INTERVIEWS

S: How did you get into conducting and establish your career?
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AF: I was an Organ Scholar at Oxford University, and started conducting choirs, which led to  choral works with orchestra and then into symphonic and operatic repertoire.  3 years studying in St Petersburg.  Then followed years of assisting, chorus mastering, and prompting in big houses and guest conducting with smaller companies, youth companies, and many major ballet companies.  It has been a slow but consistent progress into quite a firmly established career.  
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S: How much of your work is in opera, and how does opera differ from the other genres in which you work?
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AF: About 75% of my work is in opera.  The rehearsal periods are much longer and collaboration with the stage director and singers gives it a more team spirit to the process, which I love.  
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S: What do you love about your job?

AF: I love that I will never feel I have nothing more to learn.  I am constantly honing my skills and understanding of music and how to communicate it.  I am never bored.  
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S: Have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
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AF: No.
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S: (How) have you seen attitudes towards women in the opera/music industry change over the years during your career, particularly for conductors?
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AF: Not as fast as they should be.  I think I spent longer in Assistant Conductor positions than many of my male colleagues, and that was as much to do with how I saw myself.
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S: What do you think needs to be done in order to balance out the male to female conductor ratio?
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AF: I am Co-founder and Artistic Director of Women Conductors with the Royal Philharmonic Society - an award winning programme encouraging women into the conducting profession.  I have worked with more than 200 young female musicians and music students in workshops, and many of them are taking their conducting training further.  Working at grass roots is key to this and now that a few women are enjoying more interesting conducting careers than a few years ago, the role-models are more prominent.  Long-term I think this is going to have a very positive effect. (see http://www.womenconductors.org)
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S: Do you think the theory that women are naturally less authoritative than men is a true?  If so is this just nature, or is this something that is conditioned in us from early childhood?
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AF: It depends what one means by authoritative.  If we are talking about someone knowing a subject really well and being able to communicate that to a group, and encourage and lead a group to work well and collaborate together - then men and women are equally authoritative.  

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S: There is no shortage of female representation in middle management in opera, but why do you think it is so rare for women to progress beyond this stage into higher positions of power?
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AF: Often women don’t put themselves into the position of applying for jobs they don’t think they are ready for, where as many men will apply regardless of whether they have those qualifications - this is a well researched fact.  An added difficulty in this industry is that it is rare that jobs are advertised, and jobs tend to be given by word of mouth.  In that way, they are more likely to stick to a known quantity and play safe.
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S: Where would you like to be in 10 years from now?
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AF: I would love a part-time Director of Music in an opera house, combined with freelance work, and a bit of conducting teaching. 


S: What do you think are the biggest barriers are for conductors who have a family?
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AF: Constant need to be travelling, working away from home, and the time needed to prepare scores (which is rarely paid).  

Alice Farnham

Conductor

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S: What are you up to at the moment?

AW: Rehearsing the role of the Governess in the ‘Turn of the Screw’ for ENO at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.


S: What do you love most about your job?

AW: That every day is different and you get to meet people and see places you never would if you had a desk job. Singing with an orchestra, and that feeling of holding the audience in the palm of your hand.


S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?

AW: This is my first production back since having identical twins ten months ago.


S: How long after having your children did you return to singing?
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AW: I started back singing concerts 4 months after having the babies.


S: What physical changes did you feel?

AW: I had to have a caesarian section, so at first it was just getting strength back and then muscle co-ordination. My first concert back included the Mozart C minor mass which was good because it suits me well and I have sung it before, but is also difficult and forced me to get back into shape quickly.


S: How did parenthood change your career?
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AW: When I used to get notice of being offered a job I used to just be excited. Now I am excited then immediately start to worry about childcare.


S: Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?

AW: I think it helps me to focus my practice more and has given me a greater sense of purpose. Time is precious both with my children and performing and I am lucky to be able to have a bit of both worlds.


S: How do your children respond to your job?
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AW: I recently had to prepare the final scene of Capriccio and performed it for them in my living room. They kept smiling at me and then tried to join in some of the high notes. I used to sing them the Brahms ‘Wiegenlied’ through the door of the incubators when they were in hospital and they would instantly calm down. It was quite amazing.


S: Have your children ever appeared on stage with you?

AW: No.


S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?

AW: It is tough. Everything is a balance, but I think being a performer makes me a better mum and being a mum makes me a better performer.


S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?

AW: If companies could have lists of local approved childcare providers and family friendly accommodation.


S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?

AW: When I was pregnant the Reisopera in the Netherlands was fantastic. I only found out I was pregnant right before starting rehearsals. They made sure the direction was safe for me and adapted the costume so it could adapt to my changing shape over a long run of performances. My agent was very supportive too.


S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?

AW: Be as organised as possible. Learn your music in advance as time is precious.


S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working parent?

AW: Not yet thankfully.


S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?

AW: No.


S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?

AW: No.


S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
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AW: It is a toss up between the Governess and Mimì. Both have amazing music and are great acting roles. You find something new every time you come back to them. 


S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?

AW: It’s hard to pick one. I am currently working with Janis Kelly who has done every female role in the Turn of the Screw and has had children and a great career.


S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?

AW: I love going to personal training. That is the one main thing I get to do for myself at the moment.

Anita Watson

Soprano

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S: What are you up to at the moment?
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AD: I am in Germany at stage rehearsals for Handel’s Arminio at the G​öttingen International Handel Festival.  I will be debuting the role of Tusnelda.  It is a relatively unknown Handel opera but I think it should be given more life as it has fabulous music. It is also a beautifully lyric role, so I am looking delving into that side of my singing.  After this I will go to Glyndebourne for the summer to reprise the role of Michal in Handel’s Saul.  The production was a huge hit in 2015 thanks to Barrie Kosky’s exciting staging.  
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S: What do you love most about your job?
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AD: I adore working with people onstage and playing dress up, the acting side of opera really fuels me, although this is only the case if the music is great, and luckily for me most of the time it is.  The music drives me to perform.  I love meeting interesting people.  But the bit I love the most is performing and the peace I feel inside when you are onstage and have nothing else to worry about except the character you are playing.  

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S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
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AD: My daughter has just gone 13 months so not long. But I have succeeded in learning and debuting 5 new roles in the first year of her life, which I feel proud of it. 

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S: How long after having your babies did you return to singing?
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AD: I gave myself 2 months off after she arrived with no singing except lullabies and then I started practicing a little each day.  I debuted the role of Cleopatra (in concert) when she was 4 months and a week later went to Madrid to make a house and role debut as Celia in Lucio Silla.  Was all a bit full on!!!

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S: What physical changes did you feel?
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AD: Over the first 6/8months after her arrival my voice was definitely going through some sort of changes, so I would have to play around with what I was doing technically to see what would work best on any given day.  Given the HUGE hormonal rebalancing of the body it is not surprising that this takes time.  Now things have settled down, I definitely feel more space in my voice, a rounder/richer middle voice then I had before and I feel like it is grown I am dealing with a bigger instrument then I had before.  This is what I feel inside.  

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S: How did parenthood change your career?
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AD: I don’t think parenthood has changed my career as such yet, maybe my perspective.  I feel like my emotional connection to my characters has changed significantly, it is deeper than before and I feel a much more immediate access to my feelings which I can use to greater effect.  In terms of career path, the main thing is that I would like to find a greater balance between opera and concert work, up to now my career has been very opera friendly but being away for 10 months of the year is not ideal for a family, at the moment I am trying to re balance things a little but it takes time.  The logistics of everything are definitely a lot more complicated.

