Auditioning in Europe

Why did you go to Europe?

Because it’s home turf for opera. Singing in a foreign country, though, is not for the weak of heart. Aside from language pressure and the heavy work load, everything about daily life is an experience. Beds and mattresses, kitchens and appliances are different and incredibly expensive. Then there’s working in your second language and the regular stress of a job on top of that: What roles will I get? With whom am I double cast? Who will sing the premiere? What is the right or wrong thing to do/say? Is that role good for my voice, is it too heavy? And then, being alone is not for everybody. It takes someone who loves singing more than life itself. This life is not for someone who thought it would be fun and easy.

Where did you get work?

I’m in a small (900 seats) ‘A’ house in Bremen, Germany. I expect to gain experience and build repertory. So far, so good!

How much did it cost?

You mean travel, auditions, food, hotels, cabs, coachings, pianists, etc.? I’d rather not think about it! But I was lucky. People offered me coachings, places to stay and help with my German. I tried to do my part by not being a bother, keeping my fold-out couch or guest bedroom in order; buying whatever I could (food, etc.) and being really grateful, and promising tickets to the Met when I get there!

How did you raise the money?

I made my first batch of money by saving all I could from my opera gigs, from chorus to small roles, also from outreach/education gigs from two opera companies. I worked for Cleveland Opera Outreach and Lyric Opera Cleveland, school shows at all times of the day, sometimes as early as 7:30 a.m. and as many shows as three in a day or the whole day depending on the program. Doing that for a few weeks in a row prepares you for any audition situation! Nothing surprises me after this working in the trenches. I also made money from church, temple, and wedding gigs. Then, after that money was gone, I made it through the help and support of my fiancé, who’s now my husband.The money ran out after a few months. But you just have to stay longer and make contacts. There isn’t a very positive reaction to the huge numbers of Americans who come here for three weeks in August. The Germans don’t know your work ethic, don’t know if you will fit into their ensembles and aren’t sure how serious you are. Plus, you have to get fluent in German, unless you are an incredibly stunning singer or a tenor. In Germany, you can’t just get a stop-gap job like waitressing. You have to have papers! And you have to have a job before you can rent an apartment or sign a lease, before you can get a phone of any kind or a bank account or anything. You have to register with the police and you have to have a work permit. BUT you have to have a contract first! It’s a lot more complicated than getting a job at the local 7-11. And right now unemployment here is at an all-time high. But people were exceedingly kind to me and opened their homes (usually with phones and faxes, thank goodness) to me. I don’t know how I would have made it without that. I stayed with friends, friends of friends, occasionally Baronesses.

Did you line up auditions yourself, or through an agent?

Myself! Calls and requests and doing some cattle calls is possible, and they will hear you. I got my job by doing a good audition, and I got the audition through a conductor I had worked with. He called ahead for me, and that seemed to pave the way.

How long did it take to get a job?

There were no openings when I got here and I heard this many, many times: ‘You’re very pretty, your voice is very pretty, and you’re a soprano, and there aren’t any openings right now.’ It took about a year or so.

Did you feel like your time/money was well used?

Now that I have a job I do. It took longer than I thought it would.

What would you do differently if you had it to do again?

Ask me later. I’m still doing it.

How did you get ready with languages?

I did the normal college year or so of everything, and that’s nothing. I also took one-on-one lessons with a German woman in a language school, but nothing really prepares you. I learned German on the job.

Did you see a lot of Americans getting work?

Out of the 16-or-so soloists in our theater, there are three or four Americans. The others include British, Bulgarian, German, Austrian, Australian, Finnish.

What is your general impression of opportunities there right now?

There aren’t too many opportunities right now. For the first time they’re really cutting back on money.

Any Fachs better than others for getting work?

Try to be a tenor!

What about physical appearance? Are model-type singers hired before great voices?

No. Our singers cover the spectrum of looks.

What is positive/negative about your work there?

