Circle of Artists: Rebecca CuddyBy COC StaffPosted in Circle of Artists
Over the next several months, the Canadian Opera Company will be highlighting members from our Circle of Artists initiative — an advisory body that is sparking conversation around institutional change at the COC and speaking directly to decision-makers to shape commitments that will support Indigenous communities with relationships based on reciprocity, caring, and mutual respect.
Circle of Artists: Spotlight on Rebecca Cuddy
Rebecca Cuddy is a Métis/Canadian mezzo-soprano with a keen interest in Indigenous relations and music, along with contemporary composition. She has performed across Canada and Europe, with engagements at Tapestry Opera, Berlin Opera Academy, Bloomsbury Opera (UK), Highlands Opera Studio, and Opera on the Avalon, among others. She earned her Master of Arts in Opera Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 2017. Career highlights include singing the role of La Métisse in the world premiere of Riel: Heart of the North with the Regina Symphony Orchestra, and Toronto Concert Orchestra’s tour of Voice of a Nation, where she premiered a Métis song cycle by Ian Cusson (the COC’s Composer-in-Residence). In upcoming seasons, she will appear with the Winnipeg Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera, and Pacific Opera Victoria.
This November, she performs in Soundstreams’ Two Odysseys, a joyous double-bill of two music dramas set in Cree and Northern Sámi. She will also premiere and tour Flight of the Hummingbird with Vancouver Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria in the New Year, and appear in the remount of Riel: Heart of the North with Winnipeg Symphony in fall 2020.
Q: How did you get involved with the Circle of Artists initiative at the Canadian Opera Company?
A: I owe a lot to my wonderful mentor and friend, Marion Newman. I am happy to say that it is because of her voice, along with the encouragement of Ian Cusson, that I get to add my own voice to this discussion. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow together, and to be at the table alongside so many superb Indigenous artists whom I respect and admire.
Q: What kind of potential do you see the Circle of Artists as having, not only to change the COC but impact the arts sector more broadly in this country?
A: I am very interested in joining the conversation about decolonizing the theatre space and what that looks like in different contexts. No two Indigenous productions are handled in the same way, making this work so very interesting. Even in the three years since my return to Canada, I have seen the respect for Indigenous storytelling increasing, as well as awareness of our history and the need for reconciliation. It is really heartwarming. I feel that having a collective of Indigenous artists, who work to define their needs in the theatre space, can only lead to a more harmonious and uplifting collaboration for everyone.
Q: As you look ahead in your various projects and commitments, where do you draw inspiration from?
A: Like many people my age, I didn’t learn a great deal about Indigenous culture and history in school, so I am making an effort to learn through teachings, and I do a lot of reading of Indigenous authors, both fiction and non-fiction. Our people create powerful art! It can be very emotional, yes, but also very healing and we can learn so much from it. I am thankful for my colleagues at Native Earth Performing Arts, and the beautiful, educational productions and work that happens there. When I’m not singing, I practice the art of Métis beading and this has helped me so much in my performing as well. It has taught me to be in the moment, to notice our connection to the land around us, and to be in constant awe of this.
Q: How did you discover opera? What made you want to pursue it as a career?
A: I think opera and I have found each other in many ways throughout my life. When I was five, I was always happy to be in the car with my Grandpa because I would ask him to “play some Ben.” I don’t remember it now, but I really loved (and still love) Ben Heppner! I’m grateful to my grandparents and parents for always being so supportive and fostering my love for music.
My mother likes to tell the story of my first opera, Rigoletto at the COC, when I was 11 and she swears I didn’t blink once throughout the entire performance. I just had this feeling in my heart that I could be her one day – little did I know then that I’d be a mezzo-soprano and so her being Gilda…this was not exactly in the cards! But we won’t tell 11-year-old me.
I rediscovered opera at 15 as a singer thanks to my brilliant voice teacher, Claudiu Stoia. I wouldn’t be where I am now without him sharing his love for music and his support of me. I am lucky he still puts up with me after all this time!
Q: You have collaborated on several contemporary works, in addition to performing the traditional operatic repertoire. What do you find compelling about new works?
A: New Indigenous works, specifically, are compelling because now they are being told by Indigenous voices, as they should be, and I love it! Our stories have always fascinated people, but they are infinitely more visceral and real when told by us. This is so important.
I love the traditional repertoire as much as any opera singer. It just so happens that I’ve been presented with several opportunities to work alongside amazing composers, librettists and creative teams on new classical repertoire. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ask Tchaikovsky if he is fond of how we are singing his work? It’s so much fun to create a new role, or sing a new piece for the first time ever! And to express the work the way its creator intended is such a privilege. There are a lot of stories to be told and I find contemporary works explore very relatable content for audiences. Of course, traditional opera will always be relatable and spectacular – we just haven’t quite covered everything yet.
Q: Why is it important for the classical music world – particularly Euro-centric traditions like opera – to embrace and preserve Indigenous languages, traditions and experience? How do your current projects reflect this idea?
A: It is so important to remember how much wisdom and experience lies in Indigenous teachings. I think bringing this into the theatre space creates a mindfulness of everyone’s well-being that is respectful and inclusive, especially when dealing with traumatic histories. Who wouldn’t want to work like that?
The fact is opera speaks to people. Everyone can understand the power and beauty of it. Whether I’m singing in Michif in Riel: Heart of the North or Italian in Le nozze di Figaro, the audience can understand what is taking place on stage, even when they don’t speak the language. But do you know what the beauty is for me? I get to hear and sing the sweet sounds of my heritage language, Michif, and let other Métis people like me, other Canadians like me, hear it too. No, I don’t speak it, but getting that language back, even in pieces, is truly a gift that I cherish deeply. This preservation and celebration of our languages is so close to my heart, it’s difficult to put into words.
I feel so lucky to have collaborated on five different Indigenous productions since my return to Canada in 2017. I’ve had the opportunity to work with wonderful companies and magnificently talented artists across many disciplines. Sometimes the subject matter tackled in this work can really weigh on your heart. That is why I get so excited about projects like An Evening With Marion Newman with Confluence Concerts on November 26 and 27, where we will be diving into our quickly growing Indigenous repertoire and celebrating Indigenous compositions. And why premiering and touring Flight of the Hummingbird with Vancouver Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria in B.C. schools in the new year is so exciting. I just think how little Métis Becca would have loved have seen an Indigenous opera when she was in school, especially one with a message like Hummingbird’s! I love this work; I love collaborating in this space. I learn something new every day and am endlessly excited to join in.
Did you miss our last Circle of Artists profile? Learn more about Ian Cusson here.
Photo credits: Rebecca Cuddy headshot, photo: Brenden Friesen; Marion Newman as Shanawdithit and Rebecca Cuddy as Kwe in the final scene of Shanawdithit (Nolan/Burry), a co-production between Tapestry Opera and Opera on the Avalon, premiered May 2019, photo: Dahlia Katz; The 2017 premiere of Ian Cusson's song cycle Five Orchestral Songs on Poems by Marylin Dumont in Voice of a Nation with Toronto Concert Orchestra, directed by Michael Mori and conducted by Kerry Stratton, photo: Leemarc Lao.