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S: Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
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AD: Yes, 200 % as I said in the question above.  Going back to playing Michal in Saul at Glyndebourne will be interesting as although I have played MANY teenage girls in my career, I now understand the nurture side so much more and what effect that has on a person.  She is a beautiful, open, free person that has had little nurture but she some how finds the positive in things.  Can’t wait. 

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S: How does your child respond to your job?
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AD: She doesn’t know anything else really, as she has heard singing from her infancy.  She loves music and has recently become a keen dancer. Arms flailing everywhere, funny! She came to her first stage and orchestra when she was 5 months and has just been to her first sitz aged 13 months.  Both times she loved the music and sat quietly listening.  So I’m hoping it is safe to say she loves music!

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S: Has your child/children ever appeared on stage with you?
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AD: No, maybe some day.  I’m doing Flute next year but she will only be two so probably too young ☹

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S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?

AD: A lot of planning, very supportive husband, a wonderful sister and my mother was my rock for the first year and did all my foreign contracts.  I would have really struggled to have anyone else mind her until she was about 9 months, so I owe my mother a LOT!!! Typically the first contract away was an adventure, my mother had a night off and went out for dinner, we were in Madrid, she stepped in a hole and ended up breaking and spraining her ankle!!! Not ideal with a 5 month old, so my step father stepped up to the mark, excuse the pun!! He has no experience with babies but we trained him in and he did all the walking and physically side of the caring.  It was definitely a family effort for that.  My mum got an electric wheelchair so she could get out and about, thinking back on it now it was crazy but brilliant!! This is the sort of support I am very grateful for. 

My husband's job is a little flexible so every contract he comes for 10 days and works from home, we would struggle without this.  Long may it last. 

I now have a wonderful nanny who travels with me and is incredibly flexible which is the only way.  

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S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?

AD: Scheduling in advance is a must, especially when it comes to the hours you work.  You can think the daily rehearsals will be from 10.30-5.30 and then all of a sudden they add an evening, this is really not ideal, then you get into staging rehearsals and it all changes again.  I understand companies want flexibility but if we have an overview that is a good starting point.  If there were nurseries on site if would be a huge advantage.  The hardest part is balancing the finances when you are away and paying for a three bedroom property and full time childcare, this could potentially be adjusted with better scheduling.  

I think the hardest part is the first year, it is very difficult to take anything more than 6 months off because maternity leave is only minimal in the UK but mainly because if you are not singing people move on and then it takes time for the contracts to come back in.  The industry moves very fast. This is the most difficult time.  It would be wonderful to not feel so pressured into coming back quickly so you could have more time at home but at the moment this isn’t realistic.  

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S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?

AD: I found Teatro Real in Madrid were fabulous, so open and helpful with anything I needed in the city, to feel like you have someone who can help when you're in a foreign city with a baby is brilliant.  As for other things I mentioned re scheduling I think it just needs to become the norm.  I also think this is not just for parents, I believe the all artists would be happier and more accommodating if they didn’t feel that every hour of their day at any point could be for work.  

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S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?

AD: Try and enjoy the first few months as a parent, to mothers your voice will come back so give yourself a break and take the time you need.  Weigh up whether you really need to do anything in the first three months work wise and do everything in your power to take that time without the odd concert here or there (ideally 6 months if you can).  It is a precious time and you only get those first few months once, then life goes on and everything becomes fast again. TREASURE IT.  I didn’t and I regret it now.  

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S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working mother?
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AD: Not specifically but you do hear people saying they are tired and that’s why maybe they have an off day.  This is silly as you can have an off day without being a parent and to be honest you have a lot less when you become a parent as you just have to get on with it.  I have heard comments about singers weight postpartum, which is difficult.  I worked out up until 40 weeks pregnant and was back in the gym 6 weeks after to shed the pounds, it was slow but I was back to my normal weight after about 8 months.  I think there is not much compassion for this.  It doesn’t help that I play sex-kitten roles, but people do come in different shapes and sizes.  

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S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?

AD: No, to be honest I wouldn’t have listened anyway.  If you think you want children give it a go, singing is a career but just that, it is not the only thing in life.  When you are old and finished singing it will be family and friends you want, not a list of accolades.  

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S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?

AD: Yes, but I am a women so there isn’t much I can do about that.  It is of course most competitive to be a soprano, as there are too many, so things like how you look definitely become relevant and I do feel a pressure to stay as slim as possible, as you never know when you're going to turn up to a production and be asked to prance around in your undies or scantly clad. This is another thing that advance warning would be helpful for!!! I also think there is a gender pay gap which I believe shouldn’t be there. 

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S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
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AD: This is a really tough question, I adore Susanna in Figaro as she is genius but in terms of vocal and emotional commitment I think Cleopatra in Cesare has been my favourite to date, closely followed by Semele.  Both of them can come across as quite shallow due to their ambition but they have huge emotional journeys which are vocally and emotionally rewarding.  

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S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
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AD: Hmmm, I think Room by Emma Donoghue would be amazing, I would love to do it, especially now I am a mother. 
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S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
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AD: I am not one to do specifics as I think you can take inspiration from the little things that everyone offers to the world and learn from everyone.  To me the important thing is to always have high standards, not accept anything but the best you can do and always be friendly and nice to your colleagues. An awful lot of my colleagues do this on a daily basis so I just hope this keeps going. 

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S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?

AD: If I did, the number one thing I would do would be have a horse and go riding regularly, but up until now I haven’t found a way of making it work as I am never home long enough.  I do hope I will get there sometime soon.  In the meantime, I am enjoying running, I am training for a half-marathon and like weight training with my trainer too, yoga is always high on my list.  I also love baking, crocheting, and one of the things I am hugely looking forward to is getting into painting, drawing, sewing and creating art projects with my daughter.  These are all high on my list but I never find the time! There is always some music that needs learning. 

Anna Devin

Soprano

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S: What are you up to at the moment?
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ASD: At the moment I’m singing  CioCioSan in Madama Butterfly at Opera North.

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S: What do you love most about your job? What would you change about your job?
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ASD: What I love most is the constant learning, the endless discovery. You can never stop and say “I know”. You’re always learning and that’s an incredible privilege.
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S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
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ASD: I have actually always been juggling the two because my daughters were born when I was a student at the conservatoire. By the time I graduated I had 2 toddlers!

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S: How long after having your babies did you return to singing?
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ASD: I never stopped singing; I was a student so I went on!

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S: What physical changes did you feel?
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ASD: I felt more grounded, stronger physically. I struggled a bit with weight but slowly managed.

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S: How did parenthood change your career?
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ASD: I couldn’t really say as I’ve been a mother all my adult life.

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S: Do you think that being a mother has ultimately enriched your performing?
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ASD: Definitely, but I would also say that life itself enriches performance. All you experience nourishes you as an artist. You’re made of what you go through. And as time goes by you get to understand more and more layers (and also feel you know nothing!!) …

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S: How does your child/children respond to your job?
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ASD: My daughters have always been part of everything, they travelled with me, spent a lot of time in theatres, they watched performances etc… They told me they learned a lot and they indeed are fearless young women now. I’m proud of them and I hope they can be proud of me and the choices I’ve made. I always felt that I had to be strong for them, to enable them to be strong too. Show them that if you  put your heart and energy in something you can do it.

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S: Has your child/children ever appeared on stage with you?
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ASD: no never (except if you count when I was pregnant with them!!!)

