image © Paul Foster-Williams
July 13, 2018
Interview with Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Mezzo-soprano
Legendary British Mezzo-soprano, Catherine Wyn-Rogers studied at the Royal College of Music. She appears regularly at the BBC Proms, Wigmore Hall, Edinburgh and Aldeburgh festivals. She has performed with Slatkin, Haitink, Andrew Davis, Colin Davis, Rozhdestvensky, Mackerras, Norrington and Mehta, and has recorded extensively for the major labels. Catherine is a regular guest of the Bayerische Staatsoper, English National Opera, The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Salzburg and Glyndebourne festivals, and many others.
What are you up to at the moment?
I've just returned from Boston where I sang Dejanira in concert performances of Handel’s Hercules with Harry Christophers and the Handel & Haydn society.
Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
Hard to say but I’m very fond of Mrs Sedley in Grimes and Bianca in the arson of Lucretia - I also loved singing the role above too, Dejanira. Then there’s Erda and Waltraute in Wagner’s Ring cycle. It’s often the role I’m working on in fact.
Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
Gone with the Wind - though I suspect it would be at least as long as the Ring...!
Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
There are many but I suppose my first singing inspiration was Dame Janet Baker... Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw directorially, Jane Glover as the trailblazing first female conductor, Sarah Playfair management-wise...
In a business where there is always a plentiful supply of artists ready and willing, do you think changes should be made to make the industry more inclusive for artists with families and/or dependants?
Yes - in this day and age, when most households find it hard to survive on a single income, most people need to return to work when their children are quite young. It’s no longer a case of having one’s cake and eating it, the cake has to be bought first! Certainly artists with families need a positive response from the industry and the presence of a family (either current or on-the-way!) shouldn’t preclude casting in appropriate roles.
Have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
Not really, though I do suspect the pay gap has always been there, and misogyny isn’t confined to the music industry.
What do you love most about your job?
Performing music I love and working with wonderful colleagues.
What would you change about your job?
Travelling! A tardis would be very handy though it would have to be in full working order to arrive on time...
What are your main interests and passions outside of work?
Knitting, art, painting, seeing friends
Have you ever been advised not to have a family if you wanted a career?
No but I did effectively make that choice though not entirely because of my career.
Do you think women’s career progressions differ from men’s?
It depends on the woman.
If you could go back in time would you change anything in your career?
I would have liked to be happier with the top of my voice sooner in my career.
Have you maintained a balance between your busy career and personal life?
Just about, though my husband always says I’m away for approximately half of the years we’ve been together... fortunately he doesn’t mind too much!
(How) have attitudes to women in opera changed during your career?
Many more women have emerged in directing, conducting and managerial roles. One of my friends was advised when we left college to leave England for her home country, as women conductors were far more readily accepted there. I think that has greatly changed in the last ten years - and it needed to.
How have the roles you are cast in changed as your career has gone on?
As someone who began as a contralto I have tended always to play older characters - the only thing which has changed is needing less makeup to do so!
How has your voice changed with age?
If anything, it has improved. I’m lucky up to now... though I do still have occasional lessons.
What would be your top advice to young singers starting their careers?
Learn as much repertoire as possible early on when your memory is at its peak. Even if you won’t sing a role for a good ten or fifteen years, it’s worth learning it. Don’t always say yes to everything, it’s tempting but one should have a long view on a singing career. It’s fantastic to be busy but only being able to half prepare things because of lack of time leads to stress and anxiety, on top of never really feeling at home in a role. One last thing - learn (and speak out loud) the text as if you will never sing it, it helps you really understand what you’re singing about, improves your diction and helps the singing itself.