are there—in my last Billy Budd at the Met, I could still clamber steps, but no longer jump between decks.’ Large theatres can be problematic. ‘The Met seems so big when watching a performance, and filling a theatre like that can be overwhelming. You can play that big, but it is different.’ His Beckmesser was prepared for the 2,200-seat Covent Garden, ‘which gave me a chance to sing it properly and safely. It then felt comfortable in the 4,000-seat Met. Alternating songs and opera is good, as concert platforms reacquaint you with human proportions.’
Because of long hours and heavy schedules, Keenlyside sympathizes with young singers learning their trade, and having to deal with the peripatetic life and a new family, often before they can earn decent fees. The Canadian tenor Ben Heppner had three children to raise and, until he stopped, was never completely confident that a singing career could support them. He likes to say, ‘I sing for free. I just charge rather heavily for time and mileage. I was away more than I care to admit and decided not to sing more than 30 weeks each year. People in the business thought it career suicide, but being less available became just the opposite, I was more in demand. I could selectively choose contracts, and it signalled to my family that they were the priority.’ ‘I don’t have a family, mortgage or other obligations, so it’s not as onerous for me as it is for some,’ recognizes Newby, ‘but I really regret not being able to play in a regular rugger or cricket team. I do want a life away from singing, much as I love it.’
‘Home is where your family is, not the actual house,’ says the countertenor Iestyn Davies. ‘When my father [the founding cellist of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet] was performing in Russia, we had to make do with one phone call. Time differences affect relationships—you and your family are almost on a different planet. It is hard to have difficult conversations, and there is a danger that you start ignoring phone calls.’ Tézier had a marital break-up because he was constantly travelling, but is now married to a singer who understands everything the business entails. Heppner’s wife and family were always supportive: ‘As I was preparing to go to New York for the Met audition, my wife handed me a letter in which she said that she was not nervous about the success she knew I would have, but about how our lives would change.’ Stuart Skelton’s family travels with him as much as possible and they have an agreement not to be apart for more than three weeks at any time.
The life partner (of 45 years) of the countertenor James Bowman does not work in the arts, ‘but was always very supportive. He never said, “It’s me or your career”, but he hinted at it. So I cut down my long-distance opera contracts to be with him.’ Allen married the girlfriend he had known since he was 15. ‘In that situation you invariably don’t know yourself, and the career forced us apart. We were in different worlds and I paid the price, not seeing my son grow up.’ Lloyd’s early family life was ‘very difficult’, although he was lucky that his Covent Garden contract allowed him to be at home when his children were young: ‘From the perspective of old age, you have to line yourself up for a midlife crisis.’
Ann Murray’s son would travel with her when he was younger. However, as he grew and needed to stay at home, her manager told her, ‘If you don’t accept this [contract] at this stage of your career, there will be someone younger, better, cheaper and they will take her and you will never be invited back.’ So, she says, ‘I worked a lot in Europe, a few hours away. Whenever I needed to be at home, my manager supported me fully.
Opera, May 2021