“It’s been a total joy” - Performing with The First Child

Wednesday, 7 September, 2022
Sarah Shine And Joan Sheehy In The First Child Photo Ste Murray

The First Child  is an opera like no other – an experience that takes opera to new realms, where a cast of sensational opera singers is joined by an actor, a dancer and children in a multi-media extravaganza that electrifies all the senses. The production brings together a world-class creative team with a cast of five singers, an actor, a dancer, a chorus of children and Crash Ensemble, to imagine a terrifying story of lost innocence — a baby on a beach — and the sea. We interviewed Limerick soprano Sarah Shine about what it means to embrace new challenges, what it is like to perform with Crash Ensemble, and the joy of working on this contemporary opera.

The opera opens on Wednesday 14 September in the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan, before travelling to Cork Opera House in Cork, Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick and Siamsa Tíre in Tralee.

Tell us a little bit about your character, Karen.

Karen is a young woman who works in a boutique baby shop, a great sales assistant, friendly to those she meets and wants to help. However, privately she deals with a lot of unresolved trauma from her past that, during the piece, seems to bubble to the surface in uncontrollable ways. She has come to face Alva, a character from her early childhood, who has the idealistic image of a perfect life, perfect marriage, perfect family. But there is a bond between the two women that throughout the piece, unravels itself and leads to chaos.

What do you find the most challenging and rewarding aspects of working on this production?

I think the most challenging aspect is having to remain on stage for the full 90 minutes of the show. I have learned where the most taxing parts of the music are, and after performing the role of Karen a few times, I now feel I have a firm grip of where I should be, how much I need to give and where I can find little pockets of time to re-centre myself and breathe deeply. This has actually been the most rewarding part of the piece also, because it has pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’ve learned to lean into the fear! The rehearsal process with our writer and director Enda Walsh was so enjoyable. He has created such a nuanced piece that rehearsals every day felt like an artistic playground. We were trusted and encouraged to explore our own ideas and those ideas were always valued. We also laughed. A lot.

What are you most looking forward to audiences experiencing in The First Child?

I’m really excited for the audiences to experience Donnacha’s score played by the incredible Crash Ensemble and led by our fantastic conductor Ryan McAdams. I don’t know how Crash do what they do, they are simply incredible. I love that our stage is so close to them - we feel extremely connected at all times. I also don’t know where Ryan gets his energy - he is with us every single step of the way, giving us space to express and colour what we do while also keeping us on our toes. It’s very rare to have such a positive relationship with a conductor, we are all very lucky.

What does it mean to you to perform to audiences around Ireland after so much international experience? Do you enjoy touring and reaching new audiences?

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have performed this piece already at the Dublin Theatre Festival last year and most recently at the Galway International Arts Festival. Touring is something I love, and I’m passionate about opera, theatre and art reaching audiences that might not have had the opportunity before. I have been lucky to work in France and toured through cities there. However, there really is nothing like an Irish audience and I’m so excited to bring the show around Ireland! Most exciting however, is performing at the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick, where I’m from. It will be my first large scale performance there and I am so looking forward to it.

Do you have different approaches to working on contemporary opera versus classical repertoire?

I think that your basic understanding of how your voice and technique works should stay relatively the same. This is the most fundamental thing for me at the moment, making sure I have a technique that allows me to get through difficult music and feel safe with a score that stretches through all sections of my voice. But I absolutely love working on contemporary music, and working with Donnacha Dennehy on this has been an absolute dream. He has written something bold and exciting. Although vocally it is a complex score, having him there has made me feel steady and connected and allowed me to express myself freely with my voice. It’s been a total joy.

What other upcoming projects elsewhere can we see you in this season?

I am so happy to be returning to work with INO in April next year, where I will play the role of Sophie in a nationwide tour of Massenet's Werther.