Cradles in the Wings

Cradles in the Wings

Maya Kherani is doing something so extreme—something that requires so much effort, time, and sacrifice—that most opera artists with developing international careers do not dare to do it: she is raising two small children. The Indian-American soprano is currently a resident of California and boasts some impressive career milestones—for example, she made a stunning debut in France while eight months pregnant with her second child. Now as a parent of two children under three, she is an active performer and a devoted mother. I spoke to Kherani about her recent achievements and how she manages to balance her career with motherhood.

What are some of the most important highlights of your career so far?

Singing Drusilla and Fortuna in L’incoronazione di Poppea at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and at the Château de Versailles; the latter was just released on DVD. 

Singing my first Messiah for Boston Baroque in 2021 (and 9 months postpartum), which was released internationally on IDAGIO and was viewed around the world by thousands of people. 

Making my debut in Montpellier, France, singing Autonoe in Sartorio’s L’Orfeo with Philippe Jaroussky conducting Ensemble Artaserse.

 Creating the title role in Pay the Piper at Glyndebourne, which I sang with my 11-month-old daughter in tow. It was an innovative project that incorporated a full children’s cast and four female composers. 

Singing Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro with Opera San Jose in an innovative production set in India during the British Raj—performing with so many other South Asian opera artists was so empowering and unique.

The life of a professional opera singer is planned to the minute and sometimes years ahead. Can you talk about any planning you did with your husband, management, and family when deciding to have a child?

I didn’t really plan ahead that much. I got pregnant in the thick of the pandemic, around June 2020. My entire international season was booked and it all fell through. Having a child was something my husband and I always wanted to do, and it never seemed like the right time—and then because of COVID, we thought, “OK, it’s now or never.” 

In fact, it was great timing because I managed to be home for the whole pregnancy and my first gig away was when my daughter was 9 months old. My first international engagement happened when she was 11 months old, which was crazy. 

Now that I have two small children, I discuss engagements with my management and make sure it’s mostly concert work and work closer to home. It is scary saying no to roles, especially as a soprano, but that’s what I have to do for my family right now.

What was the experience of singing major roles while pregnant like? 

I’ve now sung a few roles while pregnant. With my first child, I sang with Opera San Jose and Susan Graham, which was amazing. I was only three months pregnant and, although I didn’t show much, I had to deal with morning sickness, but everyone was very understanding. 

With my second pregnancy, I sang a lot of concerts and two roles. While eight months pregnant then, I made my debut in Montpellier singing the role of Autonoe in L’Orfeo. It was a major role, and my pregnancy was incorporated into the performance. It was tough, and by the end I was very fatigued. Everyone was very understanding and supportive. Vocally it was great, because I really had something to push against in my body. 


I went into labor 10 days after flying back home, and my son was born a mere two weeks after our closing performance, nearly six weeks early! Although that was somewhat stressful, overall singing pregnant was very enjoyable for me both times.

Can you talk about your support network and its role in your success?

I think it takes a fair amount of privilege to be a working singer and a parent, because there is literally no way of doing it alone. My husband is extremely supportive. He was able to work remotely, and my mother-in-law was able to go to my international engagements. It takes a fair amount of financial privilege as well, because family housing is not cheap and opera houses do not compensate for that. I had to pay for everyone’s flights out of pocket. 

Being an international opera singer and a parent requires a lot of support and privilege. I’ve seen opera singer couples work it out and switch it around, and I’ve seen some couples homeschooling their kids, which is a huge commitment. I value stability for my children and I don’t want to transplant them all the time. Without the support of my husband, parents, and in-laws, there is no way I could pursue my career. 

    This is the reality that is not talked about enough. I wish houses provided more for singers with families. Unfortunately, this narrows the field for who can have children in this career and what voices we can see on stage.

Has motherhood had an influence on your voice and character interpretation and, if so, in what way?

One hundred percent yes! I feel like my voice has really grown. I feel I have so much more access to my lower body support. People have commented on the added richness of my tone.

Artistically, the perspective I gained as a mother is invaluable, even if a character is not a caregiver—it’s your empathy for the other characters on the stage. I believe I am a better artist and a better singer because I am a mother, and this is true for many women.

What are some of the challenges you face as a mother of a young child and an international opera singer? 

I think it is a logistical nightmare—it takes a lot of financial privilege and a strong support network. As a traveling singer, you can bring your kids with you or leave them at home, and both are very difficult. It requires a lot of sacrifices, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. There are things that will not happen in my career because of it, but I am OK with that.

What is the role of your life partner in all this, and what are some of the challenges he has to face as a young father and professional?

My husband is my rock. I would never have gotten anywhere in my career without him. We’ve been together for a very long time. We met singing in choir at Princeton University: I was a freshman and he was a junior. I was an engineering major before, and then I transitioned to being a singer. 

He has a very challenging, demanding startup job, but he has been so supportive—we are a team and we face all challenges together.

Has motherhood always been your dream?

I’ve always wanted a family. I grew up in Texas where it was very common to start a family young. I personally was waiting for the right time, and COVID gave us an opportunity to start our family.


Do your skills of being a successful opera singer translate into being a successful parent? If so, in what way?

I am very good at multitasking and time management. Being an opera singer requires doing a million things on the stage at once while also being in the moment, and that’s what parenting is. You have to multitask, but you also have to be present and in the moment. I guess there are a lot of parallels between being a performer and being a parent!

What is your advice to young singers who worry about combining a successful career with being a parent?

I think it’s important for singers to think critically because it takes a lot of sacrifice, including a sacrifice on your career. If they want the jet-set international huge career, then maybe being a parent is not for them, unless they are OK being away from their kids or homeschooling. I would say go into it with your eyes open and be informed. However, it is difficult to understand the benefit of having children until you have them.

I joined a Facebook group called Momology, which is for performing moms, and that has been very helpful. Talk to your colleagues and mentors and think about it carefully.

In your experience, has the opera industry’s treatment of pregnant singers and singers with small children evolved over the years?

I think it has, although I wasn’t tuned into it before I had my kids. But I hear from my colleagues that companies are much more accommodating now as far as providing lactation rooms and childcare allowances. 

One simple thing that could improve is not relying on a daily schedule, where we find out about tomorrow’s schedule only the night before. It makes it impossible to plan childcare. If companies could provide a more advanced notice, that would be so much more parent friendly.

Maya Kherani has some impressive upcoming engagements around the country, including her debut as Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Boston Baroque. She is also a featured faculty in the 7th Fresno State Art Song Festival, February 22–24, 2024.

Dr. Maria Briggs

Dr. Maria Briggs is a Russian–born Australian soprano. Dr. Briggs holds a bachelor’s degree in piano performance, masters in vocal performance, and a DMA in opera performance (Sydney University and Northern College of Music, UK). Dr. Briggs has sung with Opera Australia, Pacific Opera, Lyric Opera Weimar and Glyndebourne Opera Festival, UK. Maria is associate professor of voice at Fresno State and now lives in Fresno with her husband Matthew and two sons. Her recent album Winter Evening explores romantic Russian art song and can be streamed on all platforms.