Wouldn’t it be great if the headline to this article was “Easy Ways for a Young Opera Singer to Get a Job?” The reality of the classical music and opera scene today does not allow us to use the words “easy ways.” But how does a young singer crack into an incredibly competitive field—especially in another country?
First things first: be sure to have your professional presentation portfolio all set. That means a bio and repertoire sheet, each no longer than one page, outlining the most important teachers and engagements you have been involved in so far.
Also include the very best audio and video material you can afford of at least three different arias as well as some good photographs—both head shots and full body images. If you have a website, so much the better, but be sure to bring a printed version of your bio and repertoire sheet to the audition.
Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have more than 130 official (state-subsidized) theaters, which all present opera and/or musical theatre productions. Visiting and working in these countries is a dream for many singers. Plan a trip to Europe in the fall since that is when the audition season reaches its peak.
The United Kingdom also has lots of opera, choral, and musical theatre job opportunities. Since there is no language barrier for Americans, this may be a “softer” place to start your audition tour.
So how do you find out about European auditions, competitions, Young Artist Programs, and mainstage events? Word of mouth and personal networking are still by far the most effective ways of finding work. If that doesn’t work—and to extend your reach and your network—there is the Internet with its treasure trove of resources.
Popular Websites for Finding Work
The Opera Stage
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, the Opera Stage is hosting panel auditions in Berlin and London for 2018–19. Singers receive written feedback and an MP3 recording of the auditions. Those listening to singers are mostly agents, with some local artistic directors and presenters. These are mostly informational auditions, not necessarily for roles. The cost is between €99 and €169, depending on the location.
The site also provides free access to unpaid opportunities. A premium membership provides information on paid jobs (with a considerable discount for taking part in their panel auditions). They offer more European continent-based jobs. The cost for their premium service is €14 per month or €140 per year. They offer a 14-day free trial of their premium service. (theoperastage.com)
Based in New York City, NYIOP was the first to offer a service of this kind. They invite agents and casting directors to a location and the singers pay to audition. For the 2018–19 season, they are holding auditions in Germany, Italy, New York City, and London. Their fees range from €200 to €290.
Based in England, the Audition Oracle is the go-to site for auditions and work in the United Kingdom and, increasingly, also in Europe and the United States. Singer Melanie Lodge started the site and knows from personal experience how difficult—but essential—it is to find out about auditions. With her team she created this platform, which not only allows singers to upload their CV and links to audio and video files but to also find out about paid and unpaid jobs.
The basic account, including setting up your profile, is free and includes access to the unpaid job opportunities. Access to the paid jobs is via a premium membership, which is free for the first 30 days, and then costs £15 per month or £99 per year. A 30 percent discount is available for students. (auditionoracle.com)
Based in Denmark, Truelinked allows artists to create a profile on their website and posts job and audition opportunities. They also have a last-minute “jump-in” and “standby” availability where singers can sign up for specific roles. The site acts as an online agency charging only 6 percent commission. (truelinked.com/artists)
Bundesagentur für Arbeit
The official German state employment agency for performing artists, Bundesagentur für Arbeit has offices in Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg and holds auditions mostly for smaller roles or chorus. They do not charge a fee. (zav.arbeitsagentur.de)
StagePool, gigmit, and musicalchairs
All three sites have listings for opera work on occasion. Stagepool and gigmit are especially good for crossover, pop, or musical theatre. (stagepool.com/opera_singer), (gigmit.com), (musicalchairs.info/jobs)
Young Artist Programs
Practically every European opera house now has a YAP. These programs offer excellent opportunities for getting hands-on stage experience and learning repertoire. The pay is modest, but the time will be well spent getting your foot onto the first rung of the ladder of your success.
The chances of winning the main prize is usually less than 4 percent. Should you even try for it? Absolutely! Competitions are a very good way of getting stage experience and learning how you deal with working under pressure. Even if you don’t get that first prize but only reach the semifinals, you can network for all it’s worth—and who knows who will hear you and recognize your budding talent. Most of the agents and casting directors come for the quarter- and semifinals, hoping to discover the next big star!
A word of caution in today’s digital world: as we all know, you must know what you are looking for to find it. Beware and be critical of what you read. If it sounds too good to be true, check it out. Ask friends if they know about the website/theater/company/service and read the small print—terms and conditions. Is there a phone number to contact? A real name of a real person?
Before you submit your credit card details, make sure it is a secure network. This may all seem elementary, but better safe than sorry. If it is a real website/theater/company/service, they will have nothing to hide and will be happy to comply and answer your questions.
When you are planning your trip, be sure to check out the visa and working permit requirements of each country—auditions don’t strictly count as work, but once you get a contract, you will most likely have to apply for a work permit.
Wherever you plan to travel, it is always best to at least know some words in the local language. Even just knowing please and thank you will do wonders. There are also translator apps which can help, and at least some of the people you will meet will also speak English.
And please remember to always address any emails or letters to a real person. You will have to make the effort of finding out the name of the agent or casting director on the appropriate website. A “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” type of email/letter is most likely going to be deleted/thrown away, so don’t sabotage your efforts right from the start—find out if it is Ms. Jane Smith or Mr. John Doe.
Keeping these tips in mind, “Toi toi toi!” and “In bocca al lupo!”—which both mean “Good luck!”