The Arts Interview: Sarah-Ellen Murphy

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

The Arts Interview: Limerick Contralto Sarah-Ellen Murphy

FROM as early as I can remember music has been a huge part of my life.

While studying in Mary Immaculate College I attained a Bachelor of Education Degree with music. In addition, I have achieved an honours diploma in singing from the London College of Music and Media. Whilst teaching in St. Nessan’s primary school in Mungret I, also, sing at a professional level at various events around the country.

It has been a pleasure to study voice with Olive Cowpar in Limerick for the past number of years.

Olive has an excellent knowledge of all areas of singing and has a great mastery of the subject. My first platforms for classical singing were Féile Luimní, Feis Maitiú and Feis Ceoil. I have been awarded many bursaries which have given me the motivation to continue my studies. This has led to me being involved in further professional engagements.

Limerick has a rich history of grand opera.

It has produced the great Catherine Hayes, Joseph O’Meara and more recently Suzanne Murphy. Over the years the Limerick Choral and Operatic Society staged a grand opera festival which involved guest principals such as Pauline Tinsley and William Dickie. The Cecilian Musical Society was established in 1919. They perform operettas and musicals even today. Indeed, the Cecilian’s are the longest running musical society in the country. During the same period Limerick was also home to the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. They performed much of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas to great acclaim across the county.

It would be wonderful to have an Operatic Society in Limerick.

Indeed, according to Olive Cowpar it would be a ‘dream come true’. It would give opportunities to singers who are about to embark on professional singing careers. Those people who were lucky enough to have heard the three sold out performances of Opera Delights, at the Hunt Museum, during Culture Night, would have heard these singers. This shows that the tradition of opera is very much alive and well in Limerick.

Recently, I sang the alto solo in Verdi’s Requiem with the Limerick Choral Union (LCU) under the direction of Malcolm Green. This enormous work was last performed in Limerick 48 years ago and consisted of a choir of 115 members and the LCU Symphony Orchestra composed of 50 members. Over the past number of years I have been the contralto soloist in many oratorios with the LCU, Ancór Choir, The Fleischmann Choir, Mary Immaculate College Choir, The Galway Choral Association, Galway’s Tribal Choir and The Summer Music on the Shannon Choir. My career to date has seen me perform leading roles in a number of operas. These have included Madame Flora in The Medium by Menotti and Maurya in Riders to the Sea by Vaughan Williams at The Opera at Castalia Festival, Ballytobin in Kilkenny. This festival has been in existence since 2012 and is growing from strength to strength each year. During the festival weekend I presented a lunchtime recital of Songs from Kate O’Brien. They were composed by Fiona Linnane with lyrics by Mary Coll. These songs also featured in my recital for the opening night of the Kate O’Brien Weekend in Limerick in 2012. Indeed, it led me to be nominated for an Opera Bear Award for my concert performance of these beautiful Kate O’Brien songs.

Fiona Linnane is an established composer with whom I have collaborated on many projects.

She founded the CoMA Limerick Ensemble, which is a group that performs the Irish première of new music, from different contemporary composers. During the celebrations for the Limerick City of Culture 2014 I played the role of Mrs Noye in Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten. This was staged in Saint Mary’s Cathedral under the direction of Peter Barley. In Tipperary, meanwhile, I was privileged to have been a guest soloist in The Irish Ring with The Gaudeamus Choir. We performed excerpts from the Irish Operas; The Lily of Killarney, Maritana and The Bohemian Girl.

In the past I had the honour of performing ‘Messiah’ at the University Concert Hall (UCH) for President Michael D. Higgins.

Indeed, the LCU recently performed Handel’s Messiah at Ennis Pro Cathedral. I was privileged to be singing the alto solo again with them. The other soloists on the night were Jean Wallace (Soprano), Eoin Hynes (Tenor) and Derek Ryan (Bass). The Messiah is special for me because it is such a meaningful work. The music and words are both powerful and dramatic. The ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ is a triumphant movement and it has become traditional for the audience to stand up during this chorus. The proceeds from the Ennis concert went towards Cahercalla Community Hospice.

The Chamber Choir, Ancór, directed by CeciIia Madden, will be giving their annual Christmas Concert on December 16 in St. Mary’s Cathedral.

I have been invited to sing Vivaldi’s Gloria with them. Also, in December, I will perform it again with the Carlow Choral Society in Kilkenny. I have presented many Lunchtime Recitals in St. Mary’s Cathedral and Mary Immaculate College and I hope to perform another in June 2016. This will include art songs and arias by Quilter, Cilèa and Ponchielli. In July 2016, the première of the opera The Breakfast Table will take place at The Opera at Castalia Festival in Kilkenny. This work is composed by Fiona Linnane. I will portray the alto role of ‘Cerberus’ in the opera, along with Limerick’s own Bass-Baritone, Kevin Neville, who will play the character ‘Euripides’!

For more information about Sarah-Ellen Murphy and her planned concerts please see: and