SWAP'ra at Glyndebourne- a funded retreat supporting parents in opera

Kitty Whately
Monday, November 7, 2022

Kitty Whately writes about the importance of support for parents in opera ahead of Glyndebourne's SWAP'ra retreat in February 2023

The SWAP’ra Founders by photographer, Chris McAndrew

Someone just forwarded me the link to the SWAP’ra Retreat, and I just wanted to say that it crossed my path at exactly the moment I needed and I immediately burst into tears. I have felt totally shut out since having my boys…

This is one of several messages we have received from singer mums in reaction to the work that we are doing to try to make a career in opera more possible for parents. SWAP’ra (Supporting Women and Parents in Opera) is a small charity and sector-support organisation, set up by five female co-founders in 2018. SWAP’ra was established to redress unconscious gender bias and normalise the expectation that working conditions in the opera sector will actively accommodate parents of all genders. We conceive of an industry that no longer perpetuates the notion that women are the primary caregivers by default, and in which artists are no longer concerned about the viability of their careers when they move between life stages (ie pregnancy, adoption, IVF, menopause, ageing).

Parenthood has been, up until the launch of SWAP’ra, a bit of a ‘taboo’ subject within the industry, with many feeling unable to speak up about the support they need from their employers. As a result, a huge amount of talent is lost from the opera industry every year. This is unnecessary and avoidable. The lack of affordable opportunities for post-natal singers to develop their careers and return to the sector is a key barrier. Following extended periods without income many parents lack the financial resources to be able to access coaching and create high quality audition videos.

“The physicality of childbirth and the early months - and years! - is so extreme, and when your body is your instrument, it's a fundamental altering of what you were previously able to do”- Melanie Sanders- Soprano

SWAP’ra is launching an inspiring residential course, providing intensive support, training and skills development for new mothers and birthing parents, facing barriers to returning to singing careers in the opera industry. The four-day programme, designed and delivered by SWAP'ra and taking place at Glyndebourne in February 2023, will offer participants a carefully curated programme of activity. The residential retreat will include sessions with a performance psychology coach, yoga classes led by an expert in post-natal core strength rehabilitation, individual vocal coaching sessions, masterclasses led by industry experts soprano Kate Royal and Director and Movement Director Victoria Newlyn, and informal discussions with peers who understand the precise pressures and obstacles faced by fellow opera parents. The course will be working towards professional recordings of audition arias that can be used to support attendees’ return to auditions and professional engagements- a resource which is becoming increasingly essential for artists, but very difficult to afford. Places on the course will be free of charge for all artists attending the retreat, with suitable accommodation for themselves / their families as appropriate provided.

SWAP’ra Retreat was designed in response to the lack of singers working in opera post-birth. Parents have told us about the barriers and stigma they have faced when trying to return to work. In an arts sector now hugely impacted by Covid-19, 60% of postnatal parents are working fewer than 8 hours per week, according to an industry-wide survey by PiPA (Parents in Performing Arts), in 2020-2021. 68% of those surveyed were unable to attend auditions due to caring responsibilities, and 72% were considering abandoning their careers entirely due to the stresses of childcare and the toll on their physiological and mental health. The pandemic has compounded structural inequalities that predate the pandemic and is leading to increased competition for fewer opportunities, accessed primarily by individuals with economic, social and cultural capital. Childcare is a significant contributing factor to these barriers.

We’re thrilled to be partnering with Glyndebourne to demonstrate & advocate for best practice. We want to demonstrate a new model of working with postnatal opera singers that can be scaled up across the sector and contribute to the retention of a talented, diverse workforce.. With the SWAP’ra Retreat and our ever-developing online resources, make a powerful and lasting statement to the wider opera community about workforce retention and challenging enduring perceptions about the compatibility of parenthood and a career.

For more information about eligibility and applications, or to make a donation towards this project, visit SWAP'ra.


Gramophone Print

  • Print Edition

From £6.67 / month


Gramophone Digital Club

  • Digital Edition
  • Digital Archive
  • Reviews Database
  • Full website access

From £8.75 / month



If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.