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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Expensive IS Opera Singing?

Dear Friends, Colleagues, Family and Opera Lovers,

I felt especially compelled to write an article today about the expenses of opera singing, and the cost of having a career in this art form.  The reason being, I am currently nearly broke, and I am contemplating what I have gotten out of the investment that I have made into my singing studies.  Besides, I feel it is an interesting insight into the life of a singer, for those who don't know the details, of all the costs that we singers are responsible for, which don't necessarily come to mind when one thinks of the 'glamorous life' of being a singer and traveling all around the world. (To which, I also say, we normally don't get to see the places we travel to, because we are too busy working 10 hour days in rehearsals and coachings and costume-fittings, etc!)

To give everyone an idea of what a pretty light month looks like in terms of necessary costs, just in the past month I have had the following expenses:  Four coachings with coaches (two at the Oper Dortmund and two at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein) which were 30 Euros per hour, totaling 120 Euros for four hours of rehearsal time.  Then I had to pay for my transportation to the coachings (39 Euros to Duesseldorf for a 4-time-use ticket between Duesseldorf and Dortmund, and 8 Euros for a four-time-use ticket from where I'm staying with my boyfriend to downtown Dortmund) which is 47 Euros total.  Then I had to purchase a dress suitable for the final round audition that I sang at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein (because I was told by an agent that the audition dress that I was wearing around over here was inappropriate) which cost (at half-price sale!) still 98 Euros.  I also occasionally paid for groceries (which for the entire month was possibly 30 Euros- and that's getting off cheap- normally my boyfriend pays for all of the groceries--on a student's budget!) since I feel it not right to take advantage of the generosity of my boyfriend for having me here and not making me pay any rent or utilities or any food costs (unless I want to).  Finally, I had to purchase a plane ticket back to the USA for the competition and program auditions that I have coming up (Song Fest, AVA, Florentine Opera Studio- if I'm lucky I will figure out how to get to Milwaukee...., Gerda Lissner, Jensen Foundation, Rochester Classical Idol, Young Patronesses of the Opera, Career Bridges, Giulio Gari, Belvedere Competition, and Chicago Lyric) and that cost me 414 Euros (round-trip since I have to come back to Germany for a performance of Der Barbier von Sevilla in Bad Orb in the middle of August).  Not to mention that I had to get a haircut (for the first time in 6 months; I had been holding out for the chance to have a haircut at a salon that would do a better job than just the $20.00 haircut that I normally get in PA on a budget, and then I luckily found a 'Groupon' coupon for 19 Euros for a haircut that would normally cost 75 Euros--so at least I saved there!) so that was 19 Euros plus 8 Euros to get my eyebrows tweezed, and then factor in the cost of food on-the-run which I had to get when I had my coachings in Duesseldorf (since it's a 1.5 hour train ride from Dortmund and my coachings were scheduled around the dinner hour) which cost about 15 Euros altogether.  Then there was the ticket to the Oper Dortmund to see their production of "Ritter Blaubart" at the 'student' price (yes, please don't lecture me about using my student ID way past its' expiration date--I honestly NEED the discount) which was 8 Euros, and then the train ticket to get there and back was another 4 Euros.  That is not including the appointment that I had with the chiropractor over here who charged 45 Euros to fix the stiff neck that I got from lugging around a too-heavy backpack full of voice books to and from the practice room and sitting in front of the computer the remainder of the day applying for auditions, writing to agents, and writing grant proposals (keep in mind, I don't have health insurance of any kind- to keep down monthly costs, of course).  Oh, and I almost forgot the cost of treating my boyfriend to a concert at the Oper Duisburg (for his Valentine's Day present), so that we could go there to scout out what the Opernstudio kids sounded like from the 'Deutsche Oper am Rhein' on the weekend before my final audition for their program- those two tickets at student price were 15 Euros.  (Needless to say, they did not sound as good as I had hoped they would.)  At any rate, if I have calculated everything correctly, that comes to, for the month of February: a whopping 823 EUROS---which translates to (at today's exchange rate via Google) $1,124.79!!!  And that's just one month's worth of expenses!

To make my point clear: I am not going out spending money at bars, or on club entrance fees, or buying new clothing (except the dress which I couldn't avoid since it was hindering my professional progress), or buying new shoes, or eating at fancy restaurants, or heck, even eating at restaurants once a week, or going to the movies, or meeting up with friends, or doing ANYTHING that would constitute NOT working towards being a better singer, and finding a job and finding the money to keep up this career path, yet, I am STILL somehow not getting hired and not getting chosen for programs or concerts, or whatever else--you name it.

My point being- it seems an awful expensive endeavor to keep up, if, when I ask for people's help for free recital space for benefit recitals I get no responses, and then when I ask for help in general with anything, from postponing my coaching payments, to temporarily lowering my lesson payment costs, I just get laughed at.

Honestly, is there anything wrong with this picture?  I mean, it's not like I am running around asking everyone for help every month!  I am just asking for help now, when I could really use it, when I am completely at my wits' end in terms of figuring out what to do next, and when I honestly need people's help and support.  What kills me most, is that, it seems when people are used to helping someone, that person can ask for help as often as possible and still receive it, but when people are used to seeing someone support themselves and not ask for help, THEN when that person actually asks for help because they need it, it's never taken seriously.

