1 I Could Have Been a Great Opera Singer, If I Were Rich | The Billfold

I Could Have Been a Great Opera Singer, If I Were Rich

The first opera I saw was “Cosi Fan Tutte,” by Mozart. It’s about two dudes who disguise themselves as Albanians to trick their respective girlfriends into sleeping with the other dude, to test how (un)faithful they are. Then they whip off their mustaches and say AH HAH! And then basically they all shrug, laugh, and depending on the production either swap back, OR NOT. It’s a comedy. Allegedly. The title means “They’re all the same.” “They” being women.

I went to opera school anyway.

Saying you want to be an opera singer is like saying you want to be an astronaut, in terms of actual job prospects. There is one full-time repertory opera company in the United States—the Met in NYC. The other top U.S. companies—Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco, Chicago Lyric—all do between four to six shows a year, total. And the same soprano is going to headline most of them, since they don’t overlap.

The thing about opera is that it is really, really expensive. It truly is an elite art form. It costs $100 to $200 to audition, and you have to bring your own pianist, who is $40 an hour. At conservatory, we were always taught to take taxis to auditions, never the subway. We were also expected to do at least one summer opera program each year, in Italy, Germany, Austria or Belgium. These programs ran $3,000 each. Most of my classmates would do two or three each summer. We were taught that we should “rely on our financial buffer” after graduation, and were advised not to get jobs. A job will distract you from opera singing and make you tired, they said.

The operatic voice isn’t fully developed until your mid- to late- thirties. A 22-year-old soprano is sort of a pointless fetus, not worth anything. You’re expected to spend your early- and mid-twenties doing pay-to-sings and grad programs, and then go into a Young Artist Program (YAP). YAPs are essentially residencies with regional opera companies, where you sing small mainstage roles or cover principle artists. You usually get paid like $10K for the entire year, and maybe they cover your housing or something. It’s not an opportunity I could ever afford to do. They’re also insanely competitive, and one of the very few paths to becoming a professional opera singer.

To be an opera singer, you have to be rich. And I’m not. I wasn’t, and I’m not, rich.

I am an incredibly good singer. I’m just gonna put that out there, because it’s true, and I don’t figure there’s any point in being coy about it. In music school, my sophomore year I was the lead in the musical, my senior year I was a supporting role in the opera, and my senior year I was the lead. But I didn’t go on to grad school like 90 percent of my class, because I couldn’t take out any more loans.

After I graduated, I fell into a job in marketing, and I worked there for three years. It was not my dream job—my dream job was being an opera singer—but it paid all of my bills, gave me health care, some stability.

While sitting at that desk job, I checked out playbill.com for the first time, where they post all the Broadway/Off-Broadway/Off-Off-Broadway/Whatever audition notices. And I saw an audition posting for Phantom of the Opera, and I saw that the minimum starting salary for the very lowliest chorus person on Broadway was $1,642 a week. A WEEK. (Now it’s $1,754.) That’s like… $91K a year before taxes? (The stereotype of the starving Broadway hoofer is completely false. If you work on Broadway, you make incredible money. It’s all the time between shows that you have to watch out for.) I made my decision that very moment that I wouldn’t even try to pursue opera, and instead, I would throw myself back into musical theatre.

I love the musical theatre world because it’s a business. It’s the Business of Show. There are 40 Broadway theaters constantly employing actors, every night of the week, and then dozens of Off-Broadway houses, and hundreds of regional theaters, all paying gigs. In musical theatre, you NEVER pay to audition, and they have a pianist there ready for you. Everything about it makes sense and is fair—at least compared to opera. It’s about hard work, and talent, and luck, and showing up.

I’ve been pursuing musical theatre since then, and I never looked back. I still love to sing opera, equally as much as I love singing musical theatre, but I’m very at peace about my decision. It feels more like musical theatre chose me than the other way around.


C.L. lives in New York.


66 Comments / Post A Comment

Leila@twitter (#1,607)

This is pretty fascinating. I’ve never been to the opera – maybe something to do with the stereotype of having to be really rich to attend persists. But I had no idea what went on behind the scenes. Thanks for this!

@Leila@twitter The flip side of this article, from an audience’s perspective, is that (at least in New York) the cheapest opera tickets are always significantly cheaper than the cheapest Broadway tickets. You can (I do) go to the Met for $30. As long as you’re not singing, I guess. :)

Leila@twitter (#1,607)

@Brian Ulicky@twitter Huh, good to know next time I’m in town. I’ll pack my opera-length gloves :P

@Leila@twitter Binoculars are more important at that price point! But it sounds just as glorious as the $400 seats.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Fascinating. I am a fan of the opera, and knew that it certainly took years of training, but I had no idea how crazy expensive and long that process was. And paying to audition! What what what. Color me confused.

