Mary Bevan is well-known to UK audiences. In the 2017/18 season, Bevan debuted at the Teatro Real in Madrid as Rose Maurrant in Weill’s Street Scene, and sang the title role in Turnage’s new opera Coraline for The Royal Opera at the Barbican.
13 July 2018
image © Andrew Staples
S: What are you up to at the moment?
MB: I’ve just got back from a short but intense tour with the Monteverdi Choir and Sir John Eliot Gardiner leading straight into 3 weeks at the Teatro Real in Madrid singing Rose Maurrant in Weill’s Street Scene. I’ve just landed and am straight into a recording of Handel’s Samson with the Dunedin Consort.
S: What do you love most about your job?
MB: I love the variety of music that I get to perform - hardly any two days are the same and it’s never boring. I’m afraid I might have quite a short attention span!
S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
MB: My son Albert is 7 years old, I had him just as I was leaving Opera School so I’ve basically never NOT been juggling the two!
S: How long after having Albert did you return to singing?
MB: I went back to do my first role at ENO when he was 4 months old.
S: What physical changes did you feel?
MB: At first I felt as if I had no solid grounding and support because during pregnancy I’d gotten used to being big and heavy. Afterwards I felt as if I was kind of empty and might drift up into the air which was an odd feeling! I also felt very tired (obviously) but also quite jittery and energetic from adrenaline and coffee.
S: How did parenthood change your career?
MB: It’s hard to say as I’ve never not been a singer and a mum at the same time. I guess when I had Albert it meant that I stopped all the behaviour typical of a 25 year old student and my life narrowed down to singing and being a mother. I suddenly got a load of perspective and it made me realise how much I wanted a successful career and not to be a stay-at-home mum (as I think many expected me to be). I was keen to prove people wrong and so I ramped up the energy on my work as soon as I could after having Albie.
S: Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
MB: Absolutely yes. It has made me less self- and career-obsessed because I realise there are more important things to worry about, like keeping a crazed 7 year old alive!! So I hardly ever feel bothered or aggrieved in rehearsal situations which I’m sure has made me a more relaxed singer and colleague. I’ve also found emotions much more easily accessible, especially as I’ve grown older, which means that acting comes more easily than it used to.
S: How does Albert respond to your job?
MB: Albert’s dad is also an opera singer (baritone Charles Rice) so his attitude towards our job is pretty blasé. He loves meeting the team during an opera and messing about backstage with the make-up staff and being shown props. But when it comes to appreciating the actual music and my work I don’t think he cares that much - it’s all about him!!
S: Has Albert ever appeared on stage with you?
MB: No because he would definitely steal my thunder.
S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
MB: I spend a LOT of money on childcare and I have very helpful and kind family members who help out when they can. I have become very used to asking for help and Albie is very adaptable, luckily. I take on whatever work I want to take on and myself and Charlie (Albert’s dad) try hard to help each other out with our schedules so that Albie can be with us the majority of the time. Even if that means him coming out of school for 6wks like our recent trip to Spain where he attended a British school in Valencia!
S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families or dependants?
MB: I would like opera houses to keep an up-to-date and detailed list of local (English-speaking!) babysitters and childminders, saying how much they cost, what their skills are, recommendations etc. I’d like to see this sent out a couple of months before to the whole cast so that we don’t have awkward feeling of ‘bothering’ an opera company with questions before the contract has even begun. Like everyone else I am very excited to see Opera Holland Park’s willingness to trial a new scheduling system to allow for parents to arrange childcare in advance. I would also love to see a dedicated ‘family room’ in opera houses where rehearsals take place, where mothers can breast-feed, nappies can be changed and nannies can hang out with children.
S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?
MB: The Teatro Real in Madrid were very helpful with my son who was with me quite a lot on Street Scene. The backstage staff sat and chatted with him while I rehearsed, they sent me a couple of babysitter names when I asked, and in general they welcomed him in a very friendly way. When I did Coraline recently for ROH at the Barbican, the director (Aletta Collins) was so brilliant and told me to never hesitate to ask if I needed time off for any reason, which did end up happening once. She also let Albie sit in on rehearsals and asked him his opinion and showed him around the set.
S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?
MB: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, people are almost always more understanding and generous than you think they’ll be. Leave the house early to give yourself time for a coffee and a warm-up. Spend what little money you’ll earn (!) on childcare and take those jobs that will move your career on; your child won’t grow up and thank you for giving up on your own dream - if we all gave up through the guilt of leaving them with someone else (who they may well adore!) then no one would succeed in their chosen field.
S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working mother?
MB: I did do an audition once for a male conductor who looked at my pregnant tummy and questioned what I would do when I had the baby. I shrugged and said ‘I’ll carry on singing’ and I could tell he didn’t believe me and didn’t want to invest in me. I work for him a lot now so maybe I just didn’t sing well in the audition!
S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
MB: Not directly but when I became pregnant someone who taught me did apparently express that I’d made a big mistake and would never have the career that I should have because of it! Which of course made me want to prove that person wrong.
S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
MB: I’ve never felt that being female has negatively impacted my work. There are so many strong female roles to play and so much music for soprano that there’s plenty to go around, and the singing world is pretty gender-balanced so I don’t feel like I’m in a minority. Apart from not being allowed to be in Billy Budd, that annoys me.
S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
MB: Rose Maurrant in Street Scene. Because the music starts off sultry and jazzy, and as the opera progresses it becomes more Romantic and dramatic. Acting-wise it’s very challenging; I always wanted to be an actor (before I was a singer) so I like any role that demands a lot dramatically.
S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
MB: I’m really loving looking around me and seeing my friends in the industry having children and totally embracing the motherhood/singer thing with a smile on their faces. She’s my friend so I’m biased but Rhian Lois never has a complaint and she makes time for her coachings, work and her family in equal measure on presumably not that much sleep! I aspire to be as cheerful and energetic as her!
S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
MB: Does lying slumped on my bed watching Love Island count as a passion? Yes I do like to hang out with my sisters and go for long walks in the country, sit in pubs etc. I love taking Albie on little trips away and experiencing new places with him. I love idle afternoons with friends wandering around shops and I love cooking at home when I have the time and energy. Sometimes I even find time to play a little bit of Baroque recorder...