New York International Opera Auditions
BrunelliNeri Productions is bringing German opera houses to New York City for auditions in May and April of 2003.
This Italian website lists singers' information in much the same way Operabase or the Classical Singer databases do. The main site is in Italian, but an English version is in the works. The listings are free until December 15, 2004.
BOOKS AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS
British Music Yearbook
The UK's answer to Musical America and a must-have resource for singers aspiring to work in the UK. Available through Rheingold Publishing. Visit their website, which also has free access to job listings, and a variety of other publications which might be of interest to UK singers.
Deutsche Bühnen Jahrbuch
This is Musical America for Germany. Listings for all theaters, not just musical venues. A must if you're going to audition in Germany. Order it here:
German for Musicians
by Josephine Barber
Indiana University Press, Bloomington
by Gail Sullivan and Dorothy Maddison
Clearing Press, POB 265, Millburn, NJ 07041
See ordering info and reviews at amazon.com:
Rheingold also publishes Opera Now; boasting that it's the "most influential opera magazine in the world". Ahem. So much for that fabled British reserve. But check it out for yourself.
The German opera magazine, equivalent to Opera News.
Check it out online at www.opernwelt.de
A way to save on long distance while traveling internationally. You dial your personal, assigned phone number, let the call ring once and hang up. The system immediately calls you back and provides a dial tone; you can then dial anywhere worldwide. Many of the companies listed below also offer international cellular service.
725 Lakefield, Suite G
Westlake Village, CA 91361
CogniDial from Cameron Communications
12 cents a minute Germany - US
7808 El Cajon Blvd., Ste. M
La Mesa, CA, 91941
1Discount Long Distance
126 South Rapp Street
Columbia, IL 62236
1-800-557-5300 or 1-618-281-3426
Fax: 1-800-757-6322 or 1-618-281-3447
EURAIL AND TRAVEL SERVICES
Eurail Official Site
Rail Europe -passes for Eurail and various national rails
1-877-456-RAIL in the US
1-800-361-RAIL in Canada
1-877-EUROVAC (in US & Canada for air, car and hotel)
LETTER-WRITING AND LABELING SERVICES
The Musical Occasion
435 East 77th Street, Apt. 1C
New York, NY 10021
Contacts, mailing labels, and model letters to opera companies in various languages for European auditions www.musicentral.com/opera-singers/
A sample cover letter, auf Deutsch
TIPS FROM THOSE WHO'VE BEEN THERE
Check out www.operastars.com for a wealth of information on Europe for singers, including need-to-know everyday stuff like store hours; connecting your computer; getting a sublet, coaches and accompanists, and more!
Also take a look at the new site, www.flyingdiva.com, which promises to "deal with questions and needs of US singers traveling both short and long term to the UK/EU". This site is run by a singer currently living and working in the UK.
GERMAN AUDITION TIPS
from Lisa Smith, mezzo-soprano
Deutsche Bahn Discount Card
I didn’t get a Eurail Pass because I wasn't planning on going to countries other than Germany and Austria. When I did, I got a special weekend fare with my DB Discount Card. DB offers many specials for cardholders. I got mine at the train station in Frankfurt. It saved me a bundle on trips within Germany, peak and off-peak. Also, they had a special discount price on the DB card for spouses.
Callback Services (see above)
Callback services work like this. You call a number in the states from your
phone. As soon as it picks up, you hang up. You've only been charged one minute
for the call. The service calls you back. You pick up the phone, the service
says something like "dial your number now". You dial the number -- in the
states, down the street, to another country, etc. The service I used charged 5
cents per minute. It was cheaper for me to call my mom in the states than for
her to call me.
Handis (Cell phones)
I got a kiddie handi, a disposable handi marketed for kids. It cost about $60. Look for them at any appliance store or place that sells regular handis. They work with cards, which operate like calling cards. They cost something like $20 for 120 minutes. The kiddie handis only work in Germany -- a bummer if you're traveling around to other countries, but better than nothing. You can use your callback service with the kiddie handie as well.
I had a Citibank account. They have a branch in NYC and in Frankfurt where I was based (Frankfurt branch is at the end of the Zeil by the library). (Editor’s note: you’ll need a German bank account to get a regular handi).