CL, can you tell a fun theater story, for those of us working dreary desk jobs and dreaming of the stage? Kthx.

CLhere (#2,548)

@LookUponMyWorks Been trying to come up with a good one, but now it’s after 5pm anyways and I hope you get to go home!

UMmmmmm lemme get back to you. Basically all my stories end in making out with someone.

Loshan (#2,799)

I feel like this could be a fantastic Kickstarter campaign. Everyone would love to feel like a patron of a now-obscure art!

@Loshan It is! Check out two of my friends’ Kickstarter for the company, Tidewater Opera:

Loshan (#2,799)

Also, does your operatic singing voice sound very different from your musical theater singing voice? Is this a silly question? Can we hear you sing? :)

CLhere (#2,548)

@Loshan Yes, it sounds totally different. I grew up with a pretty diverse musical background, so my voice does a lot of different things. I have singer friends with similar skills, and other friends who can only sing opera – they just can’t, CAN’T, for whatever reason, belt or sing pop. And interestingly, there’s no correlation between vocal exclusivity and how good you are. I know some people who are not very good at singing opera who can’t sing anything else, and people who are fabulous at everything. And vice-versa.

questingbeast (#2,409)

This was interesting. I heard a thing on the radio the other day about Elizabeth Llewellyn, and they talked about the fact that she had a normal job for years between music college and becoming a professional like it was a charming curiosity. I didn’t realise you actually CAN’T become a professional in your twenties because of the voice.

Also, on Frasier it seemed like he and Niles went to the opera every week. But the Seattle Opera seems to only do 5 shows a year? TV LIED.

Marissa (#467)

@questingbeast He had a standing drink order at the opera. Not even worth it for five shows!

CLhere (#2,548)

@questingbeast Ha, yes! I remember one guest lecturer/master class artist was like, “I worked a DAY JOB as a SECRETARY. For like, several years!” And everyone was like, “whoa.” It’s such a different planet.

mannequinhands (#1,278)

@questingbeast I used to rent a room from an opera singer and his wife. He was a stay at home dad for years while training and singing in smaller things. Now he’s 35 and very successful! I think he started auditioning for the really big stuff around age 30.

highjump (#39)

Thank You Actor’s Equity!

CLhere (#2,548)

@highjump I’m there right now! :)

highjump (#39)

@CLhere YAAAAY! Kind of a tangent but Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDs is a charity that I donate to every year. In addition to fighting for decent pay Actor’s Equity was one of the first organizations to publicly recognize the AIDs crisis. So, I don’t know – hug someone there for me?

CLhere (#2,548)

@highjump Done and done! Random girl named Heather got a hug on you.

themegnapkin (#444)

Is there more opportunity in Europe? It kind of seems to me that opera is more widely loved there than it is in the US.

CLhere (#2,548)

@themegnapkin Yes, there is. Although not as much as there used to be, before Communism fell. (Seriously.) Of my successful opera singing friends, about half of them have taken the European fest contract route. But those are still positions that one would get AFTER doing the whole YAP/contest process – when you’re in your late 20′s, early 30′s, not fresh out of school.

lalaland (#437)

Loved this, thank you for writing. Do you ever experience twinges of oh, I wish I could have continued with the opera?

CLhere (#2,548)

@lalaland Sometimes. Although I do still sing opera on a small scale – for myself at home, obviously, but I was actually in an opera last month (and I was paid pretty well!). I hadn’t auditioned though – I got it through word of mouth. Because I’m so famous. ;) (I’m not famous.)

Plus, given how long the operatic career arc is, there’s always that outside chance that when I’m in my mid-30′s (and hopefully out of debt) I will pursue it more.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Wow thanks for this. I actually love the opera and used to attend regularly. My hometown had an opera that would do 4-5 shows a year during a brief 2-3 month season every winter/early spring. I would get to go because my mother was on the opera board for a long time (they recruited her in an effort to get more “young” people and when she retired from the board fourteen years later she was still the youngest one on the board). I was definitely an anomaly but I attended every opera my hometown produced from ages 11-when I graduated from high school. I also attended periodically in college when I could get home from school. I know it is a challenging field but had no idea how prohibitive the audition prices and other costs were, wowzers. I also love musical theatre, though, so I hope to see you on the stage one day!

Naive question here: So if you’re not working a day job and you can’t be a “real” opera singer yet, what do you do all day?

