Being an artist often requires that you make certain sacrifices. Being an opera singer and actor not only asks those same sacrifices, but then some.
One of the first things to go is the security of family. With so much travel, singers often find themselves away from their families, making it difficult to balance the two. For some, the idea of family isn’t really an option.
But it should be, or so purports mezzo soprano Daniela Mack. Despite being a major star across the US at such houses as the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Philadelphia, the Royal Opera House, Florida Grand Opera, Opéra de Montréal, and Seattle Opera, Mack has managed to retain a sturdy family-career balance.
“The job of an opera singer has a stigma of being all-consuming, and people have a preconception that to be a successful artist, you must be married to your art,” Mack told OperaWire. “While this may be true for some, most of my colleagues and friends in the business (who adore what they do) desire as close to a ‘normal’ life as they can get, which could include marriage or long-term partnership, children, pets, a home, or any number of other things associated with a traditional (stationary) lifestyle.”
So, without further ado, here are some tips from Mack on how to find that career-family balance you crave.
1. Be Honest With Yourself About Your Priorities
Life can change constantly and, the shifts are even more notable when pursuing life as an artist. Mack noted that while her early career placed a great emphasis on honing her craft. But then thing started to shift. When she got married to tenor Alek Shrader, her priorities not only emphasized her craft, but also maintaining a healthy relationship. And when their daughter was born, the priorities shifted yet again.
“The older I get, the more I understand how much of my life is shaped by my perception, and it’s important how I dedicate my time and energy. Whereas 10 years ago I sang primarily for myself, today my family is at the core of everything I do, even when deciding engagements. Of course, none of this means that I love my work any less than when I first started out. In fact, in many ways I love and understand it more because of the life I lead with my family. Growth is always good, and it’s natural for priorities to change over time, but it’s imperative to check in and re-evaluate what direction we want our lives to move in. Honesty is crucial to the survival of any relationship, and being honest with ourselves about what we want or need to thrive and be fulfilled must come first.”
2. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
“Don’t be afraid to spend your hard-earned money on things that matter. For me, that means enjoying time with my family. The itinerant life of a performer can be problematic, since so few families are able to travel together 100 percent of the time,” Mack noted. “Absence does make the heart grow fonder (up to a certain point) but the distance complicates things. If you add kids into the mix, time apart can be unbearable, so it’s very important to find ways to be together—whether that means flying to them or bringing them out to you. I’ve always been a huge advocate of spending every spare dollar on travel if it means less time away from my loved ones.
“As a young artist, I didn’t have a whole lot of extra cash lying around, but I made a point of saving and forgoing other things in favor of traveling to see my family. Airline miles and card points for travel are amazing for this purpose. They make great gift ideas if parents or friends want to know what to give a singer on the road who can’t add much weight to their already overstuffed luggage.
3. Make a Home to Mirror Yours on The Road
“Most of my colleagues have artifacts they take with them on the road to make their temporary home feel more like their own, or they do rituals (like rearranging the furniture) to claim the space,” Mack explained. “I’ve always loved this idea, but I didn’t find it imperative until I had a family.
“Alone, it’s easier to adapt to many different environments, but when you’re missing your own space and your loved ones, it helps to recreate a personal connection despite the distance. I like to have things with me that either belong to my daughter or remind me of her when we are apart. I take comfort in them on my own, but also use them to link us back to each other when we’re talking on FaceTime or Skype. By the same token, leaving my own belongings with her until I come home gives her the task of devoting attention and taking care of something for mommy, and makes the wait to be reunited more active. This works especially well for little kids, but the principle is the same between partners. After a long day of rehearsal or performance, it’s easy to fall into a routine of just checking in and not really communicating, but making a point of connecting on the specifics (mundane or otherwise) makes us feel we are still in-the-know and a part of each other’s daily life.”
4. Be Present in the Moment
Being apart from loved ones is inherent for nomadic performers, and it never gets any easier to be away. There are so many useful ways to keep in touch and communicate that simply didn’t exist a few years ago, but there is no substitute for actual in-person quality time. When not on a gig, opera singers can potentially spend every waking moment with loved ones, and it’s important to build that time into the schedule. Of course, time to learn repertoire and preparing for the next engagement is an ongoing commitment, but that can all be achieved with good time management.
“When my husband and I are at home and not rehearsing, we make sure to be present and connected to each other’s lives, and especially in the life of our daughter,” Mack explained. “We strive to perfect our system of trading-off parenting and housekeeping duties, in addition to programming some study/business time into our day (and don’t forget ‘me time’/fun stuff/DATE NIGHT!). When we are with our daughter, we are fully engaged and interacting with her, creating memories, and making the most of our time together without distractions. We try to make up for the contact that we lack when one of us is on the road by spending extra time and energy when we are home.”
5. Be Flexible, Patient, & Dare To Succeed
“Everybody’s measure of success should be different and personal. It’s dangerous to let others define what your ‘success’ should be, what you should achieve or whose model you should follow. There is no one way to have a fulfilling career, no universal mold for a happy relationship, and no absolute right way to be a parent,” Mack concluded “Being a human being is hard enough, and pursuing a highly unpredictable (at times unstable) job, a committed relationship, and a baby (tiny person, furbaby, or otherwise) can seem overwhelming. One of the most helpful things I’ve come to realize is that, while we can prepare and train ourselves to the best of our abilities, much of our lives are out of our control and the more rigid our expectations for ourselves, the harder they are to meet. It is absolutely a good thing to have life goals, but we must remain flexible enough to go with the flow when life takes an unexpected turn. If I could tell my younger self anything, I would say to be dedicated but patient, especially with myself, and to be more daring in every way. Achieving success as a parent, partner, and performer requires courage and belief that success is possible, even if the odds seem stacked against you and encouraging words are not often freely given. And when we inevitably fail at something, the humility of knowing we did something wrong, the flexibility to change course, and the courage to try a different approach make us better people, onstage and off.”