So, here goes: one last time, to make it perfectly clear-----I NEED HELP, and I need your help to keep this career going.  I honestly have no shame any more in terms of this: I am willing to tell you all that I have literally $1,400.00 to my name and that's it.  And, $10,000.00 still of college loans (thanks a LOT conservatory!) to pay off which have just conveniently come out of forbearance!

If you have ANY ideas in terms of what I can do in order to find the money to pay for the two summer programs that I got accepted to this year (both very prestigious--IVAI and The Mozarteum in Salzburg) or know of anyone who does, PLEASE put them in contact with me asap!

Thank you for reading this and for sharing this with people who care.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Offenbach's Ritter Blaubart at Oper Dortmund (Click this title for link!)

Hi Everyone!

I am back writing about an Opera that I saw recently: no surprise, I am sure!  However, this particular opera was actually an 'Operetta' and, it was by one of my favorite composers, Offenbach.  I guess it's kind of uncommon for Offenbach to be categorized as 'favorite', but I really enjoy his compositional style.  It is never boring because there's always a catchy tune being sung or played, and there are undoubtedly tons of laughs with a witty and satirical libretto.  Offenbach was almost like the 'Educated' Musical Theater of yesteryear.

Anyway, back to the news about the show and how wonderful and funny it was.  I guess I just gave away my general opinion on whether or not I liked it, but I really do feel that it deserves more merit than just a couple of positive adjectives strung together.  First off, the sets were amazing.  I have to preface this with the fact the the Oper Dortmund has a very unique stage- it's actually a huge lazy susan--and for those of you who aren't familiar with that kitchen item of Mom's, then it's best possibly described as a Turntable (a.k.a.- a gigantic round disc that pivots on a central point).  Which, I must say, gives the Oper Dortmund really a lot of different possibilities for staging choices and set design.  And, in this particular production they used it to great acclaim.  They had a strip of grass (astroturf, actually) which was continuously running from left to right in the background of the first few scenes which didn't repeat itself because in this astroturf were 'mile markers' if you will, with town names on them and distances to the next town.  It was honestly very smartly used for comic effect when a few of the characters were supposedly traveling quite far in a horse and carriage (and therefore the mile markers told you just how far they actually 'traveled').

Secondly, the large issue with many of Offenbach's operettas is that there is not only very difficult and wordy musical numbers (think Gilbert and Sullivan but in French) but also quite hilarious (if delivered dryly enough) actual dialogue between said musical numbers.  Therefore, the Oper Dortmund (again, smartly!) translated the French dialogue into German modern-day translations of what the French was originally intended to mean, and was able to make a very very funny interplay between the characters in the style of Offenbach, but in German (which the audience enjoyed also a lot more than reading surtitles, thank you very much!).

Thirdly, the costumes were to die for!  Either their costumers read my previous blog posting about the costumes at Wicked in Oberhausen, or they are just comic geniuses on their own.  Either way, I have to go into detail about the costumes.  They were distinctly divided to symbolize the class of character as well as the location of character at any given time.  For example: the flowermaiden (Fleurette) and the cowmaiden (Boulotte) both were wearing very....Bavarian-looking (for lack of a better adjective---think checkered skirts and aprons and flowered low-cut peasant tops) garb, while their intended love (the shepherd) was wearing cowboy boots and a light blue and pink suit (closely resembling the cut and style of things that Elvis used to wear actually, lol).  Then, the royalty where dressed in hot pinks, neon yellows and fuscias (which all looked very royal actually since the style of the garments was very traditional- think Louis XVI era) and they had absolutely crazy wigs which were white but absolutely humongous.  Honestly, I am not quite sure how they balanced with those things on, but nonetheless, they looked marvelous.  Finally, the main character was dressed in a very well-tailored (in a modern way) shiny black with hints of dark neon blue overtones and a large black top hat and a black and gold cane (which later was actually a sword!).  All in all, the costumes added the zany to the show, and that really made it so enjoyable to watch and to understand the subtle hints that Offenbach's plot was portraying....the ridiculousness of royalty, the beauty of peasant life, etc.

Last but not least, it was all wonderfully acted and sung.  There was a point in the first act which I remember particularly well---it was a chorus of village women (who were all cowmaidens) who were all also hard-of-hearing (so they had actual ear horns for each chorus member to put to their ears when they couldn't hear something---hilarious!).  It was a memorable chorus, to say the least, and it also helped to give the audience the feel that this production was anything but serious (but that it addressed serious subjects in a light-hearted way).  Possibly the thing that I most enjoyed which brought the whole thing together for me was that each person on that stage last Thursday night really was enjoying being there and having fun singing and acting and dressing up and telling the story.  That was something which, could honestly be more often seen in Operas and which needs to be concentrated on in the years to come.

Therefore, I say: Bravo Opera Dortmund!

And to those of you who are interested in seeing this, its still running at the Oper Dortmund, or for my American Readers, check out this video preview clip of the show:
 http://www.theaterdo.de/youtube.php?id=1065&url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACgC88y4OPY