May 26, 2018
image © Marco Borggreve
Interview with soprano, lucy crowe
Born in Staffordshire, Lucy Crowe studied at the Royal Academy of Music, to which she has recently been appointed a Fellow. With repertoire ranging from Purcell, Handel and Mozart to Donizetti’s Adina and Verdi’s Gilda she has sung with opera companies throughout the world, including the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the Glyndebourne Festival, English National Opera, the Teatro Real Madrid, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Bavarian State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera
What are you up to at the moment?
Currently rehearsing the role of Countess in Mozart's Le Nozze di figaro for ENO.
What do you love most about your job?
The opportunity to express myself through my voice and body language. The chance to play a completely different character, in opera or song, which can be challenging, rewarding and provide escapism from everyday life. I can be on a mountain listening to the birds singing one minute and on a river drifting under the moonlight the next. A strong intelligent woman getting her revenge on a cheating husband then dying on stage in my fathers arms. Life is never dull! To be constantly learning and creating and emoting is very satisfying.
How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
I became pregnant with my first child 7 years ago and the realities of life as a singer and mother became apparent from the word go, being asked politely but firmly to stand down from a role because they didn't want a pregnant leading lady. Not only was I singing my best at the time, but I was offered no financial compensation and there wasn't enough time to find any other work. So I lost 8 show fees before the birth of my first child.
How long after having your babies did you return to singing?
Too soon! (approx 2 months.) I often look back and wish I'd had more time, but being the main bread winner that just wasn't an option. Also, there's a slight stigma attached to being a mother in this job, (in any line of work?) and there is an unspoken pressure to be seen on stage again fairly quickly through fear of being forgotten/it being assumed that you have stopped. On the flip side, I suffered PND after my first child, and having work to focus on to make me regain some of 'myself' again actually helped. I was asked to learn Gilda in 4 days for the ROH and having seriously thought it through....Putting myself under that pressure could be detrimental to my recovery, I chose to do it, relishing the challenge, and I believe it lifted me out of the hole I was in!
What physical changes did you feel?
Once my support had come back my voice felt rounder and fuller and I was lucky to add a few more tones to my top. I often wonder whether this was physiological or psychological. Certainly being a mum helped put everything into perspective and the focus on my career dwindled. Not the efforts or commitment put into it, but the desire to be getting the best jobs possible became less important. So a relaxed attitude and loss of inhibition may have contributed to this. I also feel it's very much contributed to me as an artist too.
How did parenthood change your career?
It has made it much harder to stay on top of everything. When I am at home and not working I can only focus on being the best mother and wife and friend I can possibly be, giving my children as much attention whilst keeping on top of housework, cooking, having friends over for dinner. It is therefore really hard to find the time to learn new repertoire and go for lessons and coaching. I know I put too much pressure on myself to be the perfect housewife, but this is what I really feel we miss out on when I'm away. It does often feel like I lead two different lives, and I find it hard to blend the two. For example, when I'm away I find it quite painful to speak to and see the children, and they often don't want to speak to me. I feel removed from my home life and I almost have to switch off that side of my heart to deal with it.
Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
Absolutely, regardless of the points above, it is the best thing I've ever done and has put a new perspective on my life and therefore my career. The love you feel is all consuming and the responsibility of being a parent is sometimes frightening and exhausting and emotional. I can channel these mixed emotions into my performances, which is personally incredibly therapeutic and hopefully gives my performances more depth.
How does your child/children respond to your job?
They don't like it when I have to go away, but I think (hope) they understand. I make sure that my eldest sees me on stage as much as possible. She loves to be a part of it, (especially sitting in the dressing room putting make-up on, which is a real treat for her). She enjoys watching me in performance and has told me that her favourite part is my curtain call. I think this is because she gets to see/hear firsthand how people have enjoyed mummy's singing and therefore she can understand a little bit more what I'm doing and why I need to do it.
How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
I’m very lucky in that I have a very supportive and fully 'hands on' husband. He is a freelance horn player and runs the charity 'Songbound', setting up and maintaining choirs in the slums in Mumbai. He looks after the children when I'm away and when he has tours or trips to India I will try and do only concerts here and there and my parents will come and stay to help if needs be. So it's a good set up and I'm hugely grateful for that. I’ve also had to learn to be very organised. I have a great network of close friends who often help if I'm stuck for childcare Last and not least I have a fantastic duo at AH , Sue Spence and Sophie Dand who understand that motherhood is my priority. The first thing Sue did when I started working with her a few years back was ask for my children's school dates and birthdays, she put them in the diary straight away and does her best to manage my diary accordingly.
What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
Crèches, rooms for breastfeeding, open mindedness....the offer to adapt a costume accordingly so that a pregnant woman isn't sacked, (sorry, asked to 'stand down') but is still 'allowed' to work even though her shape is changing. Schedules being organised in advance. Not working on Saturdays, so that you have the whole weekend to be with your family/travel home. A general awareness and understanding of how difficult a freelancers life is once children come along would be a start. Of course, being a parent is a choice, but it's the most natural thing in the world to want to do, we were born to procreate.
Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt particularly well supported by the company as a parent?
I think if you experience this then it is generally down to the director. Currently at ENO the lovely director Peter Relton, who is a father, decided that in the rehearsal period (before getting on stage), we wouldn't work on Saturdays. This has led to a very happy workforce, time off to rest and enjoy life with family and then a week of hard focused work. I have also worked with directors who would rather not know and don't make life easy, funnily enough, those ones don't have kids!
What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry is about to become a parent?
Be strong and assertive. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don't be afraid to talk about your children. I know others disagree, but the more we talk about it openly, the easier it will be to break the barriers down. Up your vitamin intake, you will get sick more than you can imagine!
Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination as a working mother?
I was singing a new role at an important house and my support hadn't quite come back. To be honest, it was a risk to have done the job, but as said before, I have bills to pay! The star tenor came up to me when I fudged a top note and said 'what's going on?' I replied, 'my support isn't back, I've only just had a baby, to which he said 'that's no excuse'!! I should have slapped him.
Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
Personally no, but a colleague once told me that she was, and I was pretty horrified! When I was at RAM Jonathan Papp actually encouraged me to because he said it would help my voice bloom.
Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
Absolutely, but I think this is the case for all women in all jobs.
Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
I love playing the roles where I get to emote as much as possible, so Gilda, Pamina, Countess, Sophie. I fell in love with singing because it provided escapism from the bullying I was receiving at school. I would come home and put Maria Callas greatest hits on and sing along to say 'Vissi d'arte' and 'un bel di vedremo', channelling my thoughts and feelings into these incredible arias, which really helped make me feel better.
Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
Anyone who manages to fulfil their potential and feel fulfilled and happy as a mother and as an artist should be applauded!
Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
Absolutely, I think this is hugely important. Before having children my list was pretty impressive, travelling to Uganda to see the gorillas in their natural habitat, going to India to help teach singing to children, seeing the turtles laying their eggs in Trinidad, canyoning, skiing, tennis. Now of course there isn't much time for any of that but I do love to cook and bake, to read, (especially doctors and surgeons biographies/diaries), to go to live gigs of my favourite bands and artists, go to the gym and go with family and friends to festivals. I would advise anyone, not just singers, to travel and have as many adventures as you can before you have a family.