What kind of music did you grow up with and was opera in the mix early on?
I grew up with a very diverse range of music in my life. Mum and Dad love the crooners and musical icons of days gone by – Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Vera Lynn and Nat King Cole. There is quite a big age gap between myself and my older brother and sister and as a little kid I loved going through their CD collection when they would go out and listening to whatever new music they had bought (I’m sure they were less than impressed). My sister had a long-term love affair with Barbra Streisand and I was fascinated by the sound of her voice and trying to emulate it as a kid. Being from North Queensland there was also a healthy dose of country music in the mix too. I think I was the one that primarily brought classical music into the household, and my love for opera began with the first opera I heard which was Carmen, in primary school. I loved the melodies, the incredibly exciting sound of the orchestra, and the drama of the story. I wanted to know about the other stories in opera and hear what they sounded like too… and so the journey began!
Rebecca Cassidy. Photo © Glenn Hunt
When did you start singing and what did you get out of it at first?
I first started singing when I was quite young, five or six. I also studied piano and the flute at school and from a very young age I felt like music was something that I naturally gravitated to and understood and enjoyed. I began singing in choirs as a kid and I enjoyed that immensely. I distinctly remember my first choral conductor was a beautiful nun who must not have been taller than five foot, but she had such a presence and a way of teaching that lit a huge passion for singing in me. My solo singing studies really took over priority from choral singing a few years later. What I found with singing in comparison to playing my instruments were a few important things like I didn’t feel as nervous singing in front of people as I did when playing, and I found that performing as a singer gave me infinitely more joy than playing my instruments. Being able to express myself through text was a very big thing for me. Also, to perform in my own voice, my very own instrument that is inside my body that is completely unique to me felt very special. And still does.
When did you think it was something you might take seriously and who encouraged you to apply to Queensland Conservatorium?
I would say that easily by high school I was pretty much set on the idea that I wanted to be a professional musician. My parents and teachers were incredibly supportive of this dream. We would travel from Townsville to Brisbane quite often for orchestra/band/choir/singing events and the first time I set foot in the Queensland Conservatorium, I think it was grade eight – and I sound like such a country kid here – but I just fell in love with the Conservatorium straight away. The idea of being surrounded by kids who just wanted to play music all day and that was all you had to do sounded like heaven to me! Amazingly, the person who encouraged me to apply was Professor Jan Delpratt, who was a giant of the Conservatorium teaching staff for many years. Professor Delpratt first heard me when she adjudicated a singing competition I was in. She awarded me first place, told me my top B had been incredibly sharp and then told me I should apply for the Conservatorium. It was wonderful validation at the time and a very important and special moment for me. And I eventually fixed the tuning of that top B!
How did your voice develop at college and what kinds of roles were you singing there?
Vocally, for me the first year at the Conservatorium was by far the hardest. I had been a big fish in a small pond in a regional area for a long time and was always told that my voice was good and I thought I knew what I was doing, more or less. I had an amazing teacher at the Conservatorium in Margaret Schindler and she gently encouraged me to trust her enough to start from scratch and rebuild my technique properly from the ground up. It was slow, tedious and emotional work. Towards the middle of my second year however the hard work began to pay off and my voice just grew in size exponentially. In my third year I was given the title role of Puccini’s Suor Angelica and that was a very special experience for me. My love for Puccini and his music was galvanised with that role. Singing Puccini just does something to my heart, there’s a love and intangible energy there and it when I sing that music it just feels so wonderful.
What awards or experiences have most helped your career to develop?
I would say that the experience that has most helped my career to develop has been being named as the Opera Queensland Young Artist for 2020. The guidance, mentorship, experience and exposure that I have received this year from Opera Queensland has been phenomenal. Despite the global challenges and with so much work being cancelled, we have just found a way around every hurdle together as they came along and I have learned and improved so much this year not just as a singer but as a complete performer and it has been nothing short of amazing. I am very, very grateful to the company for this wonderful opportunity.
Rebecca Cassidy. Photo © Tony Phillips
You are singing Richard Strauss with SXS. What is it about his music that you find most satisfying?
I adore all of Strauss’ music: lied, opera, orchestral and instrumental. My affection for his lieder, though, specifically comes back to the attachment I have with the text of a song and being able to communicate a poem, story or emotion effectively with whoever is listening to me, even if it is not in a language they speak. I love the way Strauss paints the colours of each moment with his tonal language. Whether it is despair, longing, ardent passion or unquenchable hope he seems to always have the key moments nailed just right and uses the power or fragility of the human voice to its fullest emotional potential. Much like I mentioned with Puccini, I love the way his music sits in my voice and it is a genuine joy to sing.
What will you be singing later in the month with Opera Queensland and what were your thoughts choosing the music?
I am not sure if I am allowed to say just yet! But I can tell you that I am singing some Puccini!
Who are your go-to singers for inspiration on record?
All time absolute favourites are Pavarotti and Jessye Norman. Both of them have these techniques and styles that I find mesmerisingly beautiful and fascinating. Both singers inspire me and give me energy when I listen to them. In terms of modern voices I adore Nicole Car, I think her instrument is so beautiful and strong and she is an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful performer. I love watching Ermonela Jaho and the way she just dives into whatever role it is, Violetta to Butterfly – with her heart and soul completely. I admire that she has no hesitation to sing in a way that is completely authentic to the moment and the character.
How do you see your voice developing and what roles would you like to be singing in five years’ time?
I see my voice developing into a full lyric and perhaps more into spinto and young dramatic repertoire. In five years time my dream would to be singing roles like Donna Anna, Desdemona, Manon Lescaut, Tatiana from Onegin and Elsa from Lohengrin. My dream role is Tosca but that might be a little more than five years down the track!
Do you have a vocal health regime? And what do you like to do most during your down time?
Like most singers I am pretty conscious about my vocal health. I avoid alcohol, dairy and spicy food in the days leading up to a performance as I find them pretty irritating and reflux inducing for me personally. I am careful with how much I talk after a show, particularly in noisy restaurants or at events. I sleep with a humidifier on and I steam my vocal folds before and after performances, I have an extensive warm up and warm down routine and I also do full body stretches and movement exercises to feel connected to my whole body when I sing, not just the bit in my neck.
When I am not singing, I love camping and my partner and I have a big 4WD called “Gary the Adventurer” that we have fully kitted out with everything you need for outback touring. I love getting away from the city, finding somewhere with no phone reception and enjoying nature. I find it really inspiring artistically and it revives me in a way not many other things can.
What impact did the pandemic have on your career, how did you survive lockdown, and what are your hopes for 2021?
Well, I had just been named the Young Artist at Opera Queensland for 2020 and had been given the understudy of Isolde for Opera Queensland’s production of Tristan and Isolde that was meant to be performed in late October. As a professional role debut that was pretty exciting! I spent most of my lockdown learning Isolde, through Zoom with my coaches. At that time we were still hopeful the performances would go ahead. As well as learning that role I really just decided that I would try and stay as positive as possible about the situation and use the time as wisely as I could. I learned a huge amount of new repertoire, I also started learning German as a language, used every opportunity I could to increase my online presence and while doing so learned so many digital and recording skills I had no idea about before. Necessity is the mother of invention after all, and while this year really could have been such a downer for my career, in many ways it has actually been a breakout year for me – and as for 2021, my hopes are to finally get that professional role debut that I missed out on this year. Fingers crossed!
Rebecca Cassidy performs with the Southern Cross Soloists at QPAC on 18 October
She also performs in Opera Queensland’s Encore at QPAC on 23 & 24 October