Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Rare female opera conductor gives birth and goes back to podium just days later

Lidiya Yankovskaya, of the former Soviet Union rehearses with the Refugee Orchestra Project on World Refugee Day at the First Unitarian Congregational Society June 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York.  DON EMMERT/ Getty

Story at a glance

  • Lidiya Yankovskaya is the music director for the Chicago Opera Theater.
  • She was pregnant when conducting “Becoming Santa Claus” last month, and she returned to her podium days after giving birth to conduct the closing of the opera.
  • Yankovskaya is one of only a few female conductors in the classical music industry.

A music director at the Chicago Opera Theater returned to the podium to finish conducting the closing of “Becoming Santa Claus” just three days after giving birth.

Lidiya Yankovskaya is an accomplished conductor, having conducted more than 40 world premieres, including 16 operas. She currently works as music director for the Chicago Opera Theater, and in December she welcomed her second child without missing a beat.

A pregnant Yankovskaya began conducting the opening of the Mark Alamo opera “Becoming Santa Claus” in Chicago on Dec. 11, according to ABC News. Five days later, she gave birth and three days after that returned to the theater to conduct the closing of the opera.

The classical music industry has very few women in leadership roles, with Marin Alsop, who served as music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, leaving her role last year. That left no women serving as music directors among the 25 largest ensembles. 


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Yankovskaya has helped change that, joining the Chicago Opera Theater as music director along with Eun Sun Kim, who began her tenure as music director for the San Francisco Opera last year. 

However, Yankovskaya has attempted to push the diversity issues plaguing the classical music industry into the public eye, tweeting about the comments she received about her ambitions to be a conductor. 

“When I had my first kid, people told me that no one wanted to see a pregnant conductor, that I couldn’t possibly conduct while caring for a newborn, and that being a mother and being a conductor are incompatible. I forged ahead with virtually no U.S. role models in this endeavor,” Yankovskaya said.

That she did, with Yankovskaya making a trio of debuts in Texas last year, leading performances at the Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Symphony Orchestra and at the Fort Worth Symphony. 

She’s also founder and artistic director of the Refugee Orchestra Project, holding concerts that bring together instrumentalists and singers who have friends and family that have fled to the U.S. to escape violence and persecution. 

The Chicago Tribune praised Yankovskaya’s performances as, “the very model of how to survive adversity, and also how to thrive in it,” while also naming her 2020 Chicagoan of the Year.


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