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S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
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ASD: It’s not easy and it was not always smooth. I missed birthdays, school shows… It was often a struggle. But we’re lucky to have all this wonderful technology that allows us to keep in touch easily. I remember helping my daughters with their homework via skype, leaving the computer on to have dinner “together”! It can never replace the real thing but it certainly helps to be present on a day-to-day basis and always know what’s going on!

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S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
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ASD: Scheduling in advance is probably a must do. To be able to plan is a very important part. But I also think that we know it’s a difficult job and we choose to do it because it’s a passion; life is full of compromises…

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S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the company as a parent?
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ASD: I never felt that being a parent was a problem for the companies I worked for.

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S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry is about to become a parent?
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ASD: Be patient, be strong and don’t be afraid. it’s YOUR life. YOU make it happen.

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S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination as a working mother?
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ASD: Discrimination against working mothers is everywhere, not only in our industry. But I strongly believe that things can and will change.

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S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
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ASD: Well in my case it was too late as I was already a mother, but I was indeed advised to not have more children. I felt violated in my privacy; having or not having more children was mine and my husband’s choice, and no-one else can have a say in this matter. Yet some people feel they can tell you….

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S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
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ASD: I’m a woman, but I don’t feel it should be pointed out. I’m a working mother but it’s my choice. I strongly believe in equity. Men and women are part of the world, together. It made me really angry when I learnt that, for example, I’ve been paid 7 times less than the male part in an opera ( both roles of equal importance). Nothing can justify such a difference.

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S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
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ASD: Hard question…. well I’m going to say Zaza and Katiusha ( Risurrezione). Both very strong women  making their own choices and not waiting for men to come and “rescue” them!!! Zaza and Risurrezione were both directed by women ( Marie Lambert and Rosetta Cucchi), I don’t know if that’s a coincidence! I believe in strong women and in strong men. Equals. Bringing together the best from each other.

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S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
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ASD: “Réparer les vivants” by Maylis de Kerangal. This book about a heart transplant has already been adapted as a play and a movie. It’s one one the most powerful, beautiful, heart breaking books I’ve read in the last 10 years.

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S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
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ASD: I can’t quite single out one but I’m going to talk about Marthe Le Rochois , she was born in 1650 and died in 1728 and was probably one of the first operatic superstars! A very strong and powerful women in a very male dominating world.

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S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
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ASD: I do! I find time a very interesting thing. You can always find some when you really want to. In french we say people who can’t seem to get organised “ drown in a glass of water”. I guess it’s important to learn how to swim!

Anne Sophie Duprels

Soprano

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S: What are you up to at the moment?

CWR: 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. 
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S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
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CWR: 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. 
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S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
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CWR: Gone with the Wind - though I suspect it would be at least as long as the Ring...!

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S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
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CWR: 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... 
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S: 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?
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CWR: 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.

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S: Have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
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CWR: Not really, though I do suspect the pay gap has always been there, and misogyny isn’t confined to the music industry. 

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S: What do you love most about your job?
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CWR: Performing music I love and working with wonderful colleagues.  
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S: What would you change about your job?
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CWR: Travelling! A tardis would be very handy though it would have to be in full working order to arrive on time...
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S: What are your main interests and passions outside of work?
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CWR: Knitting, art, painting, seeing friends
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S: Have you ever been advised not to have a family if you wanted a career?
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CWR: No but I did effectively make that choice though not entirely because of my career. 
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S: Do you think women’s career progressions differ from men’s?
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CWR: It depends on the woman. 
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S: If you could go back in time would you change anything in your career?
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CWR: I would have liked to be happier with the top of my voice sooner in my career.  
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S: Have you maintained a balance between your busy career and personal life?
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CWR: 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!
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S: (How) have attitudes to women in opera changed during your career?
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CWR: 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. 
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S: How have the roles you are cast in changed as your career has gone on?
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CWR: 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!
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S: How has your voice changed with age?
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CWR: If anything, it has improved. I’m lucky up to now... though I do still have occasional lessons. 
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S: What would be your top advice to young singers starting their careers?
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CWR: 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. 

Catherine Wyn-Rogers

Mezzo-soprano

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(Watch this space for more from Ekaterina Siurina)  

S: What are you both up to at the moment?

CC: I’m singing a new production of Verdi's I Masnadieri (Premieres on March 8) at the moment in Munich at the Bayerische Staatsoper. I’m going back and forth in between shows because our 12 and 6 year olds are still in school in Berlin so I’m with them between shows! 
Ekaterina just finished recording her first solo album and is now taking a week to visit family in Russia with our 6 year old son Valentino. 


S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments? How have you maintained a balance between your busy career and having a personal life?

CC: In all honesty, we have not had really any extra time for any downtime, passion projects or even hobbies lately. This is more about our bad scheduling than lack of ideas and wishes! Things get a bit better this summer! When we have time Katerina likes pottery and any kind of art done with your hands. I’m more into doing some physical activity like yoga and working out. About balance, we try our best but I would say this year was unbalanced leaning more on the top busy side. 


S: SWAP’ra has been established to try to encourage gender equality in the opera industry. There are several obstacles for women in fulfilling their full career potential, and one of these challenges is the juggle of career and parenthood. But of course, this particular challenge also affects opera fathers. Charles, could you describe the ways in which a busy career has affected you as a father over the years, and if and how this differs from the way parenthood affected Ekaterina’s career?

CC: Great question. First I can say my career has absolutely affected the whole process of being a parent. I have missed quite a few birthdays (always arriving a few days later or having to leave a couple days before). Also have missed many holidays and karate tests and everything else kids need their parents around for.  Of course I’m working hard to provide for my family but it’s always a huge sacrifice.  But as I mentioned briefly in the little speech at the Opera Awards, I feel that the family suffers and sacrifices the most for their singer parents and partners. 
I do think in this case that it affects women even more in their careers. First because when Ekaterina had our children she had to take a pretty long time off to recover and also to spend as much time with the newborn baby as well. In this career you need to show up as often as possible or people tend to forget about you! That’s not a criticism of the business.. it’s just the truth. And with there always being more women singers then men, let alone decent tenors, you can see how the pressure is higher for women. I sympathize with my wife a lot about this subject because I never want or have asked her to stop singing. She has a natural talent that deserves to be heard and witnessed. But I know it can be a struggle for mothers in particular to balance wanting to perform and fulfill the need to accomplish your passion but also provide and take care and nurture your children and family. 


S: Do you both think women’s career progressions differ from men’s?

CC: I can only speak of my experience but I was always on a slow and steady career and development path. Even when I wanted to go faster, it didn’t really happen. So I accepted it! Haha!  If we speak about vocal development then I would say women mature and develop earlier than men.. as in most other things in life! 


S: How have you both managed your careers alongside your family commitments? How has this changed as your children have got older? What have been your lifelines in this juggle? (Helpful grandparents/nannies/boarding school/etc?)

CC: Ekaterina has taken most of the load with caring for our children. They are sometimes with me alone while she works but more often it’s the other way around. We do have help every once in a while from family but not too much. Also we have had nannies that have been helpful. Our 12 year old is of course more independent already and that is helpful but I can’t say it’s not without its own particular challenges..! 


S: How have you managed each other’s schedules in order to manage your family’s needs. Have you taken it in turns at working away for example?

