Rebecca studied at the RAM and, since then, has appeared at many major opera houses, including The Royal Opera House, ENO Aix-en-Provence Festival . She returns to ENO in 2019 to sing Queen Tye in Philip Glass's opera, Akhnaten.
19 May 2018
image © K Rose
S: What are you up to at the moment?
RB: I’ve just come back from Hong Kong with Welsh National Opera’s production of Pelleas and Melisande, this week I’m working on a world Premiere of Laurence Osborne’s The Mother with The Mahogany Opera Group, then I’m learning Ilia for Buxton Opera’s Idomeneo and recording Amor in Glucks orfeo with La Nuova Musica - so spinning a lot of plates at the moment!
S: What do you most love about your job?
RB: I love bringing music to people, I love singing with an orchestra, I love creating and expressing myself physically and mentally, I love being part of a team, I love how my job teaches me all the time, I love seeing how music and art affects people, I love telling stories, I love dressing up ....gosh the list could go on and on.
S:How long have you been juggling work and parenthood?
RB: I’ve been a mummy now for 5 1/2 years and have two children.
S: How long after having your babies did you return to singing?
RB: I returned a few months after my first child and four after my second. I felt huge pressure financially and career wise to do this. In retrospect this was not enough time for me. I had been very poorly with both children.
S: What physical changes did you feel?
RB: My pelvis had collapsed during pregnancy and learning to walk again afterwards was a priority. I was coping with a lot of pain and learning how to breathe through it was necessity. This actually helped me learn to pace myself as a person and singer. Plus the tiredness of being a new mum was a shock haha! It affects everything, memory, vocal timbre, concentration, core strength etc.
S: How did parenthood change your career?
RB: Parenthood did change my career almost straight away, I couldn’t work as much so I was very much less in people’s minds. So worked slowed for a bit, having said that it needed to for me to be the mum I wanted to be and to regain health. It has given me a new perspective of what I want and need to do also, I have people relying on me now. It has given me an opportunity to start teaching which in turn has given me much more self confidence in a rehearsal room. Having to vocalise to other people your trade made me realise I knew a lot more about my trade than I gave myself credit for. I feel like a professional performer in a rehearsal room now rather than green young singer that I was. I feel that I am a much clearer and stronger performer than I have ever been before.
S: Do you feel that motherhood has ultimately enriched you as a performer?
RB: Without a doubt. I used to be so scared of everything, being in front of people, of working with great colleagues and directors and conductors. The ultimate animal and human act of giving birth and being a mum has given me one hell of a sense of perspective. It’s much less about me and about being a part of a team. I feel I can go on stage a grasp it with both hands now, vocalise my musical ideas, be a musician in my own right and radiate energy without questioning myself all the time.
I also find myself on a much more heightened emotional plain than I have ever been on before and this has been a learning curve. I have had to learn how to embrace this as a performer which I now feel only strengthens me on stage.
S: How do your children respond to your job?
RB: Initially both of my children hated me singing as babies and toddlers. They would scream at me to stop which made it very difficult to practice. But now they want to join in! My favourite moment was singing in my sons preschool to his class. I was terrified he’d be upset and not want me to embarrass him. But he stood in the middle of all of his friends and kept turning around to them to say ‘that’s my mummy’ with his chest all puffed out. Another way to make mummy shed a tear!
S: Has your child ever appeared on stage with you?
RB: Not really, I’m quite keen not to push them into any kind of limelight to be honest. I’m the daughter of singers and I watched my parents from the sidelines and had a very normal upbringing which I am thankful for. We would like to give our children this gift, to be involved but realise that there is a life outside performing which is important to master also. Although I do go and sing Christmas carols in old people’s homes with my students and both my children have joined in, which they loved, so did the audience, they stole the show with their cute appeal!
S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
RB: Well it ain’t easy! But the support of my husband has been vital. We are on the same page about how we manage what our little family needs and wants in life balancing it with our hopes and ambitions in life. It helps that he is a successful director and choreographer himself. With the help of an amazing nanny, friends and family support we manage. The schedule I create for each month coming up has to be be planned meticulously and it takes hours, it doesn’t always happen without mistakes and is very stressful.
S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
RB: Childcare is not tax deductible as a freelance singer, this is ridiculous and as an industry I feel this should be addressed.
Inside the industry schedules being planned in advance to allow for childcare planning, so much money is wasted not knowing when I’m needed and having to hire a blanket childcare for the period. Changes to the schedule are very difficult if they are last minute also.
Auditioning costs are far too high also. Having to pay for an accompanist for an audition is something that I think companies should pay for as the cost of travelling is so high to get there in the first place.
S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?
RB: I have felt very supported by Scottish Opera with help finding child friendly accommodation while working there, Mahoghany opera for giving me later calls to enable school drop offs and Buxton opera and ENO for giving me time to look after my children when the have been very poorly in hospital without questioning it and WNO for letting us have the weekend wherever possible to be able to have family time.
S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?
RB: To not panic. The tiredness will ease a bit eventually. Being a good parent is more important than anything else.
S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working mother?
S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
RB: Yes, by a female singer of all people, they told me it would destroy my voice and career! But then I once sat in a taxi while I was working with Renee Fleming who told me being a mother was the best thing that happened to her and her voice.
S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
RB: Yes absolutely. As an actress for the roles I play - female and male. And for the image that is expected.
S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
RB: I find it very hard to pick favourites. I love being able to work and build characters. But when I did Akhnaten at ENO the way that Phelim McDermott the director led us building our characters and physical language made me feel I could burn up the stage. He gave us ownership of our performances. It was so empowering.
S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
RB: I’d love to see a mixture of old and modern writers. From a good old fashioned Agatha Christie murder mystery through to something written by the inspiring Maya Angelou up to someone current and incredibly funny and witty about feminism such as Caitlin Moran.
S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
RB: My mother is my go to fix for inspiration. She has such a beautiful talent for singing and teaching. She has taught so many singers, she has made me the artist I am today right from the roots. Now I am a mother too my respect for her has multiplied so much (the patience it takes to teach your own child!!!) . She had to sacrifice performing for her kids....and oh what a loss to the world not to be able to hear her Vissi D’arte regularly (I only have to think about it and I well up)....but actually in return for her initial sacrifice she found she was also hugely talented at teaching and loved it. So much so she was asked to teach at the Royal Academy of Music and has singers travel globally just for a lesson. Yup, that’s my mum. She rocks.
S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments
RB: So many!! Never enough time in the day but I somehow manage to squeeze my big baking passion in to the mix with a heavy side salad of sewing, DIY, crafting and gardening. As you can tell. I don’t sit down a lot.