Irish soprano Anna Devin was a Jette Parker Young Artist at The Royal Opera and is widely admired as an engaging actress as well as bel canto singer. She has appeared at Teatro Real, ROH, Glyndebourne and Göttingen Festivals and others.
13 July 2018
image © Victoria Cadisch
S: What are you up to at the moment?
AD: I am in Germany at stage rehearsals for Handel’s Arminio at the Göttingen International Handel Festival. I will be debuting the role of Tusnelda. It is a relatively unknown Handel opera but I think it should be given more life as it has fabulous music. It is also a beautifully lyric role, so I am looking delving into that side of my singing. After this I will go to Glyndebourne for the summer to reprise the role of Michal in Handel’s Saul. The production was a huge hit in 2015 thanks to Barrie Kosky’s exciting staging.
S: What do you love most about your job?
AD: I adore working with people onstage and playing dress up, the acting side of opera really fuels me, although this is only the case if the music is great, and luckily for me most of the time it is. The music drives me to perform. I love meeting interesting people. But the bit I love the most is performing and the peace I feel inside when you are onstage and have nothing else to worry about except the character you are playing.
S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
AD: My daughter has just gone 13 months so not long. But I have succeeded in learning and debuting 5 new roles in the first year of her life, which I feel proud of it.
S: How long after having your babies did you return to singing?
AD: I gave myself 2 months off after she arrived with no singing except lullabies and then I started practicing a little each day. I debuted the role of Cleopatra (in concert) when she was 4 months and a week later went to Madrid to make a house and role debut as Celia in Lucio Silla. Was all a bit full on!!!
S: What physical changes did you feel?
AD: Over the first 6/8months after her arrival my voice was definitely going through some sort of changes, so I would have to play around with what I was doing technically to see what would work best on any given day. Given the HUGE hormonal rebalancing of the body it is not surprising that this takes time. Now things have settled down, I definitely feel more space in my voice, a rounder/richer middle voice then I had before and I feel like it is grown I am dealing with a bigger instrument then I had before. This is what I feel inside.
S: How did parenthood change your career?
AD: I don’t think parenthood has changed my career as such yet, maybe my perspective. I feel like my emotional connection to my characters has changed significantly, it is deeper than before and I feel a much more immediate access to my feelings which I can use to greater effect. In terms of career path, the main thing is that I would like to find a greater balance between opera and concert work, up to now my career has been very opera friendly but being away for 10 months of the year is not ideal for a family, at the moment I am trying to re balance things a little but it takes time. The logistics of everything are definitely a lot more complicated.
S: Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
AD: Yes, 200 % as I said in the question above. Going back to playing Michal in Saul at Glyndebourne will be interesting as although I have played MANY teenage girls in my career, I now understand the nurture side so much more and what effect that has on a person. She is a beautiful, open, free person that has had little nurture but she some how finds the positive in things. Can’t wait.
S: How does your child respond to your job?
AD: She doesn’t know anything else really, as she has heard singing from her infancy. She loves music and has recently become a keen dancer. Arms flailing everywhere, funny! She came to her first stage and orchestra when she was 5 months and has just been to her first sitz aged 13 months. Both times she loved the music and sat quietly listening. So I’m hoping it is safe to say she loves music!
S: Has your child/children ever appeared on stage with you?
AD: No, maybe some day. I’m doing Flute next year but she will only be two so probably too young ☹
S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
AD: A lot of planning, very supportive husband, a wonderful sister and my mother was my rock for the first year and did all my foreign contracts. I would have really struggled to have anyone else mind her until she was about 9 months, so I owe my mother a LOT!!! Typically the first contract away was an adventure, my mother had a night off and went out for dinner, we were in Madrid, she stepped in a hole and ended up breaking and spraining her ankle!!! Not ideal with a 5 month old, so my step father stepped up to the mark, excuse the pun!! He has no experience with babies but we trained him in and he did all the walking and physically side of the caring. It was definitely a family effort for that. My mum got an electric wheelchair so she could get out and about, thinking back on it now it was crazy but brilliant!! This is the sort of support I am very grateful for.