CC: I work more often than Katerina in general. She doesn’t like to go from job to job constantly as I do. Or let’s say I can accept it a bit more and she prefers to work a great production and then spend some time at home doing normal things! If I’m home for more than two weeks I’m already thinking about the next project and role. I guess I’m quite relaxed as a person so I need to get out some emotions on stage! But there are times when I was home while she worked. Or for example when she sang in Sydney for 5 weeks I didn’t work at all and just hung out with the boys having fun all over Sydney while she rehearsed! 


S: Have you taken your children out of school for long periods and home schooled/tutored them in order to have them with you when working abroad? Please tell us how this has worked for you?

CC: Our 12 year old Alessandro was actually home-schooled his whole life up until last year. He just started 6th grade going to an international school that is in English and German in Berlin. That gave us flexibility but we didn’t think he was getting all the structure and interaction he really needed. So in the end I think it was more convenient for us but we decided he needed those other things more. 

S: Have either of you taken your children and a nanny/au pair abroad with you for a production when the other has been working/away?

CC: Yes, we have taken nannies/au pairs with us on jobs and staying home while the other was away.  Of course it means more coordination and more flight tickets and an extra room and all of that.. so, sometimes a daunting task.. but there have been several times where it was completely worth it because of the location of the job and what experiences we could have all together there.  The trickiest part is finding the right nanny who is flexible and can roll with the punches as they say.


S: Have you noticed a change of attitude towards women in opera during your career? (In all areas of the industry, not just with regards to parenting) Do you see any difference in these attitudes in different countries?

CC:  I have seen, what I believe, is a more accepting tone to the things women have had to go through in this career in general.  I would say things slowly but surely more in a positive direction.  The difficult part is that some of the issues that are practically norms in the business cannot necessarily be changed because of any of us,  and that is the fact is in this business is that we must be present and in the game.  It goes for the most famous singers and the least famous singers.  Even if one of the most well-known singers will stop for a year or two, the opera world will not stop, it will continue without them.  The cast must be filled and the show must go on.. so, for example, when a mother takes a well-deserved break after having a child for a while, there are sometimes issues with coming back and getting into the game again.  This varies of course for individual casting directors and individual singers, but there is a tendency for there to assume that that singer would want to do a lot less after starting a family.  And that may be true, but again, it depends on the artist.  Long answer, but we can see that this is sometimes an issue.  But in general I think things are always slowly moving to a more accepting place.


S: Women are considerably under-represented in opera when it comes to directors and conductors. Do you observe any differences in the way women in these roles work, or the vibe of a production led by women?

CC:  I've worked with several women conductors and directors and have had a great time creating performances with them.  And I do see more and more women in these positions which is for me wonderful.  For me, Art is the absolute equalizer...!  Men and women cannot compete in art in my opinion.. art is art.  There are incredible female and male singers.. we cannot compare with each other.  That's what I truly adore about opera.  So for me, it absolutely makes no difference who is conducting or directing as far as gender goes.  Everyone has a chance to have an engaging vibe, a supportive vibe, a passionate vibe and yes, even a crazy one.!  Definitely not unique to either gender.!  Haha!


S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?

CC: My BIGGEST wish for the opera industry to help artists with families:  PLEASE, we do not have to rehearse 6 to 8 weeks for a new production.!  This is really a huge issue with every singer I know.  It is not because we are lazy or do not want to work very hard on the details of the musical score or the dramatic intentions of the production..
the reasons are numerous and absolutely true:
 a) It is very tiring and by the time the premiere is arriving half of the singers either get sick or have spent a lot of energy and voice on rehearsals and arrive to the premiere pretty worn out.  That goes even for experienced singers who just want to give their best to the show and their colleagues, it is easy to find yourself fatigued by premiere time.
 b) It requires the singer to be away from home for long periods of time.  Even if there is a chance to fly home for a weekend of a random day off it is a long time to be out of the daily routine of family life.  The short trips home also add to the basic fatigue of the rehearsals etc.
 c) It is extremely expensive in most cases to stay in a hotel or furnished apartment for 2 months while paying all of your normal life expenses at home.  Like taking a second mortgage most of the year.  And depending on the city, it could be quite an expensive second mortgage.  
 d) And even with a lot of respect to the many great directors in the world.. usually experienced and driven singers can find the spark and intention of a production with strong direction in the first couple weeks.. after that there is a lot of nitpicking and repeating of things that is just tiring.  Many times it is felt that a certain production needs more rehearsal time.. but I find it always because of the technical aspects of the show, sets, lights, etc.. and not the artists doing the staging or creating the drama on stage.  So, perhaps the technical team can rehearse with extras for two weeks and get that set and then the singers could rehearse when that is all ready.  Could be an idea.
 e) It is hard on children and a family for any parent to be gone for longer periods of time.  I wish I could have changed that many times in my career but it is nearly impossible because of the nature of this job.  But, this is a part we all wish could improve.

I do think it could be wonderful if every opera house had some sort of day care or children activities planned for artists with children.  That would really be amazing.  And not just a room with a babysitter watching that the kids don't hurt themselves while they watch films or play video games, but something engaging like musical activities and other things that get the kids to learn and have fun while parents are in rehearsal of even during performances.  This would really be amazing and every singer with kids would want to work at that opera house all the time!


S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry is about to become a parent?

CC: I would say to anyone in this career who wants to start a family that they should do it.  More positives than negatives for sure.  BUT...  it is very helpful to make sure you have good support from family and a system that allows you to have some normal time with your partner and with your kids.  


S: How has your voice/the roles you are cast in changed as your career has gone on?

CC:  My voice has grown and rounded out a bit over the last few years and that has eased me into a few more meaty roles.!  I have now sung my first Don Jose and Hoffmann and coming soon are things like Don Carlos, Werther and Carlo in Verdi's Masnadieri. 


S: If you could go back in time would you change anything in your career?

CC:  If I could change anything it would be that I would just take more time to study and prepare my new roles more slowly.  Because of the pace of the career at times I did not have the luxury of taking a few months to a year to really let the role get into my voice and body before I performed it.  If I could change anything it would be that.

Charles Castronovo

Tenor

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S: What are you both up to at the moment?

CB: Earlier this year I sang Gertrude in Brett Dean's Hamlet for the Adelaide Festival and for the rest of the year have various concerts, adjudicating and some masterclasses.
PCW: I am currently learning a role to record early September.


S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments? How have you maintained a balance between your busy career and having a personal life?
​
CB: We have a dog, so walk her twice a day.  I play Mahjong with some friends once a week and swim.  It has been very difficult maintaining a good balance between busy career and having a personal life, and I have consciously worked hard at maintaining relationships with friends, family and my relationship with Peter.  We have spent a great deal of money in the past travelling to be with each other whenever we had time off between performances
PCW: I must admit that for most of my career I was running between jobs and seldom had time for holidays or proper respite. Both Cheryl and I tried to make sure that one of us was more available for our son Gabriel. As I get older, I have realised that a good balance is vital to be a good artist.


S: SWAP’ra has been established to try to encourage gender equality in the opera industry. There are several obstacles for women in fulfilling their full career potential, and one of these challenges is the juggle of career and parenthood. But of course, this particular challenge also affects opera fathers.  Peter, could you describe the ways in which a busy career has affected you as a father over the years, and if and how this differs from the way parenthood affected Cheryl’s career?

PCW: I would have to admit that the greater burden of responsibility lay on the shoulders of Cheryl especially during the early years of our son’s life. She always took him with her as well as a Nanny. Singing huge roles in many different countries and being Mum to both the child and the Nanny is something that she was a great deal better than I was. We did try to share the load as he grew older, and there were times that he she had to have to herself. I think that Cheryl was selfless with our son, but she has no guilt whatsoever now that he is at University. We were lucky that we were both busy singers and able to be together more often than not.


