Legendary British mezzo-soprano, Christine Rice has performed at venues including Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, ENO, Oper Frankfurt and Teatro Real. She is also a mother of four.
March 08, 2018
image © Patricia Taylor
S: What are you up to at the moment?
CR: I’m sitting in the airport in Rome heading home for a brief 36 hours.
S: What do you love most about your job?
CR: I love every stage of the journey, from first sitting down at the piano to learn a new work, to the rehearsal room when everyone else contributes to your performance and on to the shows themselves where hopefully everything still carries on growing. And then it’s gone.
S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
CR: Well, since I think carrying a baby counts as the first stage of meeting the challenge of parenthood, about 17 years.
S: How long after having your babies did you return to singing?
CR: As quickly as possible. With my first child I was applying for her passport almost before I had registered the birth! I think I was frightened that if I stopped, I’d have some difficulties getting back on the horse, so to speak.
S: What physical changes did you feel?
CR: When I was in the final stages of my first pregnancy I was aware that my support was restricted and so I made a discovery - my back muscles! I’d not used them before, even though my teacher had extolled their virtues. Definitely a case of necessity being the mother of invention. I then had an emergency C-section so the disconnect is fairly seismic and the return to form requires a lot of patience and good fortune.
S: How did parenthood change your career?
CR: I don’t know how to answer that because I don’t know what opportunities might have come my way, if I had not had children. Certainly I made decisions about jobs based on whether they worked alongside my children’s needs. Equally, I had a blissfully happy 10 years travelling abroad for work, with the children in tow when they were little, that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun without them. On the other hand, I did catch swine flu from Freddie and missed all but the first and last nights of my final production of Carmen in Zurich. That was a downer! Goes with the territory.
S: Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
CR: There is a price to pay for having a family. Often great artists protect themselves and their ability to perform/paint/write above every other consideration, requiring the energy of others to sustain them at their peak. Once you have a family, that cannot be the case. They come first, and your needs are subordinate to theirs. That said, if you have the right support, as I did (my parents travelled with me when my children were tiny) then once you know all is well with the family, you can give your focus back to the art you love and hopefully be a more generous colleague because this ferociously competitive world is not your only meaningful arena of existence.
S: How does your child/children respond to your job?
CR: Mildly interested. My eldest more so because she loves the theatre.
S: Has your child/children ever appeared on stage with you?
CR: William was one of the extras in the Venetian scene in The Tales of Hoffmann at the ROH. It was something special, commuting into work together!
S:How have you managed to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
CR: With a lot of help. My parents and my husband making sacrifices so that I could work.
S: What changes do you think realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
CR: One very simple one - make standard rehearsals a Monday to Friday affair. I’m not talking stage time, which I know is precious, but routine rehearsals. With a two day break comes the real possibility of getting home from many of the places we might work. This would benefit everyone, parent or not, men and women, across the board. We all have homes/friends we yearn for.
S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry is about to become a parent?
CR: Be prepared for really hard work. You are stretched in all directions. No one at work wants to know you’ve been up all night and no one at home wants to hear you’ve had crummy day. You have to step back into each arena fresh as a daisy. Good luck!
S: Have you ever come up against or of any discrimination as a working mother?
CR: Yes, of course. But when you do come across it, it is important to remember why it is not permissible in law. Without future generations the whole basis of our civilisation and economy would fail. The next time someone is antagonistic about your being a parent, ask them (ask yourself too), who will be caring for them in their later years?
S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
CR: No, quite the opposite. My lovely agents Robert Rattray (how you are missed) and Tim Menah always said ‘this is your life and the rest is only opera’.
S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
CR: Only when those pesky countertenors steal work from us mezzos!
S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
CR: Oh, can’t possibly answer that one! Too many to choose just one.
S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
CR: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, though it might have to rival The Ring in length!
S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
CR: As an exemplar of all the young women offering their talent and passion to the world, Nazan Fikret, who organised a fundraising gala for the Grenfell Tower victims last summer and sang up a storming Queen of the Night on the night.
S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
CR: Short answer, no! I remember a friend extolling the virtues of another woman who was a city banker, mountain bike champion and mother of 3 and I thought to myself, there’s only one of those that you can be whilst delegating to someone else.