Catherine Cook Takes the Stage

One of my final shoots of 2013 was with a dear friend of mine, Catherine Cook. Cathy is a critically acclaimed mezzo-soprano. Her rich voice has worked its way into the hearts and souls of audiences world wide. Heralded as, “a wonderfully complete singer” and, “the finest comic/character mezzo around” Cathy has had an impressive share of roles.

Photo by Betsy Kershner, 2013.

This year San Francisco Opera audiences saw Ms. Cook in the title role of Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne, based on the novel by Stephen King. Having known Cathy for the last five years I’ve seen her in quite a few comedic roles but seeing her embody Dolores was an outstanding achievement in character & in transformation.

One of our goals for the photoshoot was to capture the essence of her voice & her personality –a complex concoction of poise, stamina, integrity, comic timing, and deep, dark, undertones. Those deep dark undertones are precisely the ones she sourced to get her into character when taking on the role of Dolores Claiborne.

Photo by Cory Weaver, 2013.

Photo by Cory Weaver for the San Francisco Opera, 2013.

In order to capture the dualities of Cathy’s voice and personality we planned on two very distinct looks for the shoot: timeless glamor with a dose of effortless confidence (for the following photos in the blue gown) and the determined diva (for shots in the red wrap). Now, when I say “determined diva” all sorts of opera stereotypes may come to mind – powerful women wearing horns on their head, singing as their lover is dying — etcetera, etcetera. Instead, think of this “determined diva” as a strong, self-possessed woman with aspirations of a better life at all costs, a long-lost love that she will scour the earth for, and perhaps a sparkly, new female protagonist that you haven’t even heard of because it hasn’t been composed yet. Cathy has been lucky enough to jump into plenty of world premiere operas including Picker’s Dolores Claiborne (seen above), Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and Laitman’s The Scarlet Letter with Opera Colorado.

Photo by Betsy Kershner, 2013.

Photo by Betsy Kershner, 2013.

Photo by Betsy Kershner, 2013.


Photo by Betsy Kershner, 2013.


Offstage Cathy is the Head of the Voice Department at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a passionate 49ers/Giants fan! Her passion for singing and teaching is admirable and her laughter, contagious. Looking back on the weeks of preparation for the shoot, I am completely convinced that we were able to capture all of Cathy’s unique sides. Her joy, her confidence, her passion, and her grace – an extraordinary time was had by all.

x Kersh


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