CLhere (#2,548)

@TheclaAndTheSeals Things my rich friends who are “pursuing opera” do: have cats. have poodles. style cats and poodles. instagram. chocolate and wine at 2pm. blog. get married. voice lessons. coachings. put on lots of makeup. decorate. go shopping. take random art classes. travel. audition in germany one weekend. cry a lot. yoga.

mygoldies (#2,349)

My aunt is a professional opera singer in Munich. I visited her there a few years ago and hung out with the Americans in the young artist program there. Based on the factors you discuss here, they had decided that to have a decent career, they needed to move to Europe. They agreed that opera in the US is an impossible career – the work in Germany is mostly better and actually stable, and they could get long term contracts and benefits. (Of course, being able to move to Germany and get into that type of program requires money and privilege, but they were all resigned to never working in the US in a way that was sort of sad.)

Additionally – wtf is a financial buffer? Trust fund? Parents? Sugar daddy/momma? So gross that they said that.

CLhere (#2,548)

@mygoldies Totally. One big difference is that in Germany (and to a lesser degree, Italy) the opera houses are all state-funded. They have actual budgets to hire singers and do operas in repertory (rather than 3 a year). For that same reason, German opera companies aren’t as skittish about doing weird or new productions – they aren’t funded entirely by rich (and often conservative) philanthropists like regional opera houses in the US. And yes, it is a little sad for those singers. I had a friend who had a great contract in Munich but he walked away from it after a year because he was just miserable, didn’t speak German, didn’t have any friends, etc.

Yes, a financial buffer is your parents paying for shit, usually.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

CL this is interesting to hear an outside perspective on. I have a 2nd (or maybe its 3rd?) cousin who wants to be an opera singer. I dont know her well but this article reinforces what I have seen. Her parents are very very well off. They pay her rent (and everythign else) on the upper east side. she does small performances but nothing grand. They just like having an “opera singer” daughter.

@Runawaytwin It would be deeply unfair to use this article (frought as it is with misinformation and hyperbole) to reinforce an opinion you have of someone who’s trying to make this career work. It’s a long staircase for most, and the beginnings don’t look like much, but if she’s doing anything at all—even if it’s not “grand” by whatever standard you’re using—she’s doing it right. If she’s got the talent to match her parents’ financial support of her, she just may be a full-time, honest-to-God opera singer someday. If not, then, well, not.

Lily Rowan (#70)

This is such an interesting example of a person adjusting their art into a career (I mean, ideally). I’m sure it happens in all areas of art, where the “serious artists” can’t imaaaaagine doing something just for the (sneer) money, while other people are doing something very closely related to their main artistic love and making a good living at it. (Other examples I know include people who draw commercially and write music for tv.)

LHOOQ (#1,634)

Thank you for this, fascinating! Sad to hear that opera is yet another one of those careers where you have to be rich. I love the opera and back when I had a steady job, would go to our national opera once or twice a year. Opera tickets are usually cheap — so much more affordable than the West End/Broadway, or a major sporting event — and I would really recommend the opera to anyone who wants to do something special, fun and different. Glyndebourne is not cheap, but I would recommend that, too.

stinapag (#2,144)

My aunt and uncle are opera singers. My aunt worked in temp agencies forever and my uncle drove/drives a limo. They both wanted jobs where they could easily step away if they had gigs or needed to go to Europe for a production and/or lessons. My aunt I think is out of the game now, and surprised herself by taking a permanent positions at one of her day job gigs. She’s doing quite well at a huge financial firm in New York. Her husband has a pretty specialized voice and is very good, so he’s still singing.

There were a few years where my aunt wasn’t speaking to my parents because they weren’t willing/able to support her.

This is a ridiculous premise. Your article might as well say, “I played DIII basketball so I could have made the NBA if only I were rich.”

CLhere (#2,548)

@Aaron Silverman@facebook Well, that’s a little silly. The NBA is a business. Opera is not. The NBA rewards the young. Opera – for the most part – does not.

Opera singing IS very similar to sports – but more like a non-commercial Olympic sport, like curling or something: where there’s a ton of equipment you need to buy, very few people who care about the results, and a 10 year return on your investment. (please someone suggest a more appropriate sport example)

@CLhere Opera isn’t a business? It’s not a for-profit business, but there are administrators and directors out there with shrinking budgets and high board expectations who will surely beg to differ. Opera and pro sports are both in the talent scouting and exploitation (in a technical, not derogatory, sense) business, and they leverage that talent (more often than not, young) to garner ticket sales. Teams and athletes attract endorsements that pad their bottom lines, and opera companies chase donations and grants that pad theirs. And in the unfavorable climate opera faces these days, it’s getting more and more important to have someone with an MBA (or a mind geared like one) at the helm. Not to pick nits, but the analogy was apt, even if it withers a little beyond these points.