By the time I left Germany, my German was good enough that I could have conversations with strangers on the train, speak with house reps and agents on the phone, and I felt comfortable leaving voice mail messages. Speaking on the phone is particularly hard if you're not fluent in a language. If you go, this is the ideal level to start with. In other words, I recommend going to Germany in May to take intensive language courses so you can start speaking to agents in September. From my experience, it is next to impossible to learn a foreign language without being in a day-to-day situation where you need to speak it in order to eat, find a bathroom, get money, etc.
SINGING IN GERMANY: ADVICE FROM A PRO
Mixmaster has recently worked in Germany as a guest artist in an A house and acknowledges that the experience in lower level houses may be different. Mix was hired in the States, from a New York audition. Here is what Mix has to say about the experience:
Singing in Germany
In the past, Germany had been widely considered as the place that all singers must go to sing. The present circumstances seem to have changed that expectation somewhat. Although it is not impossible to start a career in Germany it may or may not be a wise or easy choice. Here are some of my outsider observations, which are based on my experience working there for almost 3 months in an A house, and on information from some of my festvertrag colleagues who continue to give me their experienced perspective.
The Current Situation
The general financial shape of German opera houses is, much weaker then it was 10-15 or more years ago in the days when many American singers made their pilgrimage overseas to sing. A lot of the financial resources have been stretched since the reunification in 1989. Your financials will be affected as the fees seem to be lower and you will also pay a reunification tax. If you are working there for a shorter period of time (under a year) you should contact the Social Security administration for a document, which will exempt you from certain taxes in Germany. You will still pay over 40%. Each Stadt may have its own tax arrangements, which will also affect your bottom line.
There are a lot of non-German singers in Germany right now: this includes other Europeans as well as plenty of singers from English-speaking countries. The majority of the artists are European, which makes sense, since that's where you are. Most houses prefer singers as fest artists rather than guests. This saves them money and gives them flexibility in scheduling their season. There is no doubt the fall of the iron curtain has affected the availability of singers who are often willing to work for less than their American counterparts. In addition, the common, Euro-centric, economy is still developing and I expect, will continue to have some effect on foreign singers. However, North American singers are still working, living and being hired by German houses.
The proliferation of multiple languages spoken is astounding. Most singers will speak three or four languages fluently. That definitely is their strength and you should take advantage of it if you go over. Learn to speak German as well as possible before you go. There will be plenty of opportunities to practice once you're there and no one expects you to be perfect.
Advice for Students and Emerging Artists
For those singers who wish to travel to Germany for the express purpose of studying, I can’t say that the coaching quality is any higher there than in the US. The coaches (conductors) I worked with were very good. So are the coaches (conductors) I work with in NY.
I wouldn't waste the time and money studying there for an extended period of time. Not unless you 1) are in school or opera program there; 2) can work there to support yourself; 3) wish to study with a master teacher and or coach that 4) you can't live without.
I’m sorry to report that the singing quality is NOT, in general, anywhere close to the level you hear in a typical NY audition. This may be due to training, inexperience, casting, or wear and tear on the voice due to the fest system. This reflects my particular experiences and should not be viewed as a guaranteed job by anyone who’s ever sung a New York audition.
If you're inexperienced, you might want to audition for one of the 'ensemble programs' available in some houses. They pay you, and you have voice lessons, coaching, and sing small comprimario roles. You will get to learn the system (and possibly cover some bigger roles) from the relative comfort of the sidelines. These programs tend to be small and most of the singers are in their mid twenties.
You'll have to do some research (Deutsche Bühnen Jahrbuch) to find out which theaters offer ensemble programs. As with all casting in this business, these are sometimes cast from referrals. You can probably audition for these types of programs anytime throughout the year. Just let them know your type or fach (if you don't know, better figure it out FAST). As with all auditions, let them know when you're in town or available to audition. Include local (or at least German) contact information (they will return your materials if they do not want to hear you). Find out who you know that can give you a direct referral to a German house --- not a generic letter (although those are nice) but someone who knows someone, and will pick up the phone. This should help you to get that audition at least.
Agents and Getting Hired
Some opera houses are more North American friendly than others. If that is the case, especially if the Music Director is American, they often audition in New York. You can get hired from these auditions. This also goes for houses in other European countries. I see no reason to limit your experience or auditioning to Germany.
