Life under a Double Rainbow

We have so much in common that it really makes our life beyond harmonious. We know the closeness of our relationship is rare, and because of that we hold it to be very precious.”

Sitting side-by-side in a nearly deserted restaurant on the Upper East Side, soprano Maureen O’Flynn and her husband, baritone Claude Corbeil, are the picture of marital harmony–the poster children for great partnerships. Sharing their appetizer, knowing each other’s tastes so well they nearly ordered for one another without even considering it beforehand, they function in perfect tandem.

“The biggest factor in our relationship is that we adore each other.” Maureen pushes aside a curtain of auburn hair to give me a look that can’t help but be radiant. “We have so much fun together. Our marriage is almost a cliché because we are best friends.” With Claude nodding vigorously at her side, she continues, “We’re fortunate because we are doing what we love to do. It’s wonderful to travel, have incredible meals, take a walk someplace we would otherwise not have seen, and just be together. It is just ‘the cat’s meow’! Some of our friends probably get sick of us, actually.” She laughs, and Claude laughs, and so I laugh, too.

But in the midst of events like impeachment proceedings against the President and the accompanying stories of infidelity and abuse of power, it’s incredibly refreshing to see the evidence of a marriage that works. This partnership is one clearly based on mutual love, shared visions, and immense trust.

“We met doing Susanna and Figaro at Opera Hamilton, in Ontario,” Maureen explains. The story of how they met may sound familiar to other singers. “It was instantaneous,” Maureen tells me very matter-of-factly. “We didn’t get together then; it was almost two-and-a-half years before we actually got together. We kept being thrown together for jobs, or accidentally seeing each other in Europe. Our third job together was Faust, in Belfast. Claude had been to Belfast before, but I never had. We reconnected on the plane from London to Belfast.”

“Was I looking for her?” Claude grins at me, a smile so infectious I can’t help but respond in kind. “Yes, I was.”

In keeping with Maureen’s Irish blood, Belfast turned out to be the turning point in their relationship. It was there that they decided they had to be together.

“We got married in 1996.” Maureen grins at her husband. “We wanted to be married in Ireland, but it was very complicated. A good friend, John Fisher, who’s Scottish, said, ‘Why don’t you get married in Scotland? It’s easy to get married in Scotland.’ So it was, and we did!” Now she laughs, but it’s clear the memory is incredibly special to her. “We took eight friends with us and picked a Victorian manor in Argyle. We had the whole house to ourselves; there were no other guests. During the dinner after the ceremony, double rainbows appeared over the river.”

Maybe it was a favorable omen, but there is no doubt that what Maureen and Claude share is very special. After some vocal troubles and surgery, Claude found his own singing career cut short in 1995. The couple had already decided to pick and choose the jobs that would allow them to spend time together, but Claude’s early retirement meant an unexpected sort of freedom.

“The silver lining behind that cloud,” Maureen says, “is that we get to be together all the time. We had decided to take jobs that wouldn’t overlap so we could be together. After all, that is the point of getting married. Now I have the great, great luxury of having the eyes and ears I trust most with me all the time, and a man who knows more about the business than I do, who understands the lifestyles that go along with it.”

Marriage, for singers, can be filled with special considerations, and I ask Maureen and Claude what they think is important for a successful partnership. Maureen answered, “Do whatever you can to be together, because that is what is important. It’s very hard to be away, to be alone all the time–very hard. If you aren’t together enough, it is hard to keep some sense of normalcy in your life. That, to me, would seem to be the main problem with being married to a non-singer. It can be very hard for non-singers to understand how singers deal with constantly moving around–especially if they are several thousand miles away. We have quite a few singer friends married to non-singers whose partners decided to travel with them. And these people do in some respects have what we have, and they’re usually very happy that way. That works. Which kind of brings it all back to ‘being together.’”

“I also think,” Claude interjects in his smooth Quebeçois accent, “you have to have a common interest in something. If, for instance, Maureen were a singer and I were not a musical person, I think I would have to learn about her activities and interests. It’s important for couples to have a common understanding in some area. Otherwise, if I have my own world, she has her own world, and she’s not interested in mine, and I’m not interested in hers–I don’t think that relationship would endure.”

Maureen nods. “Our mutual love of music makes the light shine for us both. Being together in that light is so much more comfortable than being in it alone. I think in our profession you have to pick your priorities, perhaps more so than in occupations where you don’t have to travel for a living. About this much of it is glamour!” she says while holding thumb and index finger an inch apart.

“When the career happens,” Claude says, “it is glamour, but it’s also a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work. The glamour is very fleeting. It lasts maybe a half hour, and then you go back to your hotel to get up at four o’clock in the morning to be someplace else…” Maureen and Claude exchange a rueful, knowing look.

After lunch it’s time for this musical duo to hit the road back to Massachusetts, and a farmhouse they are renovating “even as we speak,” Claude tells me. After the holidays, it’s off to Lyons for performances of Haydn’s Creation, Lucia di Lammermoor in Trieste, and a concert version of Linda di Chamounix in Washington, D.C. “We’re busy,” Maureen admits, “but we often have time to be home, and we love that as much as we love traveling and singing. There’s nothing better than to have the person you love the most share with you the things you love to do most.”

Emily Brunson

Soprano Emily Brunson was senior editor for Classical Singer from 1998-99.