Them grapes MUSTA been sour. And a point of fact–Chicago Lyric and SFO do at least eight different operas a year, which means a considerably greater number of “shows,” given that each opera is performed several times.

CLhere (#2,548)

@Roger Sutton@twitter OMG 8?!?!? “Shows”???

Go home Roger Sutton, you’re drunk.

Let’s live in your world for a hot minute – that means that like maybe 6 sopranos in the country have a shot at making a nice living? Doesn’t exactly prove your “point.”

@CLhere I was quoting you: “The other top U.S. companies—Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco, Chicago Lyric—all do between four to six shows a year, total.” And if by nice living, you mean Renee Fleming kind of nice living, sure, that’s rare. But if you’re telling us that funding is the only thing that stood between you and Fleming’s career, then you most likely need to acquire a sense of proportion. Or you’re a coloratura, which Mildred Pierce explained to us: “All coloratura, they got–’ow you say?–da gimmies.”

And, I don’t drink.

CLhere (#2,548)

@Roger Sutton@twitter I don’t like feeding the trolls…but sometimes I can’t help myself.

My article isn’t about me. It’s about a career path – one that happens to be expensive. Some careers take more initial investment than others, and that can place them out of some people’s reach. OF COURSE I wish I was rich, so I could try to be an opera singer AND an artisanal chocolate maker AND board horses AND wear fancy clothes all the time and fly business. But those things just aren’t realistic, and that’s fine. I feel for the people who love ONLY opera but can’t afford it. That’s a sad thing, and something that I wish the industry would address. I’m lucky that I’m a pretty diverse performer and enjoy a lot of different art forms.

Now, in my case personally: What stood between me and having an opera career was a decision that I made – I did not want to go into more debt investing in that career path, when another career path was available that I liked just as much but didn’t require the upfront investment. I have no idea what type of career I could have had, because I chose to pursue another path pretty early on. What I know is that had I been wealthy, I could have pursued it.

It’s similar in many ways to sports that have a high initial investment – you don’t see a lot of poor people riding equestrian. And there’s a reason. And no, the reason isn’t “sour grapes” or “just don’t love horses enough” or “lazy” or whatever. It’s that some things are objectively more expensive than others, and everyone has a different risk threshold in terms of how much debt they’ll accrue before being like, “um, how do I eat?”

@CLhere I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. If you don’t make the tough choices when they are difficult I don’t believe you will make them when they are easy. Just my opinion.

I stared in theater and switched to focus on opera. For me it was about the long game. I think it’s more difficult to age gracefully in musical theater. I watched friends that were on Broadway in major shows struggle with being an over forty actor. I’m not saying the rush to young and shinny doesn’t exist in opera, but I see more wiggle room to be older. Yeah, it’s an investment. But I believed it would pay off. Fortunately it has.

An opera career does require a significant investment. I’ve blogged a pretty long response to this post at http://www.claudiafriedlander.com/the-liberated-voice/2013/05/investing.html.

nysmores (#3,828)

A huge ego, clueless, and a remarkable lack of maturity. This has to be a tenor…

One can’t claim to be an “incredible” singer because one had the lead role senior year of college – at least not with a straight face. Seriously, that’s why you think you could have been successful if you had more money? Because you were the lead in a production that absolutely nobody outside of your school’s music department cared about?

You know why you couldn’t afford grad school? Because you weren’t good enough to get a decent scholarship. That’s something incredible singers get. It’s that simple.

“I could’ve been great but I decided not to try…” You know how pathetic that sounds? Because all your opera singer friends, despite what they may say to your face, certainly do.

Opera is a next-to-impossible career path. And coming from money helps. But don’t say it’s lack of money that stopped you. There are members and graduates of big name YAPs that came from backgrounds more humble then you could possibly imagine. You don’t have to be rich to succeed in opera. You do have to be incredible.

As for musical theater, “Everything about it makes sense and is fair.” Oh dear…

I just have to say, I’m come from a fairly poor family from the Pacific Northwest. I never sang in a young artist program, never went to a big named music school and didn’t study with a big name voice teacher. My first year out of collage I made $4000 dollars… THAT YEAR! Yes, being an opera singer can be expensive. So can being an Olympian! So can any highly skilled field. Don’t get me wrong. Money can help! But I also knew singers who had deep pocket sponsors behind them who still didn’t get a career going. Yeah, I know I’m the exception. But for a poor kid from Federal Way, Washington… I’ve done pretty well for myself. Money doesn’t make you tough and it doesn’t help you stick it out! That takes something else. Having started in Musical Theater I wish you well. It’s a great art form as well.

