Opera director told she ‘couldn’t conduct with a newborn’ returns to podium three days after birth

6 January 2022, 19:06 | Updated: 6 January 2022, 23:50

Lidiya Yankovskaya and her newborn daughter
Lidiya Yankovskaya and her newborn daughter. Picture: Michael Brosilow/Verismo Communications

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Mum of two Lidiya Yankovskaya took to Twitter to share her experiences of stigma and discrimination as a new mother in the classical music industry.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of the Chicago Opera Theater, gave birth to her second child on 15 December, before returning to the podium three days later.

Yankovskaya was told during her first pregnancy that “being a mother and being a conductor are incompatible”, and that I “couldn’t possibly conduct while caring for a newborn”.

Sharing her story via a thread on Twitter, Yankovskaya wrote: “When I had my first kid, people told me that no one wanted to see a pregnant conductor.

“I hope we are beginning to let go of this ridiculous, sexist stigma. Pregnancy and childbirth are personal matters and do not impair a woman’s ability to judge for herself whether she is in a position to perform.”

Read more: Pregnant mum’s belly moves as baby dances to Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ in the womb

Yankovskaya is not alone in facing this discrimination and stigma.

In 2021, Sony Classical recording artist Cecilia De Maria took to social media to share her own experiences of being a professional musician who had chosen to raise a family.

The harpist, who gave birth to her daughter last November, shared her expecting status on Instagram and Facebook a few months before her due date.

In the post, De Maria commented: “I am very fortunate to be expecting a baby later this year.

“What isn’t so fortunate is the way in which even in 2021 I know I am amongst many pregnant women in the music industry who are scared of people finding out in case their work is affected.”

In 2018, soprano Julie Fuchs was told by the Hamburg State Opera – four days before the start of rehearsals – that she would no longer be able to perform in its upcoming production of The Magic Flute.

Cast in the leading role of Pamina, the pregnant Fuchs was not allowed to perform because to do so would “compromise the production’s artistic integrity”.

Taking to Facebook, the soprano wrote: “Whilst I respect the artistic vision of the theatre, I am saddened that we were not able to find a solution to accommodate this slight physical difference which does not negatively affect my vocal or artistic performance.

“As you can imagine, I am very disappointed as I am feeling vocally and physically in top form... It was my strong desire to find small production changes to make my appearance possible.“

Read more: Top soprano fired by Hamburg State Opera because she's pregnant

Violinist Leila Josefowicz performing John Adams' Violin Concerto whilst pregnant
Violinist Leila Josefowicz performing John Adams' Violin Concerto whilst pregnant. Picture: Getty

In recent years however, there has been a positive move in the industry towards improving support for musicians starting a family.

Some touring orchestras even include an allowance for partners or nannies to accompany mothers on tour with their newborn, instead of separating the two.

Several female soloists, including Anne-Sophie Mutter who is a mother of two, are now able to have successful touring careers.

However, Yankovskaya acknowledges that it still continues to be hard for some musicians who may not have a supporting employer or be in a secure financial situation.

On her Twitter thread, she continues: “We must give mothers and all parents (more) support. However, we should never ASSUME that pregnancy or parenthood would prevent a person from doing anything they did before kids.

“I must acknowledge here that [my experience] possible due to my incredible husband, who truly sees having kids as an equal partnership and supports me every step of the way in all my endeavours. Not all women have this level of health, privilege, and support.”

If you are affected by any of the above, The Musicians’ Union offers maternity, adoption and parental rights advice on its website.