A Singer’s Life In….

Do you have to live in New York City to have a career? Professional and emerging professional singers from around the world talk about where they live and work.

North East USA
New York

by: Claudia Waite, Soprano

Moving to NYC has been a good experience. The number of “last minute” auditions my management has been able to secure has been very beneficial. The same goes for picking up cancellations in my teacher’s studio (lessons planned months in advance, cancelled at the last minute is the norm). Being HERE makes all the difference. NYC is the clearinghouse for opera: auditions, managements, big name teachers. It’s also a very hard city: expensive, competitive, loud, dirty, etc. I live in New Jersey, in a town called West New York. What I like most about living here is there is room: more square footage for your dollars, easy parking, big stores, big malls. It all depends on what amenities you have to have, to feel like your life is complete. Housing deposits tend to be large, as are the fees for installing and/or changing your service utilities. I wish I hadn’t resisted moving here for so long. I find I am working at an entirely different level. It’s a simple equation: better auditions + more frequent auditions = better and more frequent gigs. The competition is stiff but which of us wouldn’t rather be a big fish in a big pond, instead of turning circles in that small pond?

Claudia Waite is in her debut season at the Metropolitan Opera this year in productions of Magic Flute and Elektra.

New England
by Michael O’Keefe, bass

New England has always been a fairly good job market, especially for early music. There are many amateur and semi-professional choruses and orchestras. Venerable institutions such as the Haendel and Haydn Society and the Boston Camerata are thriving. However, operatic voices have a tough time in this market. It is the custom in any substantial church or temple to pay a professional quartet for religious services, and these jobs (and the weddings and funerals that often are attached) are a mainstay for many singers in the area. Ever since the Boston city fathers tore down the opera house in the 1950’s to create a parking lot, the opportunities for opera singers have been slim. The Boston Lyric Opera has been castigated for rarely hiring local singers for anything except occasional comprimario roles and chorus; the perfunctory once-a-year cattle call in January or February is only for these bit parts. Richard Conrad runs the Boston Academy of Music. He produces several interesting productions a year, including rarities from the Bel Canto period. The company has presented several American premieres. Longwood Opera, run by Scott Brumit, has been operating for over a decade. It performs three or four spirited, musically solid productions each year, double-cast, with 9-12 performances of each opera, in English with piano. Janus Opera has been presenting interesting opera for several years in churches and other small venues in central Boston, likewise with piano, likewise in English. Janus operates on an irregular schedule, and offers only stipend pay. The Boston Aria Guild was founded by professional singers who live in Boston (Sanford Sylvan, D’Anna Fortunato and their ilk), who have international careers, but find little appropriate work in their home town. They stage several excellent concerts and concert operas each year. It is a rather closed group–one must be invited to join.

West USA
by Suzanna Guzmán, Mezzo

Life is good for a singer in Los Angeles. There are actually three big opera companies in California, and a wealth of smaller ones, so international folk do get to the West Coast. There are many opportunities here in alternative work for singers, such as studio work; choral work; outreach work; and church work. Competition for musical theater jobs is not so great as in New York City (companies often recast national tours from here to save on per diem); symphonic and orchestral jobs; and there is commercial and radio work here as well. Creatively speaking, the directors out here tend to come from all genres: theater; film; even ballet. The fight to get public attention in this market is great, but Los Angeles is so big, there is plenty of space for all audiences.

I do miss some things about New York City: the number of auditions; bumping into colleagues on the Upper West Side; the teachers and the people that are on top of you all the time. There are good teachers and coaches here in Los Angeles, but you have to seek them out. The biggest disadvantage to being here is that it seems nobody in Europe or New York City is interested in the work you have done on the West Coast, except for San Francisco Opera (maybe Seattle, as well)-they dismiss it as provincial. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of politics out here. It is still “Opera.” Spiritually, back East I had to fight so much just to survive the basics. I had no fight left for my fellow person. I think here, I can serve the world better and make a difference-a small one, but a difference. A career as an opera singer means I have to travel in any case. I just choose to do that from Los Angeles.

Suzanna Guzmán has sung lead roles in numerous international houses. She recently sang the title role in the revolutionary “MTV” version of Carmen at Houston Grand Opera.

by Janet Dea

The major opera company in Toronto is the Canadian Opera Company; the Director of Public Affairs is Susan Harrington, and their website is www.coc.ca. Of note for the 1998/99 season will be the world premiere of Robertson Davies’ and Randolph Peter’s The Golden Ass. It will star Canadian soprano Judith Forst. Ms. Harrington didn’t release any of the other artists’ names, but said they were trying to make it an all-Canadian cast.

Two other established opera companies in Toronto are: Toronto Opera in Concert and Toronto Operetta Theatre. The Artistic Director/General Director of both is Guillermo Silva Marin. The TOT phone number is (416) 465-2912. Publicity manager Henry Ingram, who is also a singer, runs the concert division of Dean Artists’ Management, the largest classical singer agency in Canada.

Another established opera company in the Toronto area is Opera Atelier. They specialize in baroque opera and have been acclaimed worldwide.