Auditions, in the house I was in, were scheduled throughout the season. Essentially the Intendant, Music Director (or other casting folk, depending on their interest in you) have to be in town. The auditions are usually scheduled during the German lunch break (1:00). A pianist was supplied by the opera house and they were generally very good in my experience. You may even get a few minutes prep with the accompanist. Take note that if the opera house is interested in you, they will probably want to talk with you regarding repertoire and roles right after the audition. You should consider having a list of your roles with you. They may then try to fit you into their season and repertoire.
If you have an American agent, they may have direct connections to European Opera houses, or relationships with other agencies. It is much easier to get auditions with this kind of referral. This is a resource that you should not ignore when going overseas.
Even if you do land an agent they may or may not find auditions or work for you. It may be wise to have more than one agent specializing in different areas of Europe. While this is illegal in the States it is common there. My colleagues did not generally do a lot of auditions (as we do in North America) because most singers in Germany are fest, and additional performances are bonuses.
I believe that it is also wise to sing for agents outside of Germany. Any agent can do business in Germany. I don't know how much success you may have contacting houses directly. I would give it a try if you need to, but go through an agent if you can. Agents usually negotiate higher fees, and a German agent’s cut is not a high as in the States. A French agent charges the same as the States, and they may charge an additional 2% if they can prove that their costs were high enough. Most agents will not go through this. If you have an American agent they may expect an additional 5% for work you are doing in Europe, even if they did not get you the work. This seems to keep everyone happy and it is a common practice. If you are working with a local German agent, beware! They may be more interested in their relationship with the opera house than in building your career or getting you the best fees. Houses in Holland and Belgium (as well as some French houses) are open to American singers. As you go through this process you may find that some agents can get you some jobs without auditions, based on their connections. This is particularly true for festivals, tours, and smaller houses.
Post cards are the only photographs expected in Europe. Save your money on the 8 x 10 glossies! One resource for reprinting your photo to 4x6 European size is www.adgprinting.com.
Looks are Important
If anything Germans are WORSE with regard to age and appearance (especially weight) than Americans. I've heard things said to singers there that would constitute a lawsuit in the States. Do not be surprised when almost everyone in your cast comes up to you and asks your age in the first week of rehearsal. If you have a thin skin this is no business for you, especially not in Germany! I cannot say that they only hire young singers because that is just not true. However, be aware that weight tends to age you (or type you differently) in a German house. If you are a Wagner specialist and have sung at Bayreuth, then this is negotiable because they probably need you more than you need them.
Example: If you audition with Dorabella and are hired because you sing it so beautifully, but are overweight, you may end up singing only hausfrau parts that are 20-30 years older than you, even if Cosi is in the repertoire. Why? You don't fit into the costume or management’s idea of Dorabella. If your roles are not stipulated in the contact (and most fest contracts will not do this) then make sure you understand their idea of who you are.
Working Guest vs. Working Fest
Singers have traditionally done an ‘audition tour' when they believe they are ready to sing professionally, or want to expand into the European market. A tour is cheaper than living in Germany for an extended period (especially without working papers). If you are gifted and have what they need, you may be able to land some guest contracts, which are more lucrative than fest, and you maintain control over your schedule. This becomes important especially if your home base (and or significant other) is on the other side of the Atlantic.
Entry level: It is not unusual for German houses to hire fest singers right out of school, especially if they are thin, cute, and have a decent voice. A technique is nice but not required. Neither do you have to be able to move on stage. These contracts are typically offered for two years. If they wear you out in that time they will simply find the next young artist. If you are lucky you will learn what you need to survive. If you are unlucky, you are finished. I’ve most often heard of contracts being renewed for 2-3 years. Typically opera houses inform the singers with expiring contracts by mid October who they want to invite back for the next season. The singer then has until the end of the month to accept or turn down the contract.
Fest singers typically earn less than a decently paid secretary in NY and are required to sing about 40-45 performances per year. Additional performances can be turned down, although it is not generally recommended for an emerging artist dependant on the house, to do this. You are paid for any extra performances on a pro-rated basis. Taxes are generally about 50%. If you want to live off credit cards for a year thinking that if you're hired you will automatically hit the jackpot...think again! You will be paid enough to handle your current bills and little else.
Performances of three different operas per week with rehearsals at 10 the next morning are not impossible or unusual depending on your voice type.