I want to mention a few things, from the perspective of a late bloomer (but one who’s working) in this career…
First of all, you really need to understand that the thing about your article that will infuriate readers who are working at this career is that more than anything, it just sounds like a hatchet job on opera, not an expository piece about a world you have unique knowledge about. Because you don’t. You have, at best, exactly as much knowledge as anyone who’s gone through undergrad at any music program in this country and been told (however sincerely, and the spectrum is wide) that you were going to be something. That’s not your fault, but neither are you particularly qualified to speak to the realities of this career. Then you compound your folly by throwing in “facts” that, though easily searchable on the Internet, you can’t or won’t get straight (the length and breadth of the major US houses’ seasons, the cost of auditions). It’s just sloppy, and contributes to the overall sour grape-y tone of what you wrote..
And instead of doing your research and comparing apples to apples, you compare “the lowliest chorus person” on Broadway (who has a union covering him/her) to a struggling—ostensibly NOT working—young artist in opera. You realize “the lowliest chorus person” at the Met (also covered by a union) makes about the same money you’re talking about, and the Lyric and SFO (ditto) has choristers that start at a healthy middle class salary, as well? No, you don’t, or it doesn’t serve your purposes. But if you had the chops, and really wanted to be on one of the world’s greatest stages singing opera, there’d be no shame in doing it in the Met’s chorus. They’re some of the finest artists in New York.
Further, I’m sure there are plenty of trust fund kids trying their hands at opera (or musical theater, for example), but they’ll fall away in proportion to their actual talent, and the vast (and I mean vast) majority of really strong emerging artists I know in opera work jobs when they’re not on the road… and no one is telling them not to (seriously, who were these teachers you had? They did you a disservice.). It’s reality. You need to hone your craft, learn roles, take language classes, have coachings and lessons, and all those auditions—and all of that costs money. But we make it work, and not because we’re rich (or I’m not, anyway). It’s an investment, and we know it, and while we still can get hired, we’d better invest.
There’s more, but I’ll stop. I’m happy for you, that you’ve found something you can pursue and feel good about, but please just leave opera out of it. I get that it was an ugly breakup, and you’re maybe not totally over it, even though opera’s moved on and so have you, and so really everything’s pretty good for both of you, but…
As a previous commenter mentioned, you can take yourself and a couple of friends to the opera for the cost of some Broadway tickets, so there’s really no sense in calling opera the domain of the rich (patron or otherwise), at least not any more so than Broadway or professional sports. And frankly, with the way the arts are treated in this country, no one really wins when one art form gets in a spitting match with another.

@James Harrington@twitter You addressed almost everything I wanted to say about this article, and brought up a few points I didn’t think of. It’s good to hear from fellow singers who aren’t completely (and perhaps too easily) disillusioned with the process.

CindyS (#3,858)

@James Harrington@twitter Bravo for this well-thought-out and well-written response!

Yeah, that was long. Should’ve blogged it, like Claudia. :)

I have had a long and satisfying operatic career, singing all over the world, including LaScala and Verona, and I was not rich while pursuing my goals. I was, however, determined, talented, and willing to work as a legal secretary while getting my training and saving up for a European audition tour. I am now retired from full time singing, and teach in a wonderful university. IMHO, blaming the lack of a career on not being rich is just an excuse for lack of passion. The writer has now found her passion in Musical Theatre; good for her. Don’t say that you couldn’t have a career because you weren’t rich enough. It wasn’t your passion, you weren’t determined enough to make the sacrifices it takes, so you found another passion.

SF only does one opera at a time? You’d better check your facts on that. I went to three operas there within the space of one weekend.

I agree with some of the concepts the author is putting out there, but her perspective is a bit suspect. She calls herself an “amazing singer,” listing as evidence that as a sophomore she was lead in her school musical, a supporting role in the opera as a junior, and the lead in the opera as a senior. She then goes on to say that she didn’t go on to grad school because she couldn’t afford it or take out any more loans. That’s the part I find suspect. She’s either not as amazing a singer as she thinks she is, didn’t look hard enough for scholarships to GO to grad school, or decided she was good enough that she didn’t need to go to grad school to get work. There are schools out there that will give you scholarships, if you look hard enough and are willing to work through school. This person sounds either a little full of themselves, lazy, or both.
Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe she really IS a terrific singer, but she’s just got a really unique voice with a timbre that few outside her alma mater appreciate, and maybe they don’t have a grad program there. Maybe she couldn’t land any scholarships… but I don’t know her situation.
She’s right, as far as opera being hard and sucking hard core as a working singer, but reading this, I thought she gave up before putting all the work in she should have…

So I’ve just read your other column on this site, CL, and this whole thing makes a little more sense now. You got a pretty big financial bomb dropped on you right after leaving your dream school, and paychecks became a lot more important (by your own admission—I hope I’m not taking liberties here). In that sense, the Broadway posting where the weekly salary had a comma in it must have set off all kinds of alarms. And since you ostensibly were talented enough to land such a gig (or maybe something similar, at least), that made a lot more sense than the long slog up the opera stairway.

