June 18, 2018
Interview with soprano, Janis Kelly
Widely-recognised as one of the great singing actresses of her generation‚ Janis Kelly has appeared at many of the World’s leading Opera Houses‚ including The Royal Opera and Metropolitan Opera. She is also a prominent voice on concert platforms and in Hollywood films. Glasgow born, she was a prize-winning student at the RSAMD and the RCM where she teaches and was recently honoured as the Chair in Vocal Performance as a titled Professor.
What are you up to at the moment?
Singing Mrs Grose in Turn of the Screw in an ENO production for Regents Park Theatre. Also, prepping for a Recital on 2nd July and later that month (and around the time of the SWAP'ra Gala), working as Chair of Vocal Performance, giving masterclasses and directing at the Oxenfoord International Summer School in Edinburgh.
What do you love most about your job?
I LOVE singing and performing-- how I am stretched physically mentally and psychologically on stage. I love TEXT and drama, blood and guts and comedy - playing, sharing, being on the edge and feeling at home on stage. The amazing things I’ve learnt about life and myself and historical figures, mankind in general and the most marvellous people I’ve met: colleagues, directors, conductors, audience members, sponsors… It’s a privilege to be involved in something that makes a difference in peoples lives.
How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
For 24 years
How long after having your children did you return to singing?
What physical changes did you feel?
At last I had something else to think about other than myself and my voice. As one of 8 children I hoped for children myself. I had to wait till I was 39 to have them. Mind you, it was three at once! Though my feet felt like I was walking on glass.
How did parenthood change your career?
My voice was stronger, more settled and once I was physically fit again I had a bigger range and a fuller darker sound. I had an aupair and sometimes 2 when I travelled and I took the 3 children with me.
Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
How do your children respond to your job?
They love the theatre and the arts and are grateful for all the experience they had, the marvellous people they met and the places we travelled to. Though Celeste did say to me when she was about three, “Mama I’d love to be on the stage but ITS SO HARD.” I guess they saw all sides. Now they are strong, enterprising, brave women who say they are glad I have done what I have done.
Has your child/children ever appeared on stage with you?
Not professionally but Morgan who has graduated in costume was my dresser in the recent Figaro at ENO.
How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
When I was with my husband we had to make special arrangements for parents’ day etc. to get TRIPLE slots and parents would always complain we were taking too long!!! I’m divorced now and separated for 5 years but I never had a lot of support from him in any department so I was a one man band for most of the time. I juggled and made things work as best I could.
What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families or dependants?
Scheduling changes to incorporate a more cooperative attitude.
Surely it would benefit the whole company to have a crèche facility? It has happened in the past; definitely there were and are dance/theatre companies who do.
Arranging rehearsals - especially if it’s not your home town - where you could rehearse extra in the evening and have Saturdays guaranteed off.
Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?
Opera North most definitely. Over a 10 year period I rehearsed in July/August where I took the girls and the au pair or two for the full rehearsal period plus the first 2 shows or so, and then travelled back and forth for shows, sometimes taking one of the triplets with me - a treat they still remember… Paris falling asleep back stage with a huge chorus singing double forte!!! Christine Chibnall was very good to me - her twins were about 18 months older so she knew how hard it was.
What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?
Keep fit and rest in the day when you can. Learn how to cat nap. Get used to the idea that you start to practice when you can, not when you like. I used to walk my triple buggy and learn my words and music - sing them to sleep with the rep (all in a cradle style!!). Have faith in the people looking after your children - no matter how tired you are you will always enjoy being with them, but looking after yourself means you are able to look after them. I would meditate/cat nap at lunchtimes and did regular yoga etc.
Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working parent?
Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
No, but I heard others say it generally.
Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
Violetta - because it incorporates everything
Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
I rode horses up until about 8 years ago, love art, my dogs and watching film/theatre and seeing friends.