Tara Erraught | Interview

The career of young Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has been on a steep ascent since 2010, when she received the National Concert Hall’s Rising Star Award. By then, she had already moved to Munich to study and work with Bavarian State Opera, where she’s since won both awards and critical acclaim. As an opera singer, she has also performed with Glyndebourne Festival in the UK, and at opera houses in Vienna, Hamburg, and Berlin. 2015 saw her US debut with Washington National Opera, performing the role of Cinderella in Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Alongside her opera successes, Tara also maintains a full schedule of concerts and recitals across Europe and North America, with her recital debut in Japan due later this year.

Apart from student productions at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and singing in the concert performance of Balfe’s Falstaff at the NCH in 2008, Tara has yet to appear in a full, professional opera production in Ireland. That is set to change in April, however, when she performs the leading role of Rosina in Wide Open Opera’s new production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia [The Barber of Seville] by Rossini, at the National Opera House (Wexford) and the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin. We caught up with Tara, and talked about the upcoming production as well as her work as a singer.

Being able to come back to Ireland to sing Rosina – in a run that will include her 25th performance in this role – clearly means a great deal to her: “it’s really huge, because obviously I’m still at the start [of my career], and to have a role that you’ve done, even just more than three or four times, is a gift… so it’s a way for me to say thank you to all those people who’ve supported me, all the teachers and coaches I’ve had, and especially my family.” The choice of role, and opera, has been deliberate: “it’s important that it’s a piece that I really know well, and it’s also a great opera for the first-time operagoers. There’s something about this opera that reaches everybody – it’s so funny. People know this music, it’s not too long, I just think it’s the right mix, and it’s also the right time for me to finally show people what I’ve learnt.”

Like any good comedy, The Barber of Seville is a work that needs a strong ensemble cast, and Tara is very excited that she will be joined on stage by a team that includes compatriots Gavan Ring (Figaro) and John Molloy (Don Basilio). “John is so funny, the funniest man on the planet, an incredible singer… and Gavan, he’s so talented. I think for him this is certainly going to be a signature piece, he’s already done it with Opera North – to be able to say that we have somebody as young and as experienced as he is in this role, who’s one of our own, is quite remarkable.”

Tara Erraught 3

Tara first sang the role of Rosina five years ago, and still finds fresh layers to the character: “it changes all the time… there’s quite a lot of ‘normal girl’ in there, and I think every time you learn something in life, she changes a little bit. But the difference between when I first sang it professionally and now is worlds apart – never mind vocally, that’s huge too because the voice is changing all the time – but character-wise it’s incredible, and the more confident you become in yourself the easier it is then to really play with people and play with your other colleagues on stage. And the more comfortable you are in the character, in the role vocally, the easier it is then to push the character much further.” This will be the fifth production of The Barber of Seville in which Tara has appeared. The real difference now, however, is that for the first time she will be helping create a new production, rather than filling someone else’s shoes in a revival: “with a new director with new ideas… now is the right time to take Rosina and find out every extra little corner of her that we can.”

By coincidence, the opera’s bicentennial also falls this year (it was first performed in February 1816), bringing renewed attention to the work’s history. Tara is keen to note that in this production audiences will have the chance to hear an aria for Rosina that is traditionally cut from the opera – ‘Ah, se è ver’ [Ah! if it is true…] in Act II. “I’m not sure how it’s got into the habit that it’s been cut, because without it the story makes no sense… it makes the character seem really flaky, kind of spoiled and foolish. But with this aria it becomes a much more fluid story – I think with that we can do something really interesting.” Her awareness of this aspect of the opera reflects her work with musicologist and conductor Alberto Zedda, long associated with the Rossini Festival in Pesaro: “Zedda said to me, ‘you’ve got to stop agreeing to sing this piece without that aria, it doesn’t make sense,’ and so when I said it to Fergus [Sheil, artistic director of Wide Open Opera] he totally took it on.” Having re-introduced the aria for this production, she hopes to sing it in future performances elsewhere as well.

While Tara has so far only performed this role and Cinderella, she is clearly eager to sing more Rossini – “I want to sing Elena (La Donna del Lago), Isabella (L’Italiana in Algeri), and eventually of course I want to sing Desdemona [in Otello]… I really want to do that role. Her last aria is just heart-rendingly beautiful.”

Tara Erraught 5

Working with this music has also allowed Tara to realise the ways in which Rossini composed for different singers, which becomes a useful tool in learning a new role, as she explains: “it’s really obvious to me now… the more attuned to his writing you get, the more you actually realise where he based the strong points of somebody’s voice. I think that’s one of the wonderful things with him, you know, that no two singers are ever going to sing it the same, because you’re allowed to do all these other embellishments and what you feel within the role. You can’t do that with anybody else, you wouldn’t find that in Puccini or Verdi.”

Her most recent appearance with Bavarian State Opera gave her the challenge of creating an entirely new role, that of Kathleen Scott in the world premiere production of South Pole by Miroslav Srnka. “It’s the second brand-new opera I’ve done and it’s always a massive learning curve – you’ve got to stay open. You don’t have that piece learned until the run is over, because every day there’s something new…”

Looking ahead over the next few months, in addition to her work in opera Tara also has a busy schedule of concerts: her debut recital in Japan, alongside appearances at the Wigmore Hall in London and Washington DC’s Kennedy Centre – the latter two events connected to international 1916 Centenary celebrations of Irish culture. Conscious of her newfound role as an Irish cultural ambassador, she makes a point of programming and promoting Irish art music in her concerts, a duty she feels very strongly.

Being in Dublin last September for Culture Night and experiencing the breadth of work on show was an eye-opener: “it gave me a kick, to say it is really now my responsibility to promote the other side of Irish culture – not just the classical element but also the folk songs… and there’s a huge audience for it.” The flipside of the coin is also the need to remind Irish audiences (and, one would hope, policymakers) of the quality of Irish artists, many of whom have to live abroad in order to sustain their careers. A confident, self-assured professional, emerging as an international artist in her own right, it’s possible to picture Tara Erraught, much like her fictional counterpart Rosina, negotiating a tricky path with wit, style – and determination.

Wide Open Opera’s production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville opens in the National Opera House (Wexford) on April 16, and will be in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (Dublin) on April 20, 22 & 23.