Opera for Claire Rutter is a family affair. The soprano opens her picture album to Barbara Hodgson
IT’S clear how important family is to Claire Rutter. The leading opera star and mother-of-two mentions how she recently travelled for a total of 48 hours to spend a couple of days with her son and daughter.
Other times her mother Doreen, a former model who lives close to their Winchester home, brings them out to her.
With her globe-trotting career, and husband Stephen Gadd also an in- demand opera singer, they’re well used to clocking up the air miles to be together.
And while South Shields-born Claire says she can count on one hand the number of times in a year the family spends a Sunday together, no-one has any complaints about the demands of a musical career.
In fact, they all have a hand in it, or at least in the couple’s newly-released CD – Rutter & Gadd: Family Album.
For instance, son George, an 11-year-old chorister at Winchester Cathedral, joins his mother in a duet – Mother & Son – she wrote herself. And her daughter, nine, and mother sing with her on Danny Boy.
“It’s not just any excuse to get the family in!” says Claire. “We wanted to do something slightly different.”
Different to the CDs typically made by opera singers, she means; the idea being to illustrate the “colours and frailties” of different voices.
“We didn’t want trained singers; we wanted real voices for those tracks.”
She wrote Mother & Son after hearing two soldier sons of a friend of hers were posted to Iraq at the same time.
“Not one but both,” says Claire. “I thought about what it would be like to be parted from your child in that way.
“And the song makes people cry. Lots of people who have heard it say they’ve played it over and over and keep crying!”
She’s currently tugging the heartstrings of London audiences too, in her starring role in Verdi’s Aida, having been asked by English National Opera to reprise the part which brought such success last year (at the same time as Stephen sang Macbeth at Glyndebourne).
She’s too modest to say it but her proud mother informs me –when I meet the pair during their visit to Newcastle this week – that this Aida double is pretty much unheard of.
It’s a notoriously difficult part and companies tend not to do it unless they have a specific person in mind for it. It’s in Aida that Claire will be making her debut at Sydney Opera House in Australia next year – “I’m absolutely thrilled about that.” So too are her children: it means another terrific trip.
She and her baritone husband – they met at Scottish Opera – try to make sure one of them is home if the other is away.
“We’re both so busy in our careers,” says Claire, who agrees it’s surprising they found the time to record their CD, which they’ve also produced under their own label.
She’s also been recording in Newcastle this week for a pre-Christmas collaborative CD of local folk songs.
While here, she and Doreen planned to re-visit South Shields where they lived until Claire’s father’s work took them south when she was four. Now 43, she retains, she says, “very strong” memories of the area.
She’s thinking about a tour next year and, if it comes off, Newcastle will be at the top of the venue list, she promises.
It’s been a few years since she last performed here. Then, she was harbouring an ambition of singing Tosca.
Well, she’s done that. Aida, of course, was another biggie and she’s enjoying the role more than last year: “I’m much more comfortable, more relaxed, with it this time. I feel I can let go more. I think I’m better this time around.
“It’s a difficult role – one of those not done by many people.”
Those with big voices, it seems, usually aren’t able to do justice to the high, soft notes also required.
Claire – whose “loud” voice was duly noted when she joined an amateur operatic group as a young teenager – can.
Perhaps big voices are a trait of the region. “The North East has produced some of the finest singers in the world,” says Claire who adds that she meets Geordies wherever she goes in the world.
“When I was at the Sante Fe opera festival this summer (from where she made that 24-hour each-way journey home), the director, Richard Gaddes, who’s just retired and who I thought was American, told me he’s from Whitley Bay.”
The local folk songs she’s just sung were more vocally challenging than that festival role, she says.
“I can’t sing easy roles now.
“I want to do things that are difficult – I’m like a sports person pushing himself to run faster, or swim faster. I used to love quite dangerous sports – like skiing and horse riding – but I haven’t done them since I had children. Now I get my thrills from song.”
So are there any ambitions left?
“I’m lucky that most of the roles I wanted to perform, I have,” she says but mentions a couple of less familiar Verdi roles, such as Desdemona in Otello.
She is keen to write an opera based on the life of Maria Callas, a woman she herself has been compared to.
“I’ve always been interested in her dramatic life story.
“I want to start that; I’m quite serious about it – and to play the role myself.
“And I’d tailor-make that role to suit my voice.” And no doubt to challenge it.
Rutter & Gadd: Family Album is out now. Visit www.ruttergadd.info