The show must go on for pregnant stars
| Katherine Boyle |
WASHINGTON (WP-BLOOM) – The concert didn’t sound unusual. The Choral Arts Society sang with its typical verve. The parade of soloists basked in the customary applause, and the orchestra played Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” with the radiance and rigour it requires.
But an unexpected presence – a large hump bulging out from the soprano’s amethyst gown – caused stirs in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Surprised audience members noted Erin Wall’s impending motherhood when she perched herself in front of the choir.
The pregnant opera singer isn’t an uncommon sight. Last month, Janai Brugger, 29, then six 1/2 months pregnant, made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Liu in Puccini’s “Turandot”. Costumes and characters can mask the evidence of pregnancy. Unsuspecting viewers would never notice the bump.
But at 32-weeks large, it was clear that Wall was singing for two. Breathing for two. Performing Missa Calisthenics too much, standing and sitting ad nauseam. Oh, the nausea!
“That part is difficult, the getting up and sitting down,” said Wall, a Toronto-based opera singer who performed with the National Symphony Orchestra last November. “It gets exhausting. I think I’d have rather just stood there the whole time.”
For millennia, women have dealt with the ups and downs of pregnancy, whereby simple tasks – walking, eating, even breathing – become challenges.
Singers, dancers and musicians have additional concerns: They must navigate this common stage of womanhood on stages, acting as though little is changing inside their expanding bodies. They know the perils of pregnancy, how the experience can disrupt careers.
And as the public continues to debate Yahoo CEO’s Marissa Mayer’s two-week maternity leave and the needs of pregnant professionals, women artists have unique worries: Will my voice change in the second trimester? Will my dance partner be able to lift me? Can I still fly to concerts across the globe, and if so, who will carry my cello case?
“My first pregnancy, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Wall, 37, who gave birth to her second child recently. “I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do my job. But once I learned how to cope with the sickness, it was fine.”
So expectant mothers adapt. They perform with precision, even as their instruments change. Dancers mourn the loss of muscle tone as it melts away like a Dali scene.
Opera singers revel in the surge of hormones that give their voices richer, fuller timbre. Cellists lay their instruments on their bellies and hope the baby doesn’t kick when the timpanist strikes.
“My daughter would always react to something particularly loud,” said NSO principal second violinist Marissa Regni, 44, of her now nine-year-old daughter Sofie. “She’d also inevitably start kicking and poking right when I’d start a solo.”
Most artists mask discomfort with aplomb. They are trained, after all, to maintain graceful demeanours. But don’t think for a moment that pregnant performers aren’t preoccupied by nature: it’s calling them to the ladies’ room during intermissions.