San Francisco Opera mourns the passing of mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, who died Thursday night at her home in San Francisco at the age of 46 after a long battle with cancer. The beloved Bay Area-based singer, an alumna of the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellowship Program (1995-96) and Merola Opera Program (1994), appeared regularly with the Company as well as with leading companies in the United States and abroad.
San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley remembered Ms. Cao: “Zheng’s appearances here at San Francisco Opera over the years were warmly received and noticed by all who heard her in performance. Her career on the War Memorial Opera House stage culminated in 2008 with the starring role of Ruth Kamen in Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan’s world premiere opera, The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Zheng was the focal point of an international premiere that garnered her enthusiastic and extraordinary critical acclaim. I am so proud of this new opera for many reasons, but in particular for the opportunity it provided Zheng to be front and center, where she always belonged.”
Gockley continued: “Zheng had more than a lovely, fruity, lyric mezzo-soprano voice. She infused every life situation around her with a sense of great joy, fun and heartfelt sincerity. She was in a class by herself with regard to how people responded to her. Zheng had so many wonderful relationships with everyone she encountered, they were so heartfelt and beautiful, and she truly touched all of us in the most remarkable way. I am saddened by her passing, but I just know she is once again singing in some celestial ensemble.”
Zheng Cao made her 1995 San Francisco Opera debut as Siebel in Faust and returned to the Company in numerous roles, including Idamante (Idomeneo, 1999), Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro, 1998), Baba the Turk (The Rake’s Progress, 2000), and Suzuki (Madama Butterfly: 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2007). Most recently, she appeared with the Company in the title role of the world premiere of Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter in 2008. Major roles elsewhere include Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) with Washington National Opera and Kentucky Opera; Marguerite (La Damnation de Faust) at the Saito Kinen Festival under the direction of Seiji Ozawa; Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with Los Angeles Opera and at the Teatre Principal de Maó in Minorca, Spain; and Penelope (Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria) with Los Angeles Opera. Cao also performed Varvara (Kát’a Kabanová) and Magali in Daniel Catán’s Salsipuedes with Houston Grand Opera, Sesto (Giulio Cesare) with Pittsburgh Opera, and Cherubino with Lyric Opera of Chicago as well as major roles at the Grand Théâtre de Genève and Washington National Opera. The Shanghai native appeared regularly in concert with major orchestras such as the National Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Honolulu Symphony, China Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Festival and on tour in Japan. Cao held a master’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music. The mezzo-soprano can be heard in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the China Philharmonic Orchestra (Decca), and sang Jake Heggie’s song cycle Deepest Desire on Flesh and Stone: Songs of Jake Heggie, a benefit recording for Classical Action.