S: Do you both think women’s career progressions differ from men’s?

CB: Definitely.  Where are the female roles for Sopranos over the age of 45?  Men can go on much longer.  The jobs definitely drop away for females as they get older.
PCW: No I don’t. I truly believe that if one’s destiny is to have a successful career, gender doesn’t matter


S: How have you both managed your careers alongside your family commitments? How has this changed as your son has got older? What have been your lifelines in this juggle? (Helpful grandparents/nannies/boarding school/etc?)

CB: Living in the UK for the first 6 years of Gabriel’s life when our family was in Australia was difficult.  We didn’t have the family back up, although our parents were willing to come and help us out when we were both working at the same time.  This was much easier when we moved back to Australia. The main thing was to be incredibly organised. Gabriel always travelled with me until he started school.  It was great when we were working in London and we were home.  We had a nanny for two years from the age of 2-4 as we were pretty well going from job to job.  She and Gabriel travelled with me although it was quite stressful in foreign countries, as I had to have everything organised.  Somehow you muddle through, but it is amazing how you can still manage to sing when you have had no sleep.  Things got more difficult as our son got to school age.  When we decided to base ourselves back in Sydney we negotiated a three year guaranteed performance contract with Opera Australia which gave us some security.   Gabriel went to an International School in Sydney and they were happy for him to come out for the odd term.  He attended the International School in London for a term and twice a term in Houston, and once we took a tutor with us to Europe when we were both working which was not successful due to a wrong choice of person.  
PCW: My wife is a great time manager, and this has helped us a great deal. We were lucky with wonderful parents who helped us along the way as well as a nanny for two years.  Our son was used to us being separated and as a result is self- sufficient now and manages well without us if we are away.


S: How have you managed each other’s schedules in order to manage your family’s needs. Have you taken it in turns at working away for example?

CB: Our manager Peter Bloor at Askonas Holt was aware of our predicament and was mindful of looking for jobs for us either together or not too far away from each other.
PCW: Yes. We always made a conscious effort that one of us would be around for our son. There were times that we were both away, but we always sorted things out well in advance. Our son came first.


S: Have you taken your son out of school for long periods and home schooled/tutored them in order to have him with you when working abroad? Please tell us how this has worked for you?

CB: See above.  International School in London and Houston worked well.  Private tutor, not so.  This was when Gab was 12 when had the tutor.  His school send work via email, but the tutor was not good and he fell behind in Maths.
PCW: Yes. He spent some school time in Geneva,London, Houston. It did require a lot of organisation and planning before we arrived to work with the Opera company. It was better to have our son with us than not.


S: How does your son respond to your job? Have you found opera companies accommodating when he has travelled with you?

CB: Gabriel respects what we did now, he was quite blasé when we were young.  I had the happy privilege of singing Madama Butterlfy with him as the child for Houston Grand Opera.  A real thrill for me.  He also auditioned and sang in the Children's Chorus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Opera Australia.  He had a great boy soprano voice. I never got the feeling that opera companies were thrilled that you had your child with you nor did they offer any help.
CB: I don’t think our son knows anything different. We usually tried to manage our private family issues well away from our work.


S: Peter, have you ever taken your children and a nanny/au pair abroad with you for a production when Cheryl has been working/away?

CB: Peter has taken him for a week or so during tech week with the 2 year Nanny when I was singing Katya Kabanova in Geneva and he was singing in Amsterdam.  
PCW: I did take him with me to Amsterdam and New York but not for long periods. If Cheryl went away and I was at home in our family house I would look after him alone.


S: Have you noticed a change of attitude towards women in opera during your career? (In all areas of the industry, not just with regards to parenting) Do you see any difference in these attitudes in different countries?
​
CB: No.  If anything, I think it is worse.  The Singer used to be wholly respected, not so anymore.  The whole attitude towards singers, male and female has changed for the worse in my opinion.  This is reflected in the lower fees offered, companies scrimping on rehearsal time etc whereas often more staff is being put on in the Management and Marketing sections.  Perhaps America is a more child friendly.  I remember in Houston we were invited to an Easter Egg hunt and another time, one of the volunteers who was allocated to look after us, kindly took us trick or treating.  I was always aware that having a child was my choice, and I didn’t expect anything from the Opera Company in way of support for my situation.
PCW: I can’t say I have. Women are usually more in touch with their needs and concerns.


S: Women are considerably under-represented in opera when it comes to directors and conductors. Do you observe any differences in the way women in these roles work, or the vibe of a production led by women?

CB: I often feel that women in Opera feel they have to be tough and mean - maybe they have to be to command respect, and they are definitely under represented but they often have attitude.  
PCW: I have been lucky to work with several female directors and conductors. All of them have been strong women with great work ethic. None of them had children.


S: Do you think there is any value in targeted support, training and performance opportunities specifically for female directors and conductors in order to redress the balance?

CB: No.  People’s attitudes need to change. Opera Boards (generally Male dominated) need to realise that appointing a female Musical Director should not be some sort of sideshow, just part of the norm.  
PCW: I do not believe that there should be anything specific for female directors and conductors, designers. It is paramount that women and men be treated equally. Separate training sets up differences from the outset, something which we are all trying to leave behind.


S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?

CB: It is difficult with freelance artists.  We are in and out in a couple of months.  Perhaps an allowance could be made to contribute to child care.  Or perhaps 'Friends of the Opera' and Volunteers could help out with baby sitting or ferrying children to and from school or childcare.  Make them earn their free tickets to the dress rehearsals!  

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S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry is about to become a parent?
​
CB: Do it!  You will work the logistics out and the pleasure you get from all phases of your child's life is worth all the sacrifice, stress and expense.  Creating a little human being is no comparison to creating a role. 


S: Were either of you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?

CB: Yes.  My singing teacher Dame Joan Hammond told me once that it was not possible to have a career and children.  She was of the old school where everything was dedicated to the career.  I really think these days it is a mistake to give your entire life to the career.  The profession is no longer one where the best singer gets the role, or rarely do you get the caring attitude from an artistic director where they nurture you and build your career and profile.  It is now a throw away society and one cannot expect to have a lifetime career as a freelance artist.
​

S: How has your voice/the roles you are cast in changed as your career has gone on?

CB: My voice has mellowed as I have aged.  The roles have gone from Mozart to Puccini to Janacek to Strauss.


S: If you could go back in time would you change anything in your career?

CB: No. 

Cheryl Barker & Peter Coleman-Wright

Soprano and Baritone

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S: What are you up to at the moment?

CG: I’m currently in Vienna singing the title role of Strauss’ Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper.   Making a house debut at 50 years old isn’t for sissies :)


S: What do you love most about your job?

CG: I love being part of something larger than myself.   Creating art with other artists.  I love giving the gift of immersion and escape to the audience (and myself) for a few hours.


S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?

CG: 14 years.


S: How long after having/adopting your children did you return to singing?

CG: After I had my first daughter, I waited three months before returning to singing.   After my second, I didn’t have the financial ability to hold off - and took in a Beethoven Missa Solemnis just five weeks after a C section.

I’m going to say that I would not recommend doing that.    Ouch.


S: What physical changes did you feel?

CG: Vocally?   I’d been told that with pregnancy, the voice would richen... get bigger in the middle.    That was all true for me.   It was as if the column of my voice “expanded” to either side.   I was concerned that I would lose some of my top.   Oddly, the opposite happened.   It became more secure, but all in all it made for a huge shift in technique for me.

