She has been a versatile and popular performer on Australia’s opera stage – as Carmen, she memorably tied up Stuart Skelton’s Don Jose; wore a beard as Baba the Turk in The Rake’s Progress for which she won a Helpmann Award; consoled Cheryl Barker’s Cio- Cio San as Suzuki in Madame Butterfly and received a Green Room Award as Cornelia in Giulio Cesare; she donned the pants as Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and Arsace in Partenope.
In recent years, mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby has been living and working in London where she has made her name as a soloist, appearing in some quite exceptional productions.
SoundsLikeSydney caught up with her via this Q and A:
SLS: What are you present projects?
CC: I’m currently working on Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. It’s a new production directed by Claus Guth and co-produced with La Scala. Semyon Bychkov is conducting and Johan Botha plays The Emperor. It’s part of the ROH’s commemorations of Strauss’ 150th birth anniversary.
As well in March, I’m singing the role of Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi for Chelsea Opera Group at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre.
Also in March I am the soloist with the City of London Sinfonia at Southwark Cathedral in Supernatural Songs, which features the music of Sir John Tavener, Gavin Bryars and Arvo Part. This is with the Hilliard Ensemble and the Holst Singers conducted by Stephen Layton.
Then it’s back to the Royal Opera in May for the Dialogue of the Carmelites under Simon Rattle with Deborah Polaski and Sir Thomas Allen.
SLS: Describe the experience of working at the ROH Covent Garden – what has it mean to you?
CC: Working at Covent Garden is really the pinnacle, isn’t it? It is one of a handful of great opera houses that you dream of working at as a young singer. My first job there was covering Christine Rice as Ariadne in Birtwistle’s The Minotaur, which is a fiendish piece of writing. It was a real baptism of fire – I had 9 weeks in which to learn it, from being offered the role, to the first day of rehearsal and it took every spare minute of those 9 weeks! Luckily I learn quickly and was well prepared. I jumped in at the last minute and sang at one of the sitzprobes, which was nerve wracking in the extreme! After my last vocal entry I just slunk away quietly (well, wobbled away really!) and went home. The next day conductor Ryan Wigglesworth came looking for me and said “Where did you get to? I wanted to make a big fuss of you and get the orchestra to applaud what a great job you did!” So it was quite an introduction!
SLS: You recently sang in a production of ‘Elektra’ with Christine Goerke who performed the role in Sydney last month. What was your reaction to singing in this production?
CC: I loved every minute of this show. Such a great piece, in a great house with a great cast. Every single role was luxury cast, right down to the tiny one liners. I watched as much as I could from the side stage, when I wasn’t getting bloodied up! I was very interested to watch Christine; she has a really large instrument, but treats it like Mozart. Her approach to the technical demands of heavy repertoire is a masterclass in itself. Adrianne Pieczonka as Chrysotemis was another revelation to me. The final duet was thrilling. And we all had a hoot! Those Straussians know how to have a good time!
SLS: What has been the highlight of your time in the UK thus far?
CC: Probably opening night of Elektra. Making a debut at a major house in such a triumphant production can’t be easily topped.
SLS: How hard or easy would you say it has been to obtain roles in the UK?
CC: I haven’t found it too hard, but the first year I was here I mostly did concert work, which made for a nice change – but opera is really where I like to live.
SLS: What are you long-term plans?
CC: Well, we’ve just bought and are in the process of renovating a house in East London, so I think we are settled here for a bit! Our initial plan was to stay until our daughter finishes primary school, but as that’s only another 4 years away, I can’t really see it happening now.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©