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Sunday, 20 January 2013 11:47


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Back to the land of my birth. 

Canada:  Cosette Remembers


As the Cross-Country “Dream Tour” Begins Tonight in Milton, Soprano Rebecca Caine Reflects on Her Native Land

“Canada has always been immensely kind

and generous to me.”


I'm flying to Canada today (Thursday) for the third time since last May.

Last time was for recitals with my accompanist, Robert Kortgaard. This time I'm singing with Michael Burgess who, (among other achievements), originated the role of Jean Valjean in Canada.

I always feel reflective on planes. It’s as if the very act of being off the planet takes you out of your own life and landing is a fresh start.

I've lost count of the times I've crossed the Atlantic.

I was born in Toronto to an Australian academic father and a British mother from an academic family, who had left Britain for Sri Lanka and India as a young teen after the war.

Later, when I was three, we moved down to the US, first Baltimore and then Princeton, where my parents stayed.

I kept my Canadian passport and, at the age of 17, I went to the Guildhall School of Music and, shortly after, began to sing professionally in the UK.

I always had a slight accent from somewhere else, wherever I was, although I feel as if I come from England, the US and Canada - not just one place. People always want to pin down what you are.

"Where were you raised?" they ask.

My father's grandmother had, in fact, emigrated from the Maritime province of New Brunswick all the way around the planet to Australia and so my roots in Canada go back nearly 270 years.

One ancestor arrived in Boston as an indentured servant in 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London. There are court records of him because he ran away from his master. Interestingly, he was able to sign court documents while his owner was illiterate.

Later, as the family took different sides in the War of Independence and fought against each other, the Empire Loyalists moved up to New Brunswick.

An ancestor was charged with murdering someone in a runaway cart incident and another was kidnapped by Indians and scalped.

The family became a fierce dynasty of lumberjacks.  One, "Main John" Glasier, even led a militia of woodsmen armed with axes down into the US to "dissuade" the Americans from damming the river.  He became a senator and there is a song written for him (and his company), “Glasier's Men.”

Last autumn, when touring with Robert, a distant cousin came to a concert and presented me with a family tree and a map, on which was marked the old family house.

It's dated from 1800. The previous one had been burnt down by Indians.

The family graveyard, the cousin said, was difficult to find, being in a wood.

We had found the house easily enough, utterly unchanged from the photos of it 100 years ago that I'd found.

I stood staring at it as the river rushed past, imagining my forefather's building it and living their tough hardscrabble lives. As I peered through the windows, it reminded me a bit of Cold Comfort Farm.

It looked unchanged inside. The yard was full of mad- looking barn cats.  The locals told us the place had recently been in the news for producing heifer triplets. A long way from my London life.

Looking up, I saw a beautiful raptor, a bald eagle carrying a huge branch.

I was determined to find the family graveyard.  Standing in a field facing the forest, I took a deep breath, hoping somehow the ancestors would make sure I found it, having come so far. Suddenly through the pines, I glimpsed an old gravestone covered with moss.

I wandered from stone to stone, then stopped in front of my great, great, great, great, great grandfather Benjamin's grave.

What would he have thought of me being there hundreds of years later?

Probably appalled that I was a theatrical, singing, loose woman of the stage who was slightly worried about being late for her concert that night!

I wish I could have stayed longer but time waits for no soprano.

Sub-head – “My Fair Lady” touring production in the ‘80s

Apart from holidays in Muskoka, the first time I really went back to Canada was with a touring production of “My Fair Lady” in the early 80's.

I then returned to live there for nearly three years from 1989 when I sang Christine Daaé in the Canadian premiere (engagement) of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

It was an extraordinary time. I'd had a very unhappy time in “Phantom” in London and had left before the end of my contract so I rather felt I was riding the horse that threw me.

In many ways it was a good experience, mostly because I was able during the run, to make my North American operatic debut in the title role of Lulu at the Canadian Opera Company. Lulu took me a year to learn and kept my mind sharp while upping my vocal chops.

Canada has always been immensely kind and generous to me.

I did feel I was brought back as a faux Canadian to star in Phantom and that there must have been many Canadian women who could have done as good a job or better than me in the role.

Likewise when I moved to the opera company, and while there must have been some bitching, it never once got back to me.

Which speaks volumes particularly as then, and even more now, as Canadians have very little opportunity to take leads in big musical productions.

Canadian and American producers were loathe to cast Canadians straight out for some reason and there was always an assumption that anything that came from outside the country would automatically be better despite the country's long and rich theatrical history.

I owe Canada a great deal and am grateful for the kindness, help and generosity I receive there.

So I'm on my way back (I nearly wrote “home”) for three weeks to sing in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the North West Territories and I'm really looking forward it.

Michael is a big name in Canada and interest in Les Misérables, in which I created the role of Cosette in London, is at an all time high because of the new film.

So many people love to hear us sing from it and “Phantom.”

I'll have to up my form singing “I Dreamed a Dream” after seeing Anne Hathaway's excoriating interpretation.

Perhaps letting an audience member extract a tooth (of mine) after each rendition as a delightful take home keepsake will help.

Rebecca Caine

Last modified on Sunday, 20 January 2013 12:00
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