What is truly noteworthy is the fact that in times of increasing government cut backs to the arts new companies seem to be springing up all over. Opera Anonymous is in its second or third season. This is a truly exciting and innovative company run by and for singers. Nina Scott Stoddard is the artistic director. I believe their mandate is to produce 20th century operas. [Ed: the website can be found at http://www.opanon.com.]

Opera York is also another new company, under the artistic direction of William Shookhoff in their second season. They will be producing Don Pasquale and Adriana Lecouvreur, as well as a concert version of Madama Butterfly.

Queen of Puddings is another new exciting opera company, focusing on 20th century, Canadian and/or new works. Artistic Director is John Hess. Opera Mississauga has been around for a few years, but has gained a much higher profile in the last year or two under a new artistic director, conductor Dwight Bennett. They recently built a brand new and beautiful theatre.

One other item of note: this past year saw the closing down of one of Canada’s longest-standing artist management companies, Hart Murdock. A new firm has sprung up, called Orion House Management, under president Walter Kornelsohn.

Janet Dea has sung numerous roles with Toronto Opera, Edmonton Opera and Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany.

by Bruce Brown

I love working in Vienna. Singing in the Vienna opera houses is a unique challenge as a performer, due to the huge repertoire covered in the two theatres, and also the time constraints on rehearsals. What does that mean? It means that one is usually singing several roles in the same week and going on stage with very little or in many casesno rehearsal time. At least the conductor will stop by your dressing room before the show to talk tempi and the prompter will become your best friend by the end of the performance. Not the most ideal situation for creating the best artistic goals, but it couldn’t be more fun singing Mozart and Strauss in Vienna.

by Kathleen Michaels

Musical budgets are shrinking, but unlike Germany, opera houses here aren’t closing…yet. They are all utilizing guest artists like crazy. Your best bet for work this Fall? Include Switzerland in your audition circuit by getting a Swiss agent and researching which houses are doing the roles you want. Then ask the agent to target those positions. German agents can get some of the information, but they won’t have it all, and the Swiss houses prefer working with Swiss agents, even though your German agent will insist this is not true. Something else to bear in mind is that the German language requirement is much less imposing in Switzerland. German is a second language to many Swiss, and they are not obsessed with it or your ability in it. There is high regard for work done in other countries (America, France and Italy), so it isn’t necessary to have an extensive number of strictly German performances on your résumé. Reputations count for more here; it’s a small country and when you do a good job, word gets around.

by Lauryn Lehm

Here in France, there are two things to steal your money–the GRISS, and the Congès Spectacles. GRISS is the pension fund; although you already pay social security in the States, you can’t avoid paying it here.

The Congès Spectacles is a “vacation fund” that you and your employer must contribute to, and then fill out forms (when and if you’re home) and send them in within a year, telling them when you’re going to take your vacation. This detrimentally affects people who are free-lance artists (even foreign), in that many times you don’t have all the Congès Spectacles forms from your employer. If you don’t send the forms in on time to the Congès Spectacles Service, you must send in an explanation as to why, and then sometimes, even years later, you will finally get your “vacation money.”

Most Americans don’t know that if they have proof that they pay Social Security in the U.S. (an original document that your agent should know how to procure, not a copy) with them to a job in any of the EU countries, they will not get a local Social Security tax there taken out. (They still need to pay it in the U.S.) But if they forget to bring that form, then they lose that money. The government where you work will not reimburse the U.S. for it, and the U.S. didn’t get it, so you’ll have to pay it in the States, anyway. So make sure you have that form!

by Janice Edwards

In 1996, my husband was offered the position of general manager of the Copenhagen Philharmonic. Since this was his chosen field, we could hardly turn down the opportunity. At last, I thought, a husband with musical connections in a “first world” city. Once again, reality set in. First, the Danes frown on nepotism. Second, there is a wealth of vocal talent in Denmark, therefore the competition is much stiffer. However, through perseverance and indirect help from my family, I have picked up chamber music concerts and vocal recitals.

You may be wondering why I do not spend time auditioning in Germany, since it’s next door. The reason is that I decided after my marriage that my personal life was more important than being a full-time singer, and that using most of my energy and other resources to pursue my goals was no longer an option if I was to have the kind of marriage I wanted. I was able to replace my previous “all or nothing” attitude with a balanced life of marriage, home and three or four good gigs a year to keep me happy. (For instance, “Das Lied von der Erde” with the Prague Radio Orchestra, and Fricka in Arizona Opera’s Ring cycle just this year). My husband likes to think he “rescued” me from my stressful New York life, but the decision was completely mine and I have no regrets.

by Jayoung Yoon

It is hard for Korean singers to make a career in Korea. They generally have to study and make a reputation in the U.S. or Europe first. Korean companies and universities want to hire teachers who have been great singerswho have had good careers singing many roles. It is very hard to get a job there to teach and to sing. I came to America to study one year ago, and I’m in the DMA program at University of Minnesota. As you know, it is very hard to have the opportunity to sing principal roles, and I think it is harder for Asian singers. Two months ago, I got the first prize and best performer awards from the Schubert Club Competition. From that result, I had offers to sing with Minnesota Opera and Minnesota Orchestra. I will sing Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte next November, and also a Cambodian opera.