A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The grass is always greener

It gave me quite a buzz seeing how popular my post on training and audition opportunities in the UK was. It also drove home the point that there is a serious gap in how colleges prepare young singers for the realities of the big bad world. I suppose this means that those of us who are enterprising enough to go out looking for a break, rather than waiting for it to come, have an advantage. Maybe, maybe not. I know quite a few singers who run themselves ragged going from one audition to the next, or from one small company to another, never taking the time to think why they aren't doing as well as they think they could be. So while you may think 'great! this guy has done all the hard work for me, I just have to go for everything now', trust me, it's not that simple. Statistically speaking, for most of us, the more things we go for, the more rejections we will get. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... but they don't know what it's like to say 'here I am' and continually get told 'no, that's not what we want... we don't want you'. And then to see your friends be the person that is in fact wanted. So before you rush into applying everywhere, stop and think how much failure you can handle, as at this stage in our careers we are quite fragile creatures, and no matter how strong or oblivious you think you are, there will be a point at which it can get to you.

Sermon over, and on to the good bits. I promised a list of German opera studios, and I intend to deliver. The UK is pretty saturated with young singers, and there simply aren't as many proper opera houses over here as there are in German speaking countries. Many German/Austrian/Swiss houses have opera studios, and these work a lot like the Jette Parker YAP at the ROH: a small group of young singers are on contract with the house for a year or two to sing small roles, cover medium or main ones, and receive coaching and professional development advice. They are usually paid a modest monthly fee for this, enough to get by. It works like an introduction to the world of fest contracts (normally 2 year full-time engagements to join a company's ensemble of soloists).

The way these studios and fest contracts work is very closely tied into the fach system, which governs pretty much all casting in Germany. So if you don't know what fach you are, or your audition package is geared towards showing variety and flexibility rather than one particular selling point, you almost need not bother going for them. To see how the fach system is interpreted by each house, you can explore their ensemble on the website and see who sings what and which roles tend to be bundled together. It's a rather impersonal approach to singers, but it works for the houses and for safety's sake they simply stick to it. In the UK things are a lot more fluid, and there are more chances you will find yourself singing varied repertoire (provided you have the notes) rather than be type-cast straight away.

All of the studios pre-select applicants based on a recording, then invite chosen singers to audition. I have only auditioned live for one of these studios, but it's worth noting the process was completely different than in Britain. The singers were heard in blocks according to voice type (45 sopranos in a row!) singing one chosen aria each. We did have the opportunity to rehearse with the pianist. Then after all singers of one voice type were heard, a list went up detailing who the panel wanted to hear again, along with which aria (from your submitted list of 5) they wanted. There was then a break to allow the singers to prepare and the panel to recover, and then they listened to the second aria from the recalled candidates. Out of the 45 sopranos, only 6 got recalled. Of 11 baritones, only 1 was heard again. It's a hell of a trip for one aria ;) But I suppose that since you only get invited if they like your recording, it at least means they gave you due consideration, and there normally isn't an application fee (however the cost of recordings, recorded post, etc does add up).

Other considerations include age limits (30 seems an average, but for men it can go as high as 34, and for girls as low as 28), language (some studios require a certificate attesting to your level of German with the application), travel costs (can you afford to go audition, and how many studios can you visit), etc.

So here we go, a list (probably not complete, but it's a start)! Have fun, I'm too old to go for most of these anyway ;)

Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich)
Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Düsseldorf)
Semperoper Dresden
Staatsoper Hamburg
Komische Oper Berlin
Oper Frankfurt
Oper Köln
Opernhaus Zürich
Staatsoper im Schiller Theater (Berlin)
Staatsoper Hannover
Oper Stuttgart
Oper Nürnberg
Theater Basel
Oper Graz
Theater Lübeck
Opernstudio Niederrhein
Theater an der Wien 
Thüringen Opernstudio (Weimar)

So that's 18 German-speaking YAPs compared to 2 in the UK (3 if you count the NOS). Go figure...

No comments:

Post a comment