious time with my friends is my priority.
8 Do you get to indulge in any hobbies? Even as a spectator?
Short answer….no! I wish that I could say that I played sports, any sport. I wish that I could wow you with tales of my exploits in sailing or fencing or dancing or oil painting, but no. Is reading a hobby? I love to read.
9 Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter, do you have a signature dish?
I have a number of friends who are excellent cooks and I gladly defer to their expertise and culinary passion. I am a great dinner guest. I bring a bottle of very nice wine, I practically lick my plate and I’ll even warble a tune at the end of the night. I always say that I’m a terrible cook, but I think that I just lack any kind of confidence. I have strangely perfected a chicken casserole dish from “The Hairy Dieters” cook book. I think it’s time to make another batch.
10 We have so many places to eat out in Cork – where are your go to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?
Cork is a ridiculously fabulous city for dining experience. I really need to explore some of the new ventures that have appeared recently. I stand by my old favourites though: The Farmgate Cafe in the English Market (market atmosphere and best lemon tart in the city), The House Café at the Cork Opera House (great staff and food), The Quay Co-op on Sullivan’s Quay (delicious vegetarian fare), Nash 19 on Princes Street (great staff and food again),Crawford Gallery Café (old world charm and elegance and fab food), Franciscan Well Brewery (fantastic pizza) and the Natural Foods Café in Fitzgerald’s Park (amazing location and good coffee).
11 Sunday night comes around too fast…how do you normally spend it?
There is no normally as every Sunday is different, but that’s the way I like it. I haven’t had routine in my life since 1993. On a Sunday night I could be singing, studying, visiting, going to a show or talking for hours on the phone. I wish that I could put going to bed early on the list, but I’m trying to be honest.
12 What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?
I have three alarm clocks. I have no trouble turning over and going back to sleep unfortunately. One alarm goes off at seven. I get up if I’m being really good or really panicked at how much I have to do. The second goes off at eight-thirty which feels like a reasonable time to arise. The third alarm, if I’m being kind to myself, blasts off at ten. I then throw kindness back in its face and get up at twelve noon. After that it’s a (slow) race to get ready to be in work by 3pm.