Diva in the House

Imagining the offstage reality of a globe-trotting coloratura mom doing it all.

Starring: Soprano Juliet Petrus, at home

It started as a silly idea. I arrived at the home of internationally-acclaimed soprano Juliet Petrus to begin a photo shoot for her debut album. I had photographed Juliet in performance several times and was always struck by her on-stage elegance and confidence. To be quite honest, I expected her home, which she shares with her well-respected economist husband and their precocious six-year-old son, to match the poise and grace of her public persona. 

My assumption quickly vanished as I stood in her living room: unfolded laundry strewn on the couch; a well-constructed cushion fort in the middle of the floor; papers covering the dining room table; dishes piled in the kitchen. Legos everywhere. Juliet greeted me, apologized, and dashed upstairs to change. As I tried to figure out how to make this shoot work without stepping on - action figures? cats? - Juliet reappeared into this chaotic scene in a blazing red gown with full makeup and hair done as if she was about to step on stage. The idea hit us at the same time.

Throughout our frequent collaborations, Juliet and I found ourselves comparing notes on the many rewards and challenges of living the independent professional artist life: establishing credibility, creating your own breaks, building momentum, getting paid. We uncovered an obvious trend of how this life is experienced differently between women and men in the performing arts world, particularly the expectations of how a woman should present herself and the public perception that follows. How visual beauty is paramount, or at best, equal to talent, skill, expertise, preparation. Is grace really effortless? How is a soprano supposed to live when she is not performing? Can she balance so-called "real life" with the pressure of building and maintaining a career? Is it possible to accomplish it all? When does one performance end and the other begin? 

As Juliet and I planned "Diva in the House," we created several staged shoots with a few objectives: 1) to blur the boundaries between public and personal; 2) to have fun with the limited portrayal of women in the arts, 3) to embrace the chaos. 

Real Life is a performance, and it's beautiful - inside and out. 

All photos © copyright 2016 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.