My husband's job is a little flexible so every contract he comes for 10 days and works from home, we would struggle without this. Long may it last.
I now have a wonderful nanny who travels with me and is incredibly flexible which is the only way.
S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
AD: Scheduling in advance is a must, especially when it comes to the hours you work. You can think the daily rehearsals will be from 10.30-5.30 and then all of a sudden they add an evening, this is really not ideal, then you get into staging rehearsals and it all changes again. I understand companies want flexibility but if we have an overview that is a good starting point. If there were nurseries on site if would be a huge advantage. The hardest part is balancing the finances when you are away and paying for a three bedroom property and full time childcare, this could potentially be adjusted with better scheduling.
I think the hardest part is the first year, it is very difficult to take anything more than 6 months off because maternity leave is only minimal in the UK but mainly because if you are not singing people move on and then it takes time for the contracts to come back in. The industry moves very fast. This is the most difficult time. It would be wonderful to not feel so pressured into coming back quickly so you could have more time at home but at the moment this isn’t realistic.
S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?
AD: I found Teatro Real in Madrid were fabulous, so open and helpful with anything I needed in the city, to feel like you have someone who can help when you're in a foreign city with a baby is brilliant. As for other things I mentioned re scheduling I think it just needs to become the norm. I also think this is not just for parents, I believe the all artists would be happier and more accommodating if they didn’t feel that every hour of their day at any point could be for work.
S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?
AD: Try and enjoy the first few months as a parent, to mothers your voice will come back so give yourself a break and take the time you need. Weigh up whether you really need to do anything in the first three months work wise and do everything in your power to take that time without the odd concert here or there (ideally 6 months if you can). It is a precious time and you only get those first few months once, then life goes on and everything becomes fast again. TREASURE IT. I didn’t and I regret it now.
S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working mother?
AD: Not specifically but you do hear people saying they are tired and that’s why maybe they have an off day. This is silly as you can have an off day without being a parent and to be honest you have a lot less when you become a parent as you just have to get on with it. I have heard comments about singers weight postpartum, which is difficult. I worked out up until 40 weeks pregnant and was back in the gym 6 weeks after to shed the pounds, it was slow but I was back to my normal weight after about 8 months. I think there is not much compassion for this. It doesn’t help that I play sex-kitten roles, but people do come in different shapes and sizes.
S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
AD: No, to be honest I wouldn’t have listened anyway. If you think you want children give it a go, singing is a career but just that, it is not the only thing in life. When you are old and finished singing it will be family and friends you want, not a list of accolades.
S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
AD: Yes, but I am a women so there isn’t much I can do about that. It is of course most competitive to be a soprano, as there are too many, so things like how you look definitely become relevant and I do feel a pressure to stay as slim as possible, as you never know when you're going to turn up to a production and be asked to prance around in your undies or scantly clad. This is another thing that advance warning would be helpful for!!! I also think there is a gender pay gap which I believe shouldn’t be there.
S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
AD: This is a really tough question, I adore Susanna in Figaro as she is genius but in terms of vocal and emotional commitment I think Cleopatra in Cesare has been my favourite to date, closely followed by Semele. Both of them can come across as quite shallow due to their ambition but they have huge emotional journeys which are vocally and emotionally rewarding.
S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
AD: Hmmm, I think Room by Emma Donoghue would be amazing, I would love to do it, especially now I am a mother.
S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
AD: I am not one to do specifics as I think you can take inspiration from the little things that everyone offers to the world and learn from everyone. To me the important thing is to always have high standards, not accept anything but the best you can do and always be friendly and nice to your colleagues. An awful lot of my colleagues do this on a daily basis so I just hope this keeps going.
S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
AD: If I did, the number one thing I would do would be have a horse and go riding regularly, but up until now I haven’t found a way of making it work as I am never home long enough. I do hope I will get there sometime soon. In the meantime, I am enjoying running, I am training for a half-marathon and like weight training with my trainer too, yoga is always high on my list. I also love baking, crocheting, and one of the things I am hugely looking forward to is getting into painting, drawing, sewing and creating art projects with my daughter. These are all high on my list but I never find the time! There is always some music that needs learning.