On the Couch with Cathy-Di Zhang

OA Cathy-Di Zhang AAR On the CouchWho is Cathy-Di Zhang?
I was born in North East China, but grew up in South Sydney since the age of 4. As a kid, I was anxiety-ridden and chronically shy. I latched onto singing as soon as I was exposed to it as a possible cure and a safe outlet for expression. After an uninspiring stint as an auditor (suggested by my wonderfully sensible parents), I finally decided I needed to give singing a go. That choice has led me to live in London, Rotterdam and Rimini (Italy), and to work and study in even more cities and countries. Today, I’m happily back on home turf thanks to a (not-so-small) nudge from Covid.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
It’s easy to look back now and say I would have done this or that differently but hindsight is always 20/20! I knew pretty early on I wanted to pursue singing, so sometimes I wish I committed to training earlier and not have wasted time studying Commerce, but it is difficult when you are that young to have that sort of confidence in yourself and not be influenced by other peoples’ opinions. Absolutely nobody except for my voice teacher encouraged the pursuit of such a difficult and unstable career. That being said, when I finally did go to music college in the UK, I wasted so much time in London pubs instead of diligently working!

Who inspires you and why?
My mother. She is the kindest, happiest and most loving person I know who sees the beauty and good in everyone and everything despite going through all of life’s challenges and bringing me up as a single parent. She lives with an open heart and mind, loves to laugh and is always full of great advice when needed!

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I think about this more and more as time passes and I get older. I don’t exactly know the answer on a grand scale but I try to start with the small things. Showing genuine love and compassion to whomever crosses my path whether it be friends or family or strangers on the street. You may not change the world but you may just make the world of difference to one person when they are in need or in a moment of crisis. I have certainly been shown this love on many occasions by others. You never forget it and if we all practised this more I’m sure it probably would have lasting and far-reaching effects in the world.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
There are so many beautiful small towns in Italy and every new one you visit is just as charming and stunning as the last. From the snow-capped mountains of northern Italy to the medieval and Roman towns with their old castles and churches to the pristine beaches of southern Italy and the idyllic rolling hills and pastures of inland central Italy. And each local region has their own unique culture, food and people. I used to live there so there is a bit of nostalgia but I would love to return one day and enjoy it all as a visitor.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Sydney Harbour – the bridge and the Opera House – always takes their breath away, it’s iconic worldwide! But tourist attractions aside, Sydney is a foodie’s paradise! You can get pretty authentic and fresh food of practically any culture here in this city. It was one of the things I missed the most when I was living abroad.

What are you currently reading?
I picked up The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey recently whilst rehearsing Orpheus in Brisbane. I have also been reading Grown Ups by Marian Keyes. Can’t say I do much reading nowadays and only do so to unwind or on holiday, so it’s mostly contemporary fiction. I’m obsessed with the seemingly mundane  – for me it is anything but!

What are you currently listening to?
To be honest, because I’m currently in final production week of Orpheus rehearsals, when I finish work I mostly just need sweet sweet silence! I feel like the Gluck is just running on a loop in my head!

Happiness is?
When you and all of your loved ones are safe, healthy and close and as cliché as it sounds, lasting happiness is in the small simple things. Spending quality time with my partner and all of our comforting daily rituals at home. Family gatherings – I lived abroad for a decade pre-Covid and being able to regularly see my family now whenever I want is something I’ll never take for granted again. Catching up with friends and colleagues – so basically just sharing life with those you love. Of course, being able sing and perform for a living is a pretty big happiness booster too!

What does the future hold for you?
Can’t say for certain, post-Covid you realise nothing in this world is for certain but there will always be a path no matter what. In terms of singing, I’m very much looking forward to Opera Australia’s National Tour of Puccini’s La Bohème, a new production. The tour is truly becoming a highlight of my OA calendar in recent years and this will be my 4th year! I love being on the road and seeing all the regional parts of Australia, performing for those who don’t normally have access to Opera. But I’m very open to whatever the future may hold and hopefully I can always be involved in the arts in some way – participating, educating or as an enthusiastic supporter!

Cathy-Di stars as Eurydice and Amore in Opera Australia and Circa’s co-production of Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydice – which will be presented as part of the Sydney Festival at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House from 12 – 31 January 2024. For more information, visit: www.opera.org.au for details.

Image: Cathy-Di Zhang – courtesy of Opera Australia