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WQXR Features

Café Concert: Kate Royal

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Video: Kate Royal performs live in the WQXR Café

Earlier this month the English soprano Kate Royal told the Glyndebourne Festival in England of a slight complication that might affect her appearance this summer in the role of the Governess in Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw. When the production opens, she would be seven months pregnant.

The obvious choice would have been to cover over her condition with a costume. Opera fans are routinely asked to accept, say, a chunky tenor as a starving Bohemian poet. "I tried to persuade Glyndebourne to have a governess that’s seven months pregnant but they just weren’t having any of it,” she said. “I was thinking of everything. I could wear a coat."

Finally, she realized, "A lot of other roles you could easily cover up but this production especially is one that is impossible for them to allow me to waddle on stage.”

In the WQXR Café, the three-months-pregnant Royal wore a loose-fitting shirt but otherwise there was no specific evidence of her condition. Nor has it restricted her recent activities. Having just made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the heroine in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, she’ll follow up the release of her latest EMI CD, A Lesson in Love, with a recital at Weill Recital Hall on Friday night.

Royal’s pregnancy – her second in two years – brings to light a larger question of how singers not only balance family and career, but must navigate schedules that are made two years in advance. The soprano Anna Netrebko sang until her sixth month of pregnancy before taking a maternity leave in 2008; the German soprano Diana Damrau made it through her seventh month, playing a visibly pregnant Valkyrie in the Bayerische Staatsoper's Ring last year.

In 2003, soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge made the front page of The New York Times as the first visibly pregnant Lucia di Lammermoor in New York City Opera history. Her expectant state was welcomed by director James Robinson and incorporated into his staging (even with the character’s infamous mad scene).

“The whole process of having a baby physically obviously changes you,” said Royal, noting that for her second child she plans to ease back into singing more gradually. “It took up to a year after the birth of my first child before I was singing the way I wanted to sing again. Apart from that, as many mothers would agree, it’s the lack of sleep. Trying to do any job when you’ve had four or five hours of sleep is pretty hard.”

Royal does have some help. She has been living in New York this spring with her 18-month-old son and her husband, actor Julian Ovenden, who is rehearsing a new musical, Death Takes a Holiday at the Roundabout Theatre. Royal said she plans to be back on the stage of Covent Garden in London next February as the Countess in Mozart’s Figaro of Figaro. Also slated are concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic in London and Munich.

“You really realize how quickly it goes and how fast they grow up,” she said of having children. “I know I want to go back to work but I’ll take that into consideration this time around.”

In this audio clip, Royal discusses her CD "A Lesson in Love":

Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Text: Brian Wise; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon