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Motherhood, Stress and Opera Singing

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CRYING BABY
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So last night, after putting my kid to bed, I finally had a chance to look at the internet, and discovered the firestorm surrounding the press for Glyndebourne's production of Rosenkavalier. Most of the anger was directed at the fact that several critics mentioned the build of the Octavian, and rightly so. But I was so busy running after my toddler and studying music that I didn't have a chance to thoroughly read all the reviews when I wrote this article, so I missed the lovely little tidbit mentioning that the soprano had been sounding previously as if she was "stressed by motherhood." You see, I'm not a professional journalist, and I'm feeling a bit stressed by motherhood myself, so I didn't do all my research as thoroughly as I could have. However, this critic is a professional journalist, and I can't imagine how his editors let that insanely preposterous statement make it into their publication.

Because I may not be a professional journalist, but I am a professional opera singer, and I am also a mother. And yes, I am extremely stressed. And exhausted. And I fully admit that if I make a mistake in rehearsal, I immediately blame the baby. However, I repeat, I am a professional opera singer. And because of that, I always bring my A game to the performances, regardless of what happened in my private life that day, that week, or that month. In fact, many people have commented that they think my voice has improved since having the baby -- pregnancy apparently agreed with my breathing apparatus. I feel more emotionally connected to the material I am relating to since becoming a mother. I am less neurotic about the craziness of the career now that I have a person who depends on me for his entire well-being, and as a result, my music making has become freer and more expressive.

But honestly, none of that should matter to anyone except me. What the critics have the right to observe about my performance is whether it is good or not, and why, technically or emotionally it does or doesn't move them. What they don't have the right to do is conjecture about why things don't sound good. Or maybe this particular critic's wife (or husband) isn't sleeping with him, so his writing and journalistic skills are suffering? See the double standard? When in the history of arts criticism has anyone mentioned a man being "stressed by fatherhood"? Again, not a journalist, very stressed by motherhood, no time to do the research -- but I would guess never.

I have sung performances on only a few hours sleep, or performances where I woke up at 5:45 in the morning and had to sing a bravura aria at 10:00 at night. I have had to lift up my costume at intermission, pull out my breast pump and express my milk, often freaking out my dressers and make-up artists. I have traveled on international and long-haul domestic flights alone with a boisterous baby, and I haven't had a good nights sleep in about sixteen and half months. I have gotten my kid's colds and stomach flu, and sprained a muscle in my neck from carrying him around on one of the days I was making a recording. I have been awake at 3 a.m. with him crying, while I cried, myself, knowing I had to perform that evening. I have had to learn two enormous leading operatic roles basically all while he was taking naps. And yet, I've managed to get some of the best reviews of my career since he was born.

Maybe I'm lucky that I'm not famous like Kate Royal, the soprano whose motherhood fatigue was mentioned, because probably none of the journalists who reviewed me had any idea that I had a bouncing baby boy waking me up in the middle of the night. But I can say with certainty that as stressed as Kate Royal most definitely is by balancing motherhood with a career as an opera singer, her performances definitely did not suffer as a result. Because she is a professional, doing something for which she has trained for years. And live performances are just that -- a snapshot in time in which anything can happen. Only the performer herself knows how or why a performance is turning out the way it is. And even sometimes she doesn't know. And motherhood is not a head cold or a throat infection. That's why before the show, you don't see the General Director of a company making an announcement: "Soprano X is suffering from motherhood this evening -- her baby woke her up in the middle of the night and also made her chase him all day long and tried to jump off the couch onto his head this afternoon. But she has agreed to perform nonetheless."

Motherhood and singing are similar -- there are almost equal parts joy and stress, but the joy outweighs the stress in the end, which is why we continue making babies and working at having operatic careers. And women are succeeding at doing both remarkably well all over the place. So shut your pie holes about whether or not you think we can do both, and do them well. We can and we are. In fact, I just ran this article through spell check and there wasn't a single thing to correct. I can even spell under this great duress that is motherhood. Boo-ya.