I also have to say that I wasn’t quite prepared for how much I could do on such little sleep.    Adrenaline isn’t only for the stage lol!


S: How did parenthood change your career?

CG: They say it takes a village.   I think this is true for any working parent, but with the kind of travel involved with our jobs?   Decisions had to be made. 

My husband and I had a long talk about how we would go about this.   We knew that we would have to get to know our girls, and decide what *they* needed based on who they are becoming.    Would we home school and allow the girls to travel with me when need be, or will they need something more stable and a consistent group of friends?   We decided that it would be best for them to have the consistency, and that for the most part they would not travel with me.   

That was an incredibly difficult decision for me.   Sobbing every time I left for the airport... all of us.   I have been lucky with wonderful au pairs, and incredible childcare but we were unfortunate in that we didn’t have any family nearby to help us.   

Financially I had no choice, bills had to be paid... but I thought at the time that I had my girls that my career was winding down.   My voice had changed, and I thought, “You know... I’ve already done *so* much more than I ever expected to do.   Now it’s time for me to have the rest of my life.”

...and then it all started up again.  I suddenly had everything I wanted. 

The problem with that is that you have to figure out what to *do* with everything you’ve ever wanted. 

I try desperately to always put my girls first.   I have turned down work because I would be away from them for too long, and have had to make big changes in my schedule to accommodate them. 

I would do it for my daughters every time.   They’re my whole life. 


S: Do you think that being a mother/father has ultimately enriched your performing?

CG: 100%.   Every experience we have in our lives enriches our performing... this particular “experience” has deepened my compassion for my colleagues, and given me new understanding of every character that I play.  Every mother has children.   Every child has a mother... the relationships between parent and child are as varied as snowflakes.   Every day as a mother, I understand this a bit more.


S: How does your child/children respond to your job?

CG: My girls mostly seem indifferent... at least, that’s how it seems to me much of the time.   They know it’s “Mom’s job”, and that I’m in the public eye.    Every now and again, though.... they say something that shows that they’re proud of me.     I was on the cover of Opera News a while back.   One day as we were getting ready to get my girls out the door to school, my little one came to me, holding a copy and asked if she could bring it for show and tell.    I smiled and said of course, and then she said, “but you have to sign it.   My friends think this is so cool.”

She told her friends about me. 

That is the only kind of praise I will ever need. 

My girls also really hate that I don’t have a 9-5 job.   There is no way to explain that when I am home for extended periods of time, I am there for them 24/7.... it’s not the same thing to them, and never can be.    They see the kind of families that their friends have.   They perceive that dinner happens at 7pm every night, and everyone sits at home at the table and it’s idyllic. 

It’s an incredibly hard balance to find for all of us. 


S: Has your child/children ever appeared on stage with you?

CG: Yes, once.   Both girls appeared in the finale of Fidelio with me a few years ago.   My eldest got the bug that night and has been going out for parts in plays and doing bits of performing since... my little one thought it was interesting but didn’t need to do it again.

I was just happy they had a moment to see things from my perspective, even that once.


S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?

CG: It’s so difficult.   We have to prioritize.    My priority is always my family, whether I choose to be home with them or take the job that will pay for what they need. 

Those decisions have to be made on a case by case basis.


S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to
make life easier for artists with families/dependents?

CG: This is a very difficult question, but I already have seen changes being initiated by many companies over the course of my career.   So many more companies are helping with housing for families, some help with childcare suggestions, and more companies than I can count have asked if I will be bringing my family and my daughters to the opera house... to watch a rehearsal, or even to invite them to a costume fitting!    

I think that it is very difficult when we are self-employed to hope that an opera company or orchestra will go the extra step to accommodate families or singers with children, but - after all - it isn’t 1950 anymore, and so many women in our business, especially, are mothers.    I’m encouraged seeing that we aren’t any longer an afterthought, and that it’s understood that we are a vital part of the “work force”. 


S: Can you think of an example of a job where you have felt really supported by the
company as a parent?

CG: Yes, at my “home” company, the Metropolitan Opera.   Granted, they’ve known me since I was a young artist there, but if I were to say that there is an emergency, or something that has to be attended to immediately?   They’ve been beyond accommodating. 


S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to
become a parent?

CG: Do it.   Be happy.   Love that baby.   There is absolutely no good time to become a parent in our business.  Have your priorities as straight as you possibly can, and then know that flexibility is required to do what we do.    Believe that you can find a way to do it all.   There is no right way to have a career and a family.   You’ll find your way. 


S: Have you come up against or heard of any discrimination or bias as a working parent?

CG: I, personally, have never come across any kind of discrimination or bias.   I always say that if we turn up 100% prepared for our job and ready to work, no one should have any reason to complain.    


S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?

CG: Ohhhhhhh yes.    Well-meaning colleagues... but this was when I was starting out in my 20s.   I ended up not having my children until I was in my late 30s, so... I’m honestly not sure if that had an impact on that bit of advice..


S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your
gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?

CG: No... never considered that.. 


S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?

CG: Honestly?   Elektra.   That may sound crazy.   Funnily enough, I often hear her described as exactly that.   Crazy.    I have never seen her that way.   She is damaged. 

Talking about how motherhood can influence your views on our job..  the crux of this story, for *me* is the relationship between Elektra and her mother Klytemnestra.    What has happened, what has been lost between the two of them, the connection between the two women.    The sense of loss that they each have knowing that they are all that the other has.   The desire for a deep relationship between mother and daughter never fades, no matter whether or not it’s possible.

Elektra is the role that I have sung the most in my career.   Each time I do it, I find something new in her character.  


S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?

CG: I honestly can’t point to just one.   These days it’s easier to count on one hand the few that don’t inspire me.   I think that what we do is utterly amazing.   I love that we all come together to support each other.   No matter where we are around the world.   We are our own second family.   


S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family
commitments?

CG:  ... honestly, no.   There is no time, and in every spare moment I have ... the desire to be with my girls is so great.   It’s my reward.   Every day.

Christine Goerke

Soprano

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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. 
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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. 

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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. 

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S: How does your child/children respond to your job? 
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CR: Mildly interested. My eldest more so because she loves the theatre.  

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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! 
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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? 
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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. 

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S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry is about to become a parent? 
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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! 
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S: Have you ever come up against or of any discrimination as a working mother? 
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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? 

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S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career? 
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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’.

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S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?
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CR: Only when those pesky countertenors steal work from us mezzos! 

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S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why? 
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CR: Oh, can’t possibly answer that one! Too many to choose just one. 

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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! 
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S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you? 
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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. 
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S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments? 
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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. 

Christine Rice

Mezzo-soprano & SWAP'ra Patron

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S: What are you up to at the moment?
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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.
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S: What do you love most about your job?
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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.
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S: How long have you been juggling parenthood and your career?
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DBP: My daughter, Ellie is 19 months old (and juggling is an excellent analogy...).
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S: How long after having Ellie did you return to singing?
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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!
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S: What physical changes did you feel, if any?
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DBP: Well, as I say, I hadnʼt slept for 3 days...
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S: How did parenthood change your career?
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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.
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S: Do you think that being a father has ultimately enriched your performing?
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DBP: Iʼm not really sure. Itʼs certainly enriched my life, and that probably manifests itself in some way in performance.  But not consciously.
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S: How does your Ellie respond to your job?
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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.
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S: Has Ellie ever appeared on stage with you?
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DBP: Ha! No. Not yet...
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S: How do you manage to continue your career alongside your family commitments?
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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.
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S: What changes do you think could realistically be made within the opera industry, to make life easier for artists with families/dependants?
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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.
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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.

