Gillene Butterfield

Wonderful Women Interview with Opera Singer Gillene Butterfield

Gillene Butterfield

Gillene Butterfield is an Opera Singer, who works full time for Opera North. She became a Mum in September 2014 and lives in Leeds with her husband Nick, who is also a singer. 

Gillene returned to work in March this year after her maternity leave, to take on the lead role of Julie Jordan in the revival of Carousel (13-23rd May) at the Grand Theatre Leeds and on tour.

Describe a typical day for you?

Singing singing and more singing! But no day is the same. There will be weeks of musical and production rehearsal, where the show is learnt and staged. Then weeks of stage rehearsal and then a few weeks of touring.

Opera singers often work unsociable hours like evenings and weekends – we work when people with ‘normal’ jobs don’t and want to go to the theatre!

Each day brings different costumes, wigs, productions, venues and characters. Singing practise and keeping fit outside working hours are also a must, I have to keep vocally and physically healthy to meet the demands of the job.

I’ve adored my maternity leave and as much as I am excited to be back at work, I want to ensure my baby doesn’t think I’ve run away and left him! My husband is taking additional paternity leave during the run of Carousel, which is a great comfort and I’ll make sure when I’m home he gets lots of cuddles – it’s going to be a massive change for us both.

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

Giving birth is definitely up there! However a woman chooses to have her baby, she deserves respect!! (As do all the husbands and birth partners). 

I’m also proud to be a full time performer – the arts are so important to preserve. I only hope by the time my little boy grows up they are still as rich and abundant in this country and receiving the support that they should. The role of Julie Jordan in Carousel is my favourite and most emotionally challenging role to date, I can’t wait to return to playing her now that I’m a Mum and see what new things I can bring to the performance.

What’s in your handbag/satchel?

Always a bottle of water, my iPhone and some chewing gum (a singer with bad breath is a massive no no). These days I’m never without a pack of wipes and a toy – probably Sophie Giraffe, as my little boy is teething.

What are your ambitions in life?

To do what I do (whether it’s performing, or being a wife and Mummy) to the best of my ability and to trust that what I’m doing is good enough. 

Carousel performed by Opera North at The Grand Theatre, Leeds

What advice would you give your pre-baby self that you now know having had a child?

You will sleep again. Even if you don’t sleep, you will survive.

Secondly, trust your instincts – you know your baby best. Finally, someone told me everything is a phase – both good and bad –  and this is proving to be true so far!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Hopefully as a mum of more than one, still working, performing and learning new roles and repertoire and generally doing my best to juggle childcare and career!

What advice would you give a budding opera singer?

Ask yourself if you are in the profession because you are passionate about it. Only that will make it worth it. A lucky few are talented enough to succeed at the top of the profession and they are the exception.

You’ll most likely work long hours; sacrifice family birthdays; best friends’ weddings; your baby’s bedtimes and you may need to find other work between contracts to support yourself.

But, if at the end of a performance you’re desperate to do it again, you’re in the right job.

Finally, happiness is…

A hot cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob. It’s the simple things….

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