Kathleen’s Encore: Former Opera Singer Says 'Having It All Is Highly Overrated'

Aug 29, 2014

Kathleen Gillette and her family in the mid-1990s.
Kathleen Gillette and her family in the mid-1990s.
Credit Courtesy of Kathleen Gillette

Kathleen Gillette has had a passion for singing for as long as she can remember. She was always "very excited about bringing a piece of music to the audience. I loved it. I just loved it.”

Life is about making difficult choices. Sometimes you make them, and other times it’s not up to you. For Gillette, life pulled the stage out from under her.

She built a career nationally as an opera singer. She sang with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse and many others for more than 15 years.

Although she was a talented singer, Gillette did have her critics. When she'd warm up in the car, she said it would "totally horrify" her three young children, who would cry, “It’s loud!”

“Really, really loud,” is how Gillette’s daughter Molly remembers it. “Like she can be a full story away on the other side of the house and it still will basically shake the walls.”

Then one day Gillette’s doctor gave her news that vocal performers never want to hear. She was developing vocal nodes. Her doctor said her best bet would be to stop singing entirely.

“It was like death – it was horrible,” she said. “I loved being at rehearsal even when it wasn't my turn to be singing. It was wonderful to just be sitting on the floor in the corner and getting to listen to all of that fabulous music swirling all around. Gorgeous, gorgeous -- I would go home just dancing on clouds after spending two or three hours in rehearsal.”

At the time, she was in the midst of rehearsals for "La Traviata," an opera about a woman who finds the man she loves but then has to give him up.

Gillette felt like the opera mirrored what was going on in her life. Ten days before the production, she bowed out of the show.

This was only the first hit her career took. Around that time the economy tanked and her husband’s employer filed for bankruptcy. “I felt that I had better take a full time job, so that's what I did,” Gillette said.

Her dreams took a backseat. Gillette went back to school and now works in Web design. Although it isn’t singing, it is something that she enjoys.

“It's a big decision to give up something you absolutely love in order to have a family that you want,” her daughter Molly, now 28, said. “I'm always really glad that she got to participate in different elements of [opera] as we grew up: Singing where she can and making the most of it.”

People struggle with decisions like these their entire lives, but Gillette never saw her decision as abandoning a dream. She said instead that her dream has changed.

Gillette has found ways to still have music in her life. She doesn’t mind sitting in the audience of an opera. As far as she’s concerned, “having it all is very highly overrated.”

She doesn’t spend time thinking about what could have been because she didn't follow the other storyline. "We had what we had and I think it's worked out pretty well,” she said.

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