Positive? Well, I’m working in a great house. Negative? I’m six time zones from home, alone, in a foreign country with the emphasis on foreign! I miss fast food, real meat, speaking English, nothing familiar, no one-stop K-Mart shopping, good restaurant service, friendly politeness, and free time. I miss, of course, my husband and friends.

What are you hoping will happen after your stint there?

Fame and fortune and the chance to sing in all the world’s great houses.

How are housing and wages?

I rent an apartment. Wages are just enough for food and rent, but I do have health insurance. I had a very high deductible insurance policy before I came here. Now the insurance is German and I use it in combination with my private insurance.

What are your hours?

The hours of the house are 10:00-2:00 and 6:00-10:00. And 10:00-1:00 on Saturday. If someone is sick I’ve had as many as eight performances in a week. My hours can range from a week off to 18 performances of six different roles in three different languages, rehearsals every morning, performance every night.

Do you sing musical theatre too?

I’m singing Maria in West Side Story. We do the songs in English and the dialogue in German. It’s hard but it opens the door for Fledermaus next year.

Did you leave your husband behind or bring him with you?

My husband is in America, I’m here. Sometimes it’s sad and lonely, but we talk every day. We found great international phone rates. [Ed: call Telegroup 800/338-0225 or for rates.] We e-mail and he visits every month or so. Our goal is to live in the same country, someday even in the same house(!). It helps that my husband gives me unconditional love, support, and perspective. He tells me he will love me whether I sing at the Met or if I come home and garden. That gives me strength to go on. [Ed: see last story below for the husband’s views on this arrangement!]

Last question. Are you ever coming home?

That’s the goal. But I don’t want ever to stop working in Europe.

…Sometimes it Doesn’t

(In order to ask very frank questions, we have withheld the name of the singer below.)

Why did you go to Europe?

I’ve always tried to audition in Europe every year because my intention is to have an international career.

Any warnings to pass on to other singers?

The level of accompanist is much lower in Germany.

Where did you go?

I’ve auditioned with Munich, Köln, Hamburg, Leipzig, DeutscheOper Berlin, Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, Karlsruhe, Staatsoper Wein over the past 4 years, resulting in only one job so far.

What did you expect to accomplish?

This year I faxed 48 A and B companies for auditions. I expected about a 10% return, but only received one audition.

How much DID it cost?!

I flew three times this season and was there a total of one month. I believe I spent around $2,500.

How did you raise the money?

One flight was from frequent flyer mileage. I used money from my savings for my other jobs of the year.

Where did you stay?

I stayed with a friend in Frankfurt.

Did you line up auditions yourself, or through an agent? How?

All of my auditions have come from my New York agent. I sang for five agents this season and did not receive one audition.

Did you use audio tapes, video, faxes, phone calls, Internet?

I used faxes. I did hear that since the market is so tight, the houses mostly audition from the agents.

How did you decide when to go?

y first trip was in September, then October/November and the last was in December. That is the season.

Did you feel like your time/money was well used?

If I had come back with a job this time, I would have felt that it was more worth it. But the point is that you never know when and where your next job is coming from. My first German job I got from a 10-day audition tour. My point has always been to miss as few auditions in New York as possible.

What would you do differently if you had it to do again?

I would have been a singer in the 1970’s and 1980’s when the market was open! I will go back next year. And I will probably lie to the agents and say that I am in Germany, even though I will probably be in New York. I just think that agents will not call if they think you are not in Germany. I live in New York and can leave for Germany tonight if I need to.

What did you do about health insurance?

I tried to not think about it.

How did you get ready with languages?

I began my German studies years ago in college. I took on a private tutor.

Describe a memorable audition. Who did what, when?

I sang for one opera company and right before my audition, I was told that they were not looking for my Fach in the house, so I just had fun with my stage time. Afterward, they met with me and the Intendant called another opera company and sent me over for an audition. I got the job that next day.

What were the results of your trip?

I sang a total of three house auditions with positive response.