Keep in mind that if you audition in the fall of one year and are hired, you may not work until the fall of the next when some of the fests open up and contracts "finish." Some houses don't set their entire season (especially house repertoire) at the beginning of the season, so this may be a little flexible.
On the up side, you can learn a lot of repertoire doing a German fest. You may not get more than a day's rehearsal, or even get to meet the conductor before you perform a role for the first time...but if you want to work in Germany as a fest singer, you'll just have to suck that up and get used to it. I saw a number of performances when I was there. I must say, most of the singers really held it together considering the circumstances.
If you have some experience and can sing a few popular roles at the drop of a hat you might pick up some last minute work mostly due to illness. If the opera houses don’t know you yet this will depend on getting to the right agents. You will get NO rehearsal for this work. You will be expected to show up know the music and some sort of traditional blocking and perform. It is stressful but the money is better than the fest situation.
Guest contracts are sometimes offered so both parties can see if there is a fit between artist and company. A fest offer may come out of this arrangement. Some artists still manage to land guest contracts. Most often in the larger houses with bigger budgets. In my experience I’ve seen tenors guest more than any other voice type.
The German philosophy is fach and fest. Yes, you should sing what you sing best and what you look like (fach), but you must also fit into the house’s season (fest). Most houses are not interested in grooming you and giving you only what you do best. It is a business and if you are assigned roles in 8 different operas in a season, there may only be a small percentage that you feel suit you perfectly. Then again, you may not get rehearsal for these either, so you may not have the best circumstance to show off what you can do. It really depends on your relationship with the house, how many new singers the cast has, the budget and the age of the production. It is sad but true that some singers are more 'respected' than others.
Some singers will have all of their roles and the time period they are required to be in the ‘home’ city in the contract. Most singers won't have this and with a general contract are much more at the mercy of the house for scheduling, releases and last minute repertoire. This will vary by Opera house and artist. Get everything in the contract if possible (choose your battles, it may not be possible). Opera houses are not always agreeable when it comes to releases. If you have a contract with one house you must apply to be released for a period of time if another contract is offered. The house can say no, although if you are not being used, they shouldn’t have a problem with it. Do not expect them to be too accommodating if you are missing rehearsals etc. They have priority over your time.
I’ve mentioned that singers must fit into the German fach system. There are sources in print and on-line outlining these categories. Know which fach you should be singing. Opera houses are somewhat smaller than their North American counterparts. European houses are usually anywhere from 1,000-2,000 seats. Opera houses, which were reconstructed after the war, may not have as easy an acoustic as we generally expect in European houses.
Once you are hired you may become concerned that a house will try to take advantage of you and assign repertoire that is too big or too small. The reason you have a fach listed in your contract is so they can't force you to ruin yourself with inappropriate repertoire. You have the right to say no within reason. Most of the fach stretches I've seen or heard about were, at least partially, the singer’s fault. If the company asks you to sing Ariadne, and the largest thing you sing is the Countess, and you say yes, you have only yourself to blame for any train wrecks! This is why it’s important that you understand their vision of you before you sign that contract. No one likes a ‘disagreeable’ singer and yet you are often the only person standing up for yourself.
Almost without exception you must sing Mozart! The rest of the repertoire depends on the house, the season, the funding and the particular Intendant. Certainly they do operas regularly that an American would never even look at until they were hired for it. Russian, Czech and obscure German operas are regularly performed. If you are interested in ‘unusual repertoire’ have a look on www.operabase.com for an idea of what particular houses perform.
Larger houses (A level) usually perform repertoire in original language. More regional houses will, of course, sing almost everything in German. Be aware that many of the operas done in Germany also have dialogue (not just Magic Flute).
A lot of companies will have some musical theater in their repertoire. This generally means the classic American fare. Musical theatre is offered in the local language.
VERY IMPORTANT! If you are trying to build a career, you should know that you will not get any attention or reviews if you are only performing works in the repertory. Only premieres get reviewed! This makes it hard to get known, and easy for a house to take advantage of you (or perhaps you will merely feel you are not getting the respect you deserve).
Even if you get known in Germany, no one will know who you are in the US. So it's best to try to be excused from your contract for a little time during the season so you can work in the US (or other parts of the world). If you are trying to build a career you should try to keep a foot in more than one world. If you want to work your craft in relative obscurity and financial stability, then a German fest may be perfect for you.