I grew up the musical son of a great musician who, when he realized he couldn’t talk me out of trying to be one professionally, gave me the soundest financial advice he knew: “Make the music they pay you to make, then make your music with their money.” I thought it was cynical at the time (everything about money is at 18), but I took his advice, and it was wise.

Maybe you’re taking their money now, and maybe this really is your music. Maybe it’s not, and someday you’ll make your way back to opera. Either way, enjoy it, and hopefully make peace with the opera world so there’s not a “That Gilmore B***h is Taking My Bow” post by CL down the line somewhere. :) All best to you.

@James Harrington@twitter

“That Gilmore B***h is Taking My Bow” Bwaa haa haa!! That’s the best line ever! That should be a murder mystery novel title! (By the way, she’s a lovely colleague!)

@Robert McPherson@twitter I’ve heard that from anyone who had a chance to work with her. So glad to know that she’s a great colleague on top of being a great singer!

CindyS (#3,858)

LOTS of misinformation in this post. Yes, opera is an expensive career to pursue; no, you do not have to be rich to pursue it. I’m certainly not, and I’m a fulltime singer. Do I make a “nice living”? Depends on what you call nice. I’m not rich and I never will be, but I own a house and car and I get paid to do what I love. I like my life.
Your voice isn’t fully developed until you’re in your thirties or forties? Depends on the type of voice you have, and it certainly doesn’t preclude you from working during the developmental years. You may not be singing the roles you’ll sing when your voice is fully mature, but there’s plenty of other things to sing in the meantime. More dramatic voices DO take longer to develop, but many lighter sopranos and tenors, for example, are singing the rep they’ll sing most of their lives at 22.
Training programs are a great way to help develop your voice and stage savvy. There are plenty in the US, and plenty that don’t cost $3000.
The “A” houses mentioned do more than 4-6 shows a year and the same soprano certainly does NOT sing in all of them. That’s either ignorance or hyperbole. To use some of the writer’s own examples, Chicago’s season features 10 different operas, plus some gala concerts. Houston is doing 7. San Francisco, 9. I guarantee you the same soprano isn’t doing all those roles.
Where is this $100-$200 price tag for auditions coming from? Competitions and young artists’ programs do charge audition fees, but very few legit opera companies charge you to audition. If you don’t live in NY, you do incur travel costs; but you can write them off. Cabs to auditions? Not having a day job while you’re establishing your career? Run up a huge debt while in school and expect to rely on some magical “financial buffer” when you graduate? The author got some VERY bad advice there, and/or made some very bad choices. I went to a state school for undergrad, got a full scholarship to grad school and then went into what is now the Ryan Center apprenticeship. No debt, and my parents weren’t rich, either. My “financial buffer” came from working for a year in Phantom of the Opera and putting money aside so I could spend the next few years doing auditions and getting my opera career off the ground. It IS possible to do it without a trust fund.

Bottom line is, this young lady didn’t do her research on this article any more than she did her research on what it takes to build an opera career. I’m happy for her that she’s found a career in Broadway and enjoys it,and that she still loves to sing opera, but this sort of flippant, badly researched “journalism” doesn’t do the art form we both love any favors.

lalauren01 (#3,859)

Wow, this article reeks of sour grapes to me. Having studied and completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in music through one of the major North American YAPs (which paid a whole lot more than 10,000/year, I have the pay stubs to prove it!), I feel like I know exactly how much money I have put into what I would now call a successful career. I’m not rich, far from it.

I think there’s little chance that you could have determined you had a professionally viable sound upon finishing your undergraduate studies. As well, my own grad school was completely gratis, as are a large number of them across North America. Not all, admittedly, but many.

It feels to me like you are belittling the accomplishments of me and my colleagues because you weren’t talented enough to make it in this field by blaming it on a lack of funds. This whole “article” reeks of bitterness and someone playing the “what if” game.

Samwiser (#3,862)

1. Whoever told you you had to take taxis to auditions, not get a job, etc. were either idiots or millionaires. My guess is the former, since I went to conservatory too and saw many.