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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?
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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.
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S: Were you ever advised not to have children for the sake of your career?
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DBP: No.
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S: Aside from the challenges of working-parenthood, have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?

DBP: No.
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S: Which operatic character have you most enjoyed playing and why?
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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!
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S: Which novel or play by a female author would you like to see adapted for the operatic stage?
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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.
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S: Which woman in the opera industry most inspires you?
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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.
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S: Do you have time for other passions and interests outside of your work and family commitments?
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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.

David Butt Philip

Tenor

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S: Please could you start by telling us a bit about who you are, which company you work for, and how long you have worked there?  ​  

FM: I’m the classical music critic for The Observer. I’ve written some books, and have been lucky enough to work in TV, radio and magazines as well as newspapers, starting off - invaluably - in news and current affairs. I’ve also been involved in three extraordinary start ups at various stages of my now rather extended career - Channel 4, The Independent and BBC Music Magazine.    I’ve worked at The Observer in two chunks - first 1997-2002 and then again since 2010. The reason for the gap was domestic. As a (mostly) lone mother of two young children, living outside London, I was finding it ever harder to travel/commute and be out late. All my minimal income went on unsocial-hours childcare. I was always the mother who didn’t make the school play or the school gate, let alone the cake (no loss, my children would confirm) and it became untenable.    I was offered a job at the Evening Standard as arts feature writer working mainly in the day - a great experience which came at the right time. But my heart was still at The Observer. When, out of the blue, I was asked back, I went (my children then being older but still, at first, needing baby sitters which swallowed most of my fee).      


S: How and why did you decide to go into journalism?     

FM: It took a while to decide to be a music critic. I had no confidence in my opinions and spent a long time resisting the idea, doing anything but - editing, commissioning, or writing music features but still not feeling competent to go to a concert/opera and give a view. That feeling hasn’t entirely gone… Performance is so personal, a negative word potentially so damaging. Eventually, when the Observer asked me to succeed the distinguished Andrew Porter, having fended off the idea for so long, I thought perhaps a different kind of voice was needed and I should give it a try.    ​  


S: What do you enjoy most about your job?   

FM: The music,  the variety, the challenge,  the privilege, the responsibility to those performing, the mental demands - it’s a constant, amazing education and in its own way a sort of performance requiring adrenalin and concentration. You have to give your best, just as those on stage do.    ​  


S: Do you see any imbalance of gender equality in the industry, and how has this changed over the years that you have been working in the classical music world? Do you think it is improving?    

FM: It’s changed hugely - we all know how opportunities are opening up at last, for conductors, composers, directors. There are many more women working in all spheres (programming/administration/publishing etc) but there are still relatively few writing about music, at least in the national press which is no longer the only, or even the main, outlet. I’m glad to say online opportunities have welcomed many new voices, some women.    
    When I first went to The Observer, there had been other women music critics elsewhere, but none had been given the main job, allowed to cover the big events.    Later, before the Independent on Sunday alas dropped its critics, there was another female chief music critic, Anna Picard, who held the post with flair and distinction from 2000 to 2013. But now we’re back in the situation of there being - as far as I’m aware - no other national broadsheet newspaper in the UK with a woman in that main role.    ​  


S: Have you had any chance to influence the gender imbalance in any of your jobs?    

FM: At BBC Music Magazine, creating from scratch a team of nearly 40 people, I was glad to have the chance to appoint lots of women, many of whom are now out in the field, working as writers, editors, programmers, broadcasters, public relations. No special pleading or quota was needed, there were so many excellent applicants. I’ve watched, with pride (yes!), their progress: from my time, Helen Wallace, herself BBCMM editor for several years, now in charge of the amazing programming at Kings Place and giving new meaning to the verb ‘juggle’; Amanda Holloway a highly sought-after editor and writer on many publications who proved what could be achieved after a career break; Deborah Keyser, who began as broadcast listings editor and is now director of Ty Cerdd, the body which promotes music in Wales; Jessica Duchen who has made an entire new industry of her award-winning blog. Many more, of a subsequent generation, have done stints at the magazine, which continues to be a healthy employer of women I’m glad to say.    ​  Did anyone notice or comment?    Yes! When the first issue was published in 1992 - which now seems like the dark ages but is not so very long ago, I promise  - I had letters (all from men) congratulating me firstly on being a woman editor of a classical magazine, secondly on having a staff ‘full of musical ladies’ as one correspondent put it. Unbelievably patronising. I also had some extremely rude letters, one, after I published an article by Germaine Greer on the predominantly male habit of CD collecting, accusing me of p**is envy - a notion which is still puzzling me. Of all the things I’ve envied in life, that is not one.      ​  


S: Many women that we have spoken to have been advised that having children and a career (particularly in music/opera) is not possible. What are your thoughts on this?    

FM: A wonderful woman who gave me my first big career break - a formidable role model, leader, inspirer - said she didn’t think it was possible to have both. She was older, single, and without children, and felt that was right for her. Rightly or wrongly, there was some truth in her view. Things had not changed by the time I had my two, now in their twenties. I realised I couldn’t hope to get a big managerial job until attitudes changed and/or I had more family support.  ​  So yes, I was certainly aware of the fork in the career path. I saw contemporaries in business/banking/law taking on ever expanding roles but they were paid eye-watering amounts that allowed more extensive child care. Nor did they have a job which, by its very nature, had to occupy both daytime and, so often, the entire evening, and a constantly changing time-table. Not being under the same roof as the children’s father certainly, for me, doubled logistical complications. I couldn’t have done it without the most loyal, hard-working, much-loved, dream nanny who stayed throughout.    What most of us need, balancing work and family, is the flexibility to be home more if possible, not less, while still doing a job; to be able to plan, and to be shown compassion if, as sometimes happens for myriad reasons, the domestic system breaks down. SWAP’ra is helping this happen, not a moment too soon.    When I switched from being an editor to a writer I gave up all the support of an office, and any job security. I took a huge pay cut, and lost all pension/rights/security, to take a freelance contract, which is true of most non-staff journalists.    Of course being a writer is more flexible - you can do it in the night or on the train if you have to, but you may also have to do it when you are sick, or when your child is unwell. It was a shock to have to be so completely self-reliant. As with being an opera singer, no one can do it for you. You have to be there. You have to write words to fill that space, to deadline, to length. And you are only as good as your last gig. It’s joy when it works.      


S: How has becoming a parent affected your job?    

FM: I was affected in a very specific way. When I was four months pregnant with my second child, I was invited to launch a new magazine about music - which was to become BBC Music Magazine. I said, no thanks…Another editor was sought but not found. I was asked again when I was seven months pregnant and this time said yes. Impressively, the BBC didn’t regard the impending double births of a baby and a magazine as a problem. I must give credit to Nicholas Kenyon, who had just taken over as Controller, Radio 3 and spearheaded the magazine. A father of four, he seemed entirely unperturbed by someone only on their second…    The baby was born and the launch issue of the magazine went to press six week later. I was sending faxes as I went into labour. I had a fortnight’s maternity leave then for several weeks took the baby on the packed commuter train from Oxfordshire to London.    At first I had two lots of childcare, one looking after the toddler at home, one accompanying me with the new baby, who slept - sometimes - in a basket under the desk where i was sorely tempted to join her. In between, the nanny tramped the streets, returning with the baby every four hours for a feed. We staggered along like this for three months, until costs and practicalities - moving to an open plan office with no privacy, not least - intervened.    Going to the office so soon did force me to get over pregnancy/birth pretty quickly, and the train journey was a godsend for catching up on sleep. I can’t say I would recommend it though. It often felt like an extreme, and very difficult, sport. I won’t forget once lugging an industrial-sized breast pump on the train and having to explain it was neither a sewing machine nor a cat-box.      


