British tenor David Butt Philip was a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House. In 2014, he made a hugely acclaimed ENO debut as Rodolfo in La bohème, and is one of Britain's leading tenors.
June 01, 2018
image © Andrew Staples
S: What are you up to at the moment?
DBP: Iʼve just started rehearsing at Opera Holland Park for their production of Mascagniʼs ‘Isabeauʼ. An extraordinary piece of verismo thatʼs never been performed in the UK before.
S: What do you love most about your job?
DBP: It sounds obvious, but the music. Iʼm obsessed with music, in all forms. I have been since I was a child, and the sense of childlike wonder and excitement I get from being lucky enough to perform for a living has never gone away.
S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
DBP: My daughter, Ellie is 19 months old (and juggling is an excellent analogy...).
S: How long after having Ellie did you return to singing?
DBP: Ellie was born 3 days after my opening night as Luigi in ‘Il Tabarroʼ at Opera North. The next performance was 3 days later. We got home from hospital on the Friday night, I hadnʼt slept for 3 nights. I was on stage in Leeds at 7pm on the Saturday, I remember almost nothing about that performance. My colleagues were wonderfully supportive. I was back home in London before midnight!
S: What physical changes did you feel, if any?
DBP: Well, as I say, I hadnʼt slept for 3 days...
S: How did parenthood change your career?
DBP: Lie-ins (Lies-in?) on show days are obviously a thing of the past. Also Iʼm less likely to do things just for fun/ experience any more, as time at home is precious.
S: Do you think that being a father has ultimately enriched your performing?
DBP: Iʼm not really sure. Itʼs certainly enriched my life, and that probably manifests itself in some way in performance. But not consciously.
S: How does your Ellie respond to your job?
DBP: “Wow! Daddy! Singing!” (From the back of the Teatro Real during a stage & orchestra rehearsal...). Also hysterical laughter. Not an uncommon response to my singing.
S: Has Ellie ever appeared on stage with you?
DBP: Ha! No. Not yet...
S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
DBP: Weʼre in the fortunate position of having a full-time nanny, who works during school term-time (my wife, Becky, is a schoolteacher). So I donʼt have the stress of organising day-to-day childcare. I try, as far as possible, to only take on a couple of opera contracts abroad per season. Iʼm lucky to have a fairly consistent stream of work in London and the UK, so Iʼm based at home more often than not. Plus with most of my work (and also my wifeʼs term-dates) being booked months or years in advance, we generally know a long way ahead when they can come and visit me abroad, or when Iʼll be at home for a stretch and able to take care of Ellie more.
S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
DBP: The advance-scheduling that OHP are trialling is an absolute godsend. It makes so much difference to parents and really shouldnʼt be that hard for companies to organise. Many European houses still have a daily schedule, published late the previous evening, which is infuriating. This has to become a thing of the past.
S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?
DBP: The management at Teatro Real in Madrid were extremely helpful and kind. They helped organise transport for Becky & Ellie to/from the airport when they came to visit, and made us all feel welcome backstage during rehearsals. The whole experience was very positive.
S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?
DBP: Factor in the tiredness. Donʼt try and cram too much in, or put too much pressure on yourself professionally, especially in the first few months.
S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working parent?
DBP: Iʼve never experienced it first hand. But plenty anecdotally, especially from women whoʼve found companies are nervous of employing them for fear theyʼll be ‘flakyʼ or ‘too tiredʼ. Yes, seriously, in the 21st century.
S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
DBP: I think Iʼll go for Laca in ‘Jenufaʼ. Thereʼs enormous depth to him and he goes on a huge emotional journey through the opera. Not to mention the astonishing music he gets to sing!
S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
DBP: Audrey Niffeneggerʼs ‘The Time Travellerʼs Wifeʼ was a massive hit about 15 years ago around the time my wife and I got together. I burned through it in a couple of days on holiday. Iʼve always thought the episodic/non-linear style of the narrative and the hugely emotional romantic relationship at the centre of it would be perfect for an opera.
S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
DBP: Iʼll go for Sue Bullock. Iʼve known her at several different stages of my career, in masterclasses, on audition panels and as a colleague and friend. Her professionalism, artistry, attitude and generosity are second to none. She has spent many years performing at the very highest level but you wonʼt find many people as kind or down-to-earth.
S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
DBP: I try and fail to spend time with my many wonderful and long-suffering friends. I try and fail to be a loyal and dedicated supporter of Liverpool FC. I try and succeed in eating vast quantities of cheese.