2. You weren’t meant to be in opera. To do so you need to love it more than anything else, to revel in the small roles, not mind the crap pay, knowing that these are merely steps to get what you want. You were not willing to do these things, which is fine believe me. But you can’t blame the business for your disinterest in doing what is necessary. It is never talent that takes you where you want to be, it is desire. Besides, you seem happy hoofing on Broadway, so more power to you!

Marina (#3,863)


Please check your facts. You have a lot of bad information here.

Ok, what?

This article is stupid, false, irritating, and whiny. Yes, in opera, there are audition fees; they average $30-40. It’s not physically possible to do 2-3 pay to sings in Europe if you’re in school, and it’s certainly not expected or required to do *any.*

This girl didn’t have to be rich. She had to be committed, not stupid, and good. From the above evidence it’s already clear that the first two don’t apply; and if the only evidence you have of the latter is you SAYING that you’re “an incredibly good opera singer” imma Sweet Brown the pants off of you and say ain’t no one got time for your whining and complaining.

I think it’s GREAT she decided to go the theatre route; I’m an opera singer who did the same thing. And she’s right that the theatre world is more of a business, there are more paid opportunities to go around, and you don’t have to pay to audition. But no industry – ESPECIALLY not this one – can ever “choose” you. Take responsibility for your career and own decisions.

C.L., you really put yourself out there by posting this. I’m not sure whether you realize just how much buzz you’ve generated with this post. There are discussions being held among the opera community on Facebook and Twitter as well as elsewhere, and my blog has been getting slammed. You’ve touched a nerve, which means you’re going to get lots of support and lots of vitriol – all the best, and enjoy the ride!

VoiceOfReason (#3,936)

Haha. Well, I’m glad you think you’re such a great singer. The truth of the matter is that if you were truly THAT good, and aren’t completely inept as an actor, or physically deformed, then you would be winning big competitions, and getting into prestigious young artist programs. You think that landing a lead role ONCE in your undergraduate career is proof of your excellence? That’s laughable.

You obviously weren’t good enough. And that’s fine- very few are good enough. Broadway is probably the right place for someone who can’t sing well enough to make it in opera.

Ramerrez (#4,949)

@VoiceOfReason …and I suppose you were, then?

This was a pretty interesting blog. And fun to read comments from people I know or know of.

I have to say that there are some real kernels of truth in your post, but it isn’t the whole story, in my experience. I got a MM in voice performance, moved to NYC, and have been pursuing musical theatre and a little opera, too (as I work a 9-5:30 day job). I find both to be incredibly expensive. Opera- lessons, coachings, audition fees. Musical theatre- lessons, coachings (for both acting and singing), and various types of acting and dance classes. (Not to mention finding someone to study with vocally for the long haul and development of the instrument, as well as finding someone else who can help you crossover from CCM to opera easily with the instrument you have right now.)

I appreciate that you don’t have to pay to be heard at musical theatre auditions, but it also means that part of your audition routine is going to open calls and often waiting all damned day to be heard, depending on if the unofficial list is honored or not and what time you woke up to get there and sign up. And will they type you? Decide to dance you first? If it’s a singing call, is it 8 bars or 16 and will the monitor tell you if you’re over #300 to just leave and check back in a few hours? Do you get heard? And then there’s the sitting on the floor in a hallway crosslegged because there are no chairs and no more space in the holding rooms. You can pay to rent a room to warm up, go on a walk, or just sit there in the hallway, trying to position yourself by either the friendly or the quiet actors who are not narcissistic BSing energy-drainers. Infuriating

If you do an opera audition you do pay for a time slot and sometimes to bring your own pianist, but at least it is YOUR slot, and you can plan your day around it as necessary. However, for how many other jobs do you have to PAY for an interview? It is absolutely demeaning and infuriating.

Both types of those auditions totally suck. I guess you just have to check in with yourself and determine just what is beneath your dignity and think about your options.

One point I almost agree with you on is the business side of things- there was a study the NEA did, I think back in 2008 that concluded that only musical theatre was doing well during the recession. I believe it said opera and jazz were way down. And, considering that so many opera companies are folding, if you love musical theatre a bit more than opera, or are just better at it, by all means do it, because there is a lot more opportunity for work, even being non-eq, especially with all these children’s tours and non-eq national tours.

As far as opera companies go, it is pretty sad to see so many regional companies closing, and odd to see their programming changing to include musical theatre (sung by opera singers who won’t even sing in the style!!) in hopes of selling more tickets and staying alive, and especially seeing what City opera went through… On the other hand, in the city at least, it seems there is this underground indie opera scene happening which is sort of exciting! Maybe there is hope for us who don’t sing at the Met, can’t afford European pay-to-sings, or are too old and came to opera too late in life to get into a high-level YAP or conservatory.

