Now, in the middle of winter, with rain and snow pounding on the window panes, think ahead to what you will want to do this summer in Europe. Here are some basic considerations and questions you must answer for yourself.
What Is Your Goal for the Summer?
Learn a Language
If this is your aim, then it is logical that you should choose a program that takes place in the country where that language is spoken—German in Germany, Italian in Italy, etc. Be sure to check that the teachers are native speakers. It would be best, in fact, if the singers are also native speakers.
Learn a Role
It is best to do this with a teacher who sings your Fach and who has sung this role in the appropriate country and language of the role—Wagner in Germany, Verdi in Italy, etc. There may be those who dispute this, but the fact is that the greater immersion you experience in the language and culture of the role you learn, the faster you will learn the role and the more authentic you will sound.
Improve Your Technique
This, most likely, requires the most research and trust since it depends so much on where you are at, how good you are in identifying your problems and needs, and in then finding the right coach to remedy the situation and take you to the next level in a short time period.
Connect the Voice to the Body
This may sound redundant, but it is most definitely not. Your entire body is your instrument, yet so often the voice comes only from the head or, at most, from the diaphragm. This training will allow you to use your entire body to project and develop your voice and character. The Alexander Technique is excellent for opening singers up and connecting the voice.
Prepare for Auditions
Be sure to look for coaching in stage presence and the basics of presentation as well as in the business of singing, the elements of personal branding and marketing, negotiating a contract, finding an agent, determining if an agent is good for you, etc.
A good program will include all the above topics in an intensive period between one week to one month. Of course, in such a short period of time, your learning curve will be steep but hopefully also very beneficial and you will come away with transformational insights.
How Much Time Can You Invest?
Try to plan for as much time as possible in Europe. You will be interested in seeing as much as you can, visiting friends who may be there, or attending festivals and performances. At a very minimum, give yourself two weeks, more if possible. Three months would be great!
How Can You Get the Most for Your Money?
The most expensive programs are not always the best. Consider smaller summer programs that may be out of the way or might not have a former Met, Scala, or Vienna State Opera star as their major draw, but instead offer excellent coaches and classes in dramaturgy, role study, business coaching, body work, etc. Or that perhaps present the opportunity to take part in a production that suits your level. Smaller can also mean more personal attention.
Raising Money for Summer Programs
You are dying to go, but where are the funds going to come from? These tips can help with fundraising:
Set up a crowdfunding campaign and be sure to let all your friends and relatives know about it. Encourage them to let their friends and relatives donate, too. You might want to offer to give a private concert to the top donors after you return. And remember—be an active crowd funder! This means that your campaign should include a nicely done video which clearly states the purpose for the requested funds, not just a “I need money for a trip to Europe” statement. Instead, include a statement like “In order to finance my summer program, where I will be able to work at improving my technique and continue to learn new repertoire, I am looking for $xxx.”
Work a part-time job and save for the trip.
Participate in a benefit concert where you donate your services. In return, you can advertise your crowdfunding campaign and/or receive the email addresses of the visitors to follow up with a personal email to each one of them asking for their support in your cause. This is a very effective measure as your listeners will already know you, have heard you and are, therefore, much more likely to donate.
Ask the organization putting on the summer program if there are scholarship opportunities—many of them have some sort of stipend or scholarship that can be applied to the regular fee. This is especially true if you will be singing a role that is difficult to cast—such as countertenor or deep bass—and where your personal USP (unique selling position) comes in handy. Of course, this will depend on which works the summer programs are going to be producing.
As far as finances go, do not be shy about asking for help. Remember, you are giving someone the opportunity to feel good about helping a young talent who is proactive about their own development and career. Do not underestimate the donor’s feel-good factor!
Young Artists Programs (YAP)
These programs are for those who have received diplomas, have had some experience onstage, entered and maybe won some competitions, and are already on their way to becoming young professionals. Competition is fierce to get into a YAP since most opera houses accept only one or two singers per Fach depending on their repertoire plans for the next couple of seasons. Five to 10 singers are average for a major stage.
Almost every opera house—certainly the major stages—have YAPs, and all of them will include the opportunity to coach new roles, develop your technique and, most importantly, enable you to learn from professionals, perform on a professional stage, and deal with all aspects of a life in opera.
Normal contracts are usually for two seasons. You will receive a very modest monthly salary with which you will have to make do, pay local taxes, etc. Depending on where you land, this amount may or may not be enough to live off without a secondary source of income. But if you are lucky to have been chosen for a YAP, you will have many opportunities to showcase your talent and attract the attention of agents, press, etc. You will be on your way to becoming an opera star!
Where to Find Out about Summer Programs and YAPs
Audition Oracle is best for programs in the United Kingdom and Ireland. They offer a free 30-day premium access. (auditionoracle.com)
The Opera Stage lists some YAPs and summer programs with a free basic membership.
Musical America only gives you three searches for free, then you can sign up for a seven-day trial or subscribe for a year’s membership for $150. (www.musicalamerica.com)
Opera Base is another good source for operatic information. Most of it is free of charge. (operabase.com)
CS Music listings show hundreds of summer program and YAP opportunities all for free by setting up a basic account. (csmusic.net)
Other Considerations—Especially for Summer Programs
Make sure you read the small print. What are the submission requirements? How much one-on-one coaching time do you get? Can you get more time with a coach or teacher for an additional fee?
What are the visa requirements? It is up to you to inform yourself at the consulate general of the country you will visit. Look for the student visa category. If you are going to Europe, you need a visa for only one country and that is then valid for all 27 countries who are members of the Schengen Agreement. Switzerland does not belong to the EU, so be sure to check their requirements.
Be careful about 2019 programs in the UK. If Brexit succeeds, it may mean changes to visa requirements. Be sure to check these things about three months ahead of time. And make sure you have a passport valid for more than six months at the time of application.
For getting around, the Eurail (eurail.com/en/eurail-passes) offers great deals especially for 27-year-olds and younger. But Europe by bus is the most economical way (goeuro.com/buses/).
As far as accommodations go, most summer programs will rent entire apartments or university dorms where you will share a bedroom with another person of the same sex and usually a bathroom with more than one other person. If you want accommodations of your own, be prepared to pay extra. You may be on your own to find accommodations for the YAP programs. If you are lucky, there may be some assistance from the administrative/rehearsal department of the opera house in finding housing.
Be sure to check out insurance issues. For the YAPs there will most likely be basic health and accident coverage through the opera house for the duration of your contract. For most summer programs, the obligation is on you to get adequate health and accident coverage. Many gold or platinum level credit cards offer some protection, but be certain to contact your card’s customer service for details.
Wherever your path leads you—breathe deeply and enjoy the journey!