Get to know soprano Cathy-Di Zhang before she makes her State Opera Debut as Mimi in Bohème on the Beach.
This is your State Opera South Australia debut. Are you excited to come to Adelaide?
So excited!!! I’ve only ever been to Adelaide on short trips so don’t know it at all really and can’t wait to see more of it and spend some time there. Also very excited about working with State Opera for the first time and working with Stuart. His productions were some of the first operas I ever saw and they had me hooked!
What draws you to the character of Mimi?
Her humanity. She is just a girl who falls in love. And this journey for her means everything, as she is also quite unwell, which I believe she definitely understands to a certain extent. And being aware of her own mortality, makes every moment in her life that much more meaningful and every emotion completely sincere and that much more intense.
What will challenge you in this role?
Knowing how it ends! Like the majority of Puccini’s operas, all goes south pretty quickly and the second half is absolutely heartbreaking. I’ve ended up in tears at every bohème I’ve ever seen and it’s just as hard keeping it together when I’m singing the role!!! We all can relate to this story. We all understand the universal feelings of ecstatic bliss and happiness of young love, as well as the suffocating and unbearable physical and emotional pain of heartbreak and loss. Therefore, the challenge in this role is to not foresee the tragedy at the end, so that Mimi can have some truly joyous moments as well!
What was your first “I’ve made it” moment?
I don’t think I’ve had it yet!!! Or I guess it must be more of a gradual realisation of “Wow! I’m actually doing this for a living now”. That definitely constitutes as “making it” in this career I believe! But I also feel that you have to consistently “make it” over and over again, every time you step out on stage. You are only as good as your last performance, so you have to go out and give it your all every night!
What is your dream role?
This may change of course but at the moment it’s Fiordiligi from Mozart’s Così fan tutte. I was lucky enough to do the role once as a young artist in Germany. I absolutely love Mozart and all his operas. Although there are no big choruses nor grand moments in Così, it is clear that high stakes and big drama can still be found in the seemingly ordinary – in our day-to-day relationships and interactions with each other – between partners/lovers/strangers/friends and sisters. The human psyche is so complex and even we ourselves don’t always understand our own actions, motivations and emotions, which is I guess, what it means to be human and what makes us so interesting! Vocally, Mozart also gave Fiordiligi so much variety in range, emotion and colour, making her so satisfying (albeit challenging) to sing.
After this, it’s all new roles for me, so it’s a great year that will definitely push me! Firstly, I’m incredibly excited to be doing some chamber music, a great love of mine, in a sunrise concert at Uluru – I’ve never been before and that will be magical! Then Rosina in The Barber of Seville for Opera Australia’s National Tour, a new Richard Mills’ work, the Butterfly Lovers for Victorian Opera and then finally, Créuse in Charpentier’s Médée with Pinchgut Opera at the end of the year. Interestingly, I realised that I will end up dead in 3 out of 4 operas this year!
What is something about you that may surprise our audience to know?
I started singing a bit later, although I loved it from childhood. I studied Commerce first at University and started working as an auditor at Deloitte. I wanted out real quick so that’s when I decided to give singing a proper go and commenced my formal musical training in London in my 20s.
What excites you outside of Opera?
Food mostly! It brings me a lot of joy! Also, like many, I took up sourdough baking when the pandemic started and I got quite good at it! I had so much time I was baking practically on a daily basis and experimenting with crazy combinations. My favourite has to be my Cheesymite sourdough!!!