At any rate, what I disagree with the most is that you seem to be saying that you can’t train for opera if you’re not rich, AND you’re comparing it to musical theatre, and I think both are expensive as hell. And yeah, in your 20s it will be far easier to find work as a singing actor. But keep in mind that if you want to keep your skills up and are not currently working, paying for your training or skillz maintenance, plus marketing and all that other stuff, etc., are all pretty expensive and time consuming.

This is fun to think about! The world is an exciting place. There is so much good music out there and stuff to do! Those of you posting of your operatic success, I am so happy to read it- it is very inspiring to me! I hope that my destiny too, will make itself apparent as I struggle and try my hand at different types of performances and train and learn. Thanks for sharing your story, CL. I think we are all of the same tribe even if everybody is pissing each other off.

suzette (#4,244)

This is pretty much my daughter’s story! She did and is doing all the same things to try to get into the opera world as s singer/performer. When a little child, she won many music contest and got many trophies almost as big as she was. In school and college and grad school, everyone made a big to-do about her fantastic voice. Yes, by then you do know if your voice is good and whether you can easily memorize a 5-hour opera worth of arias and dialogue. Not to mention, remember all the operas you were in up until whatever point you’re at on the off chance that maybe someone will select you for tone of them again some day. But when you go out and audition or try for Young Artist Programs, you see that the opera world is actually saturated with talent and you’re not unique or remarkable any longer. Everyone in the audition room can sing as good or better than you. You wonder what happened and where did all these talented, gorgeous people come from? Well, some came from overseas, but still! Being able to sing opera sounds like a rare thing, however I’m beginning to think these people are a dime a dozen, so to speak. There is just a LOT of good talent out there, here and abroad. About costs . . . exactly! And even when in grad-school, most students have to pay around $100 for their voice lesson and around $30 for the accompanist – every week! We helped our daughter all we could. A chunk of our monthly salary goes to her expenses, our retirement account was raided by us twice for those overseas summer programs and transportation, hotel, food to auditions all over the U.S. There is nothing left to offer her, and she is left wondering what to do. Luckily, she teaches music privately and in college. She could sing opera and classical music locally, but the local opera budgets are small, just like the audience admission charge. Around here a chorus member gets between zero and $200 per opera (usually 3 shows) and between $300 and $500 for a principal to do those 3 shows. That has to include all the months of rehearsals, the transportation to and from, and sometimes even finding your own costume and make up, etc. No health care plan, no retirement plan. And many of the smaller opera companies only take non-equity performers, as you can guess. So, our daughter is now wondering: should she become a full-time teacher, go into musical theater, become a church musician, or try for pop/easy listening/jazz, etc. types of music. Who knows? All I keep saying is that thank God I didn’t need to audition to become an art teacher, just interviewed for it, and that I didn’t need to pay a $50.00 interview fee, or pay an accompanist to assist me at my interview. After getting my B.A, life was easy and cheap into the transition from student to teacher. Had I become an actual working artist, it still would have been easier, but maybe I’d still have only a pittance in my retirement account and in addition . . . be starving!

I think, most of the comments in here are very rude! There are loads of good singers, who never get a chance not even for smaller opera-roles in spite of hard work, passion, talent etc.. Passion comes more naturally with good funding and good agents and a lot of singers DO work on the side! And I also think, that it goes for all types of singers not only in opera and all types of musicians too – especially when they are not related to a network of musicians or people with elite-power within the western world held cultural institutions! My opinion is, that the general media has created an image of how easy you can become a star, that does not live up to the real world.

Ramerrez (#4,949)

I am a singer, with a not very conventionally beautiful voice. I’m good, it’s just I don’t have a conventionally pleasant sound. I’m a tenor, with a voice more on the dramatic than lyric side. I’m an Australian. I’m also 23- very young.
Because of all these things it’s very hard for me to find work- or get responses from auditions that aren’t needlessly rude. I’m giving it some more time, but atm, it looks like if I get to 30 and I’m not on my way then I am going to put myself up for ordination to the priesthood. If there is anyone out there who can convince me otherwise, please go right ahead.

anonymous26 (#5,059)

@Ramerrez I don’t usually reply to message boards, but as a contralto who is just beginning to find her footing, I really encourage you to NEVER give up! Get a job for the time being, use that money to continue your voice and piano studies, and then when you feel comfortable,start working as a teacher or a musical director or in some similar capacity. When your voice is (finally!) ready, you’ll have loads of experience to bring with you into your operatic career!

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