Did you see a lot of Americans getting work?

No. Only a lot of Americans auditioning!

What is your general impression of opportunities there right now?

The market is frozen and people are hanging onto the jobs they already have.

Which countries are best for young singers trying to get their start?

American apprentice programs or the German “C” houses.

What is positive/negative about your work there?

I found the feel in Germany to be very different than in America. Most people have been working with each other for years, so it feels more like an office. There isn t the socializing that we tend to do in America. The stage director rules and I often felt like a puppet and knew that they did not care what I had to bring to the character.

How is housing?

The time I got a job, I was placed in a tiny studio apartment and once spent several days without heating. I bought a ton of candles and boiled water all the time.


The top fee at the house where I worked was around 4,500 DM ($2,500 approx.) Some of the “C” houses pay around 1,600 ($888 approx.) a performance.

Work conditions?

I was only in one production so it was the standard 6 hours a day.

Treatment towards Americans?

I was the only English speaking person in my house. Once someone made a comment, in German, that the Americans were naive like the Russians. So I cooed in a high pitched voice tossing my head to the side, “Aber was meinst du?” (“But what do you mean?”). There were no more American comments after that…with the exception of an occasional reference to cowboys.

What has happened with the tax situation?

When I first started my job, taxes were a fraction. By the end of my run I was down to a third of my paycheck with agent fees and taxes taken out.

Are you paying double taxes?

I don’t not know if I can get any of my money back, but I would love to know how.

Are you paying American AND European managers? What percentage?

I only paid my American manager the standard 10%.

What is the norm on physical appearance there? Are model-type singers hired before great voices?

I think that they are not into glamour as much as we are here.

Two Continents, Two Jobs, One Marriage

Taking a job or auditioning in Europe often involves sacrifices from families and partners. TNYON spoke to Brad Roller, Laura’s husband about the impact of having a bi-continental marriage.

How did you have the courage to marry a traveling opera singer?

When we met, Laura told me she would be spending most of her time away from home. I said, “Let me get this straight. I can: (A) be with you, who I am crazy about, and have to work around some difficult career living situations; or (B) I can be with some girl I am not so crazy about 24 hours a day who happens to be local.”I went with A. Also, I love what she does and how she does it. She works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. Laura, and the other Americans living over there, are very, very brave. Germany is very different from America and there is no question you’re in a foreign country.

Did you know anything about singing before?

Nothing about opera or singing. Laura explained opera at first as, “Everyone is sleeping with everyone, then somebody dies.” In the last five years I have seen a huge amount of opera all around the U.S. and Europe and have learned a lot. I have seen some of the world’s most famous singers do incredibly moving performances and also some who make you wonder how they got famous. I have also seen some totally unknown singers sing their hearts out.

How did you meet Laura?

The whole story is on the web because a newspaper did a feature on our courtship and wedding. []

Her schedule sounds hectic and singers are often preoccupied when performing. How have you dealt with that?

Well, you know, they don’t call them divas for no reason! Really, Laura is about as normal as you can be while being in this business. Of course, she gets preoccupied during performance and rehearsal times, but she’s getting better. I think that my being with her helps to calm her, it came with the territory. I can tell her if I think she is getting a little carried away, but I have learned that timing is critical. It doesn’t happen often. Fortunately, I have several customers in Germany, and have many opportunities to visit here. If this weren’t the case, it would be really difficult for both of us.

What does she do that impresses you?

I love her singing, acting, and humor. She is truly dedicated. She prepares for rehearsals as if they were performances and unlike many, couldn’t possibly call in sick if she were not. Even after more than 15 performances, she still has an hour coaching for the German dialogue of West Side Story before every performance so she can eliminate her American accent.

How did you get so committed to her career?

I would support her in anything that she would want to do. Isn’t that how you are supposed to be with your wife? But I do have a tremendous belief in her talent. We work very hard to spend as much time as we can together and make the best of every minute, and it’s working very well.