S: (How) has your attitude to artists with families changed since you have become a parent?       

FM: Respect and admiration. The big change is in the role of fathers, and the expectation that men really will take as near equal support as they feasibly can. This opens up real possibilities for equality. It’s vital that opera companies - any workplace - respects the need for both parents to combine professional obligations around parenthood. But that understanding should extend to everybody, those with other duties of care of any kind - which is surely all of us in some way or other.  


S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the classical music industry who is about to become a parent?

FM: Enjoy those early years. They go quickly. The easy bit - relatively, and assuming good health of parent/child - is at the start, when babies are fairly portable and their needs mainly physical. The idea that all gets easier ‘once they go to school’ is a myth. That’s when they really need you! The school day is so short and the children’s bed time becomes later. No one warned me quite what a conundrum that might be. I’m not sure I found the answer but my daughters are still speaking to me, for which I’m inordinately grateful.

Fiona Maddocks

Writer and SWAP'ra Patron

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S: How did you get into directing, and particularly opera?

FG: Before I became a director, I’d had a fairly varied career in production. I’d worked briefly as a stage manager in theatre then moved to TV as a production manager at the BBC and rose up the ranks to become a First Assistant Director. During that time I had my three children and whilst the BBC provided all the statutory maternity leave, it became more and more difficult to sustain a full time job which required me to be away on location, early starts, late finishes and constant weekend work. The atmosphere was very male orientated and sadly there was also a degree of antagonism from women in the department who did not have children. There was a constant need to prove myself capable of doing the longest hours, almost as if having children made me less good at my job. It was then I decided to go freelance, so that I could have more control over when and where I worked. After a short stint as Production Manager at the Gate Theatre Notting Hill, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to direct, and started directing small scale theatre productions. I fell gloriously in love with opera while working on a production for the Brighton Festival and from there started directing for some of the smaller companies and as an Assistant at the big houses. I then set up my own opera company, Opera by Definition. I now work mainly as a Revival Director both in the UK and abroad.
​

S: What are the big differences for you in working across different genres, and do you have a favourite?
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FG: TV gives you the opportunity for re-takes, to edit and re-edit; you can shape the final piece until it is exactly as you had envisioned. In live theatre there is that wonderful (and terrifying) sense of danger – you have to learn to let go and trust your cast, and each performance is different and alive. Opera seems to me to combine all that is best in the arts – design, costume, light, movement, voice and music all in one work. There are of course big differences between straight theatre and opera both in the rehearsal process and also in how you direct the piece – when you work on a score, in addition to the libretto the music gives you so much information about your characters’ emotional journeys, but it also ties you in to timing and form in a way that words don’t – it forces you to be creative within a specific musical frame.

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S: (How) have you seen attitudes towards women change over the years during your career?

FG: There are certainly many more women working within the art form now than when I first started and I do believe that we are valued as much as our male counterparts in similar roles, but there are very few women at a senior level, whether as directors or leading our national companies.

When I started directing – both my own productions and as an assistant in the big houses – I knew only a couple of other women doing the same. At the time, I think I was so pleased to have broken into the industry (for that is how it felt) that I was unaware of the huge gender bias in favour of men.  Now I see many more women doing the same thing, which is a big step in the right direction. However, and here is the crux of the matter, so many of us remain at the assisting, reviving and small scale directing stage. As the research shows, only 26% of Opera Directors in the UK are women. The number of female directors working at the highest level cannot be more ten or so. Why is this? We are no less talented nor less determined than our male counterparts.  Do we have to create some extremely wacky concept or re-invent the genre to be taken seriously? Where are the women running the artistic side of our opera companies? This is an issue that needs to be addressed and women need to be supported and encouraged to be seen as equal to the task. The current zeitgeist encourages women to have a voice in the arts, to ‘sit at the table’, but we still have along way to go to make it a reality.


S: Have you ever considered your gender to be relevant to the challenges of your job?

FG: I don’t feel that my gender plays a part in whether I’m offered a piece of work or not, but my ability to accept that work has definitely changed as now my children are adults I no longer have to consider childcare. I had to make tough decisions when I had small children at home and I know how hard it is for parents to be away from home for extended periods – and how very expensive it is to pay for childcare or travel with your family and set up home in a different city every few months. The very nature of our nomadic lifestyle, where little is done to recognise the needs of parents, makes working in this industry very challenging indeed.


S: Do you think the theory that women are naturally less authoritative than men is true? If so, is this just nature or is this something that is conditioned in us from early childhood?
​
FG: No I don’t think it’s true at all but in general I do feel that women have to be much more careful than men about how they wield that authority, and that’s something that needs to change. Society has a tendency to cast women in leadership positions as aggressive or harsh whereas men in the same roles are seen as strong and decisive. Men in the public eye don’t get judged on their clothes or general appearance in the same way that women do, and that can undermine a woman’s authority and trivialise her role. You need a huge amount of self-belief to overcome this type of casual prejudice. However, as a director, you need to have a certain kind of authority whether you are a man or a woman, and it’s not an area where I have ever had any issues. We are all pretty equal once in the rehearsal room.


S: What do you think are the biggest barriers are for parents entering the profession, particularly for directors?

FG: Oh there are so many! Starting out as a director, I had to take low-pay or no-pay work in order to hone my craft and develop my own way of working, which meant having to take non related paid work during the day and rehearsing evenings and weekends. That in itself meant long hours away from the family. As my career developed I had the opportunity to work abroad and that is tough on the children and on the parents…

Fees are often not enough to cover the cost of childcare, and there are no N/A’s for directors – we’re at every rehearsal so often miss out on the normal joys of parenting  - school events, school holidays… even mundane things like dentist and doctor’s appointments become a logistical challenge. 
​

S: In a business where there is always a plentiful supply of artist ready and willing, do you think changes should be made to make the industry more inclusive for artists with families and/or dependants? 

FG: Definitely. Being a parent should not be a barrier to working in the industry. I believe the big houses could do more to support parents particularly through scheduling and also by providing on-site childcare – it wouldn’t be so difficult….

As directors, we need the freedom to change our rehearsal calls and perhaps work with a different cast member than we had planned. We cannot completely predict how long a scene will take to work on, and we may need to make those schedule changes but we have a responsibility to think about the effect of last minute changes on parents and people with dependants, and how we can be flexible.

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S: How did becoming a parent change or affect your job?

FG: I already had children when I became a theatre/opera director. It was a constant juggling act – take a job or be at home to help with exam revision? I chose to take on smaller projects while my children were young so that I could be at home more and while I will never regret the choices I made, I do believe that my directing career stood still during that period.

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S: What advice would you offer to anyone working in the opera industry who is about to become a parent?

FG: Only work in this industry if you are prepared for long periods away from home, low fees, constant guilt about not being with your family and living out of a suitcase. If you are lucky enough to be working close to home, celebrate. If you are determined enough to cope with all this, do it! It is the most rewarding and exciting industry to work in and nothing compares to seeing your production come alive, from the initial concept to first night, with all that goes in between.

Francesca Gilpin

Stage Director

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