Rhinegold SWAP'ra founding member Jessica Cottis

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

New campaign targets gender inequality in opera

8:00, 8th March 2018

A new campaign, Supporting Women and Parents in Opera (SWAP’ra), has officially launched.

Founded by a group of female opera singers and directors, SWAP’ra aims to effect positive change by redressing the gender disparity in the opera industry.

Patrons include opera director Katie Mitchell and sopranos Lucy Crowe and Sarah Tynan, and supporters include conductor Sian Edwards and mezzo-soprano Christine Rice.

Led by directors Ella Marchment and Sophie Gilpin, sopranos Anna Patalong and Madeleine Pierard, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and conductor Jessica Cottis, SWAP’ra will act as a ‘guiding body’ and offer practical solutions to issues faced by women working in opera, encouraging companies and individuals to work towards developing a more inclusive and cooperative industry.

SWAP’ra will initially focus on:

  • The launch of a website featuring blogs and interviews with high achieving women within the opera industry
  • Providing practical performance opportunities celebrating female creatives
  • Setting up regular meetings with opera companies to encourage positive, tangible change
  • Establishing mentoring schemes to encourage more women into the currently male-dominated positions such as conductors and directors, as well as providing support for parents balancing a career with famiy life
  • Regular round-table discussions and Q&As on gender equality within opera
  • Maintaining an active social media presence to build a strong, supportive community for women and parents (#Womenspire and #ParentsInPerformance)
  • Founding a ‘Coaching Crèche’ where parents come together to share childcare during coaching and/or rehearsals
  • Creating a small annual grant to support opera parents wanting to return to their careers

Opera Holland Park has already agreed to pilot a new scheduling system this summer, and SWAP’ra is currently in talks with the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Mid Wales Opera about what other industry changes might be instigated in both the short- and the long-term.

SWAP’ra’s inaugural event will be an all-female gala at Opera Holland Park on 31 July 2018. All performers, directors, conductors and orchestral players will be women, and the series of semi-staged opera scenes will be tied together dramatically by a female narrator. Hosted and supported by Opera Holland Park, artists scheduled to perform include Jessica Cottis, Alice Farnham, Giselle Allen, Janice Kelly, Diana Montague, Anna Devin, Jeni Bern, and Anne Sophie Duprels.

James Clutton, director of opera at Opera Holland Park, said: ‘I am incredibly proud to be associated with SWAP’ra. A good working atmosphere in any performing arts company comes when people feel respected and valued.

‘There have been far too many examples of bad working practices exposed recently. Things need to change. Working with SWAP’ra points to a new way of looking at working practices in opera, while being realistic about the unusual nature of the business itself.’

SWAP’ra founding member Anna Patalong said: ‘The support we have received so far from all areas has been tremendously uplifting and we firmly believe that by working together there are possibilities for positive change to benefit all.’


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