In a rehearsal break, in one of the world’s most beautiful and storied opera houses, a man whose remarkable playing I can still hear in my mind’s ear says to me, “You know why we don’t like to play for women conductors?” His eyes travel pointedly from my eyes to my blouse. “You move your arms, and everything starts moving – we don’t know where to look.” He meets my eyes again and laughs.
After a recital with a wonderful singer in a famous venue, I tell a colleague that the singer had been advised against collaborating with me because it doesn’t look right to have two women on stage together. “Actually that’s kind of true,” says my colleague.
I go into the great singer’s dressing room to communicate notes from the maestro. He sits back in his chair and spreads his legs wide. “Do I get to order you around when you’re done?” he asks.
Every night for eight performances, before I conduct the backstage music for an opera at a big opera house, I am summoned to the conductor’s room, where he makes me demonstrate my conducting for him. The music in question is sixteen bars long, two beats per bar, in an unchanging tempo, and does not have to synchronize with the orchestra in the pit. The conductor will only agree to my performing this childishly easy task under these circumstances, and so I go in every night: downbeat, upbeat, sixteen times.
The conductor of the new music ensemble comes into my practice room a few minutes before midnight. He blocks the door as he asks me to come out with him. I refuse several times before he leaves. I don’t get any more pieces to play with the group.
My college piano teacher tells me at my final lesson, “You are so talented. It is too bad you are a woman.” Seeing my stricken face, he continues, “Oh, don’t be insulted! But it is true. You are married, and so you have already chosen the important thing in your life. And it is too bad, because you really are talented.”
These stories are part of the life I’ve chosen, the life I love.