The singer has a few defenses. An excellent technique, a good contract, an agent to be the bad guy (although German houses usually like to talk to you directly), sick days, and when all else fails... dare I say it, be professional but play stupid.
© 2001 Mixmaster. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint without permission of the author.
The Contemporary Music Centre --- a promotional site for modern Irish music; also offers lists of useful information including opera companies and concert venues.
United Kingdom (Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Wales)
FlyingDiva.com --- a new site run by an American singer living and working in
the UK; promises to deal with the issues of American and possibly Canadian
singers attempting same.
SINGING IN THE UK
This advice is from Notacoach, a singer who has been there/done that. She has posted this and other helpful information many times on the New Forum for Classical Singers, and it is reprinted with her permission here.
First, get a copy of the British Music Yearbook (BMY), Rhinegold publishing. This has all the names/addresses you're likely to need.
Where you "go next" in Britain depends on your experience. If you have a fair bit of professional experience already (i.e., a decent resume), you can approach companies directly. The "Big 5" are Covent Garden, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Scottish National Opera and Opera North. They will all accept "cold" submissions, and they try to hear as many people as possible, although they do, of course, screen resumes. A "house" audition may get you considered for chorus (which doesn't have the same stigma attached to it as in the US; fulltime choristers are usually considered for covers/roles and there is plenty of opportunity to move up for those interested and able), or for roles. Think of it as a general audition and see where it leads. Contact the auditions secretary to set it up.
There are plenty of other small professional companies to consider, as well; English Touring Opera is the biggest of these "middle ground" companies, but there are still others (despite funding crunches, they're still out there).
Competition and Repertoire
Be aware that competition in the UK is ferocious -- there are fewer companies and LOTS of singers. Americans usually have a vocal-technique edge, but the Brits are EXTREMELY well trained for the stage; your stagecraft skills need to be very strong to give you an edge. Additionally, people are more repertoire adventurous than in the US -- they don't expect you to "specialise" in quite the same way that US pundits prefer, and you can quite happily mix mainstream, off-the-wall, diva and character performances without anybody thinking anything of it. They're also not so fach-bound -- sure, you stick within an acceptable "range" of fach, but roles that might here be your "stretch" roles could be considered entirely within appropriate bounds in the UK, depending on the house. Many of the smaller companies, for instance, spend a lot of time touring the smaller Matcham theaters (Matcham was an architect who designed many theatres throughout the UK) where seating is 800-1000; obviously, a more lyrical voice can comfortably sing a fuller role there than at ENO's 3000 seat Coliseum.
About agents. The UK system is pretty much the same as the US, only even HARDER to secure -- the turnover seems to be slower, and they really only take people on as they have space. If you have a US agent, you might do well to get them to put you in touch with a UK rep. UK agents generally handle concert work AND opera; I don't know what current commissions are.
Students and Emerging Artists
If you're not at a finished professional level, there are still plenty of outlets --- ample small semi-pro companies and workshop groups. Again, the BMY has addresses; also read Opera magazine every month.
You may also want to consider educational opportunities - in addition to the obvious routes of the music colleges (where most budding professionals start) there are plenty of seasonal short term courses as well : Dartington, Higham Hall and many many others. Again, BMY has lists and lists and lists.
Teachers and Coaches
There are MANY wonderful teachers. From personal experience, I highly recommend Janice Chapman - technical GODDESS -- but I know she's in great demand these days and hard to get in with. I don't have current contact information but she shouldn't be hard to find. Many of the teachers at the Royal Colleges and Guildhall take private students, and that can often lead to opportunities which "just private" teachers may not have.
I can also recommend Steven Maughan as a GREAT coach. I'm not sure where he's based right now (he was flitting between London and Spain last time I spoke to him), but, again, he shouldn't be too hard to find. REALLY wonderful guy... has extensive experience w/ Glyndebourne, Opera North etc. Very good at helping you sing better as well as working real details in operatic repertoire.
Good luck! The general protocol is a little different over there, but you'll soon get the feel for it. It's not SO different that if you do what you would expect to in the US you will be "out of line"... if anything, it's a little LESS regimented in the UK, and auditions are actually a little more flexible. By the way, two arias is usually the norm in Britain, not five (much easier to prepare!!)