Sarah Tynan & Leigh Melrose
Soprano and Baritone
British soprano and SWAP'ra Patron, Sarah Tynan is well established as one of the most exciting and versatile singers of her generation. Sarah and baritone, Leigh Melrose, talk about their experiences as parents in opera.
28 July 2018
S: What are you both up to at the moment?
ST: After six months apart due to crazy work schedules, we are about to go on a long overdue family holiday. Beyond that, I’m about to start rehearsals for Lucia at ENO and Leigh is off to La Scala.
S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments? How have you maintained a balance between your busy career and having a personal life?
LM: [laughs like a drain] No.
ST: erm…. We both exercise to de-stress, read, the usual I guess. We’ve got a lot of local parent friends that we’ve made through school that have become a lifeline. As we have so much time apart, most of our free time is spent travelling to where ever the other one is. The kids are lucky in many respects as they’ve seen lots of amazing places, but it’s tricky finding the balance for us all.
S: SWAP’ra has been established to try to encourage gender equality in the opera industry. There are several obstacles for women in fulfilling their full career potential, and one of these challenges is the juggle of career and parenthood. This particular challenge, also affects opera dads, which is why we were keen to add the word ‘parents’ into our name, despite being fundamentally a charity for women. Leigh, could you describe the ways in which a busy career has affected you as a father over the years, and if and how this differs from the way parenthood affected Sarah’s career?
LM: Balancing work and parenting is always a challenge. Sarah was back to work within weeks of having both our children and so I took time off and was happy to be left literally holding the baby. This was a very special time with both children and so no sacrifice on my part! Early on we had fun international games of pass-the-parcel with Jacob. For instance, Sarah went to Cincinnati leaving him with me for a few weeks. I then flew out to drop him off before heading to Madrid, while my mother acted as cavalry flying out to help Sarah. I then shot over to Salzburg to take over while Sarah was rehearsing there. We all shared the childcare and enjoyed the madness.
I have tended to travel more than Sarah and so I guess the main thing that has affected me is not seeing our children grow up. That hurts. But then the mortgage has to be paid and so on…
ST: Leigh and I have always seen parenting as a team sport and neither of us has ever backed away from compromising and taking time off when the need arose. The benefit of Leigh having the little ones on his own was the bond that they formed and the confidence he got from parenting solo.
S: How do you both manage your careers alongside your family commitments? How has this changed as your children have got older? What have been your lifelines in this juggle? (Helpful grandparents/nannies/boarding school/etc?)
ST: It’s a logistical nightmare! I have bits of paper and schedules everywhere trying to figure out who has the children and when. I think my inclination has been to have the kids with me whenever possible, but there have been long periods when Leigh has had the kids too. Leigh’s parents are close by and help out a lot. The pre-school years were simpler in many ways as it was easier to take the kids with us. Since the kids started school we’ve tried to avoid taking them out as much as possible and I’ve been lucky to be able to work at home a lot. I’m travelling more now and the kids now get home schooled for short periods. They’re 9 and 7 and so can really benefit from seeing the world.
LM: Thank goodness for my parents. And Google Calendars.
S: How do your children respond to your job? Have you found opera companies accommodating when your children have travelled with you?
LM: for the most part, people are understanding. I haven’t had any special privileges or treatment, but in general people have been very accommodating. There has been the odd awkward bugger, but that’s true in life in any career. As long as you’re there doing your job to the best of your abilities, then we’ve found that most companies will be helpful.
LM: as for how our children respond to our job, well, they’re conflicted. It’s often an exciting thing that means they travel and meet lots of strange and wonderful people. But it’s also the thing that takes us away from them. Jacob loves music though and Tilly is already a stage animal for the future.
S: Do you both think women’s career progressions differ from men’s?
ST: I think all our careers progress at different rates, depending on voice type, opportunity and inclination.
S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry that is about to become a parent?
LM: Go for it! And get ready for poo. Surprising amounts of poo.
ST: It’s going to be really hard, but worth it. Every parent finds the work/life balance tricky but the sporadic nature of our lives is certainly a challenge. Children are amazingly adaptable!
LM: It’s also surprising how quickly you can learn a role. Two year olds don’t care whether you sing a G# or not, so they have no patience if you’re late or not cooking them dinner. Also the poo. Really.
ST: yep, and they have amazing timing when it comes to getting sick!
S: Were either of you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
ST: I was by two different people and I was very surprised in both instances as they were both women with children. On the whole though, I have been extremely well supported by agents and casting teams.
S: If you could go back in time would you change anything in your career?
ST: no, I don’t think I would. There are obviously jobs and opportunities that I have missed either through choice or pregnancy, but I don’t regret any of it. They’re worth it! Haha!
LM: other than a couple of dodgy wigs, no.