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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.

Comments

  1. Wish I could help, but I'm right there with you :/ I'll be sure to pass this on.

    Know at least that I feel your pain, totally and utterly. I just finished a US tour and although I managed to save up quite a bit of money, it was nearly impossible to hang onto that without some sort of steady employment. Right now I'm living with my sister and deferring as many payments as I can while desperately looking for work (any kind of work, not just arts. It's tough out there right now).

    I take it you're still in Europe/overseas? Then I suppose work is out of the question, unless you have a student visa...?

    Do you know anyone who could hook you up with some odd/under-the-table jobs...professors, or friends? I know how dumb and frustrating and offensive that probably sounds, but you sound pretty desperate to make this work, so I'm making the only suggestion I can think of besides scholarships, grants, and rich benefactors.
    Even if you never have asked for help before, and even if you deserve and need help now, Murphy's law dictates that luck/help/money is never going to arrive at your convenience. Either you're forced to make it happen yourself, or hunker down and bear with it until your luck turns.

    Yeah that sounds awful too, especially when you've got two offers for awesome summer programs (congrats by the way!!!). But realistically, in your situation, can you make both of those happen? Do you NEED to go to both? Or could you attend only one of them and be satisfied with the fact that you were accepted to both?

    Anyway, this probably isn't what you wanted to hear. If I think of anything or come across any programs I'll DEFINITELY let you know. Good luck and patience be with you!!!

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  2. You know, I think that the thing which really made me upset about this whole situation is not actually how much it costs the artists to have professional careers in this field, but that it is happening to so many people that I know, and they are on the verge of quitting something that they are really good at doing, just because they don't have the money that it requires to keep 'climbing the professional ladder' in Opera.

    I know that none of us went into this business thinking that we'd be rich someday (and actually most of us knew that we would most likely be living in a very modest way for the rest of our lives if we did choose this profession) but what is difficult to realize is that, this particular artistic pursuit of Opera singing is nearly exclusively reserved for people who are rich. It is frankly not a good way to have any sort of truth to the art form's final product. How will be find a Mimi in La Boheme who actually knows what it's like to be poor and live in an attic? How will we have a believable Carmen who understands what it's like to live on the fringes of society? How will we find a true Liu, who is willing to give up what little she has in order to sacrifice her life for someone else's? These traits will never be found in people who haven't experienced hardship. Therefore, the conclusion I've come to is: there most likely won't be the draw of the art form in the next 10-20 years because no one wants to hear the background of a person they admire (a.k.a. a famous Opera singer) as being: 'They lived in New York where their father was a Stock Broker and their Mother was a Lawyer, and, as a child, they spent their summers in Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and the Fall and Winter in their Condo in Miami while occasionally traveling to Paris for a diversion every so often'.

    I mean, give me a break! It's the same reason why baseball players aren't as easily made into heroes nowadays either- they get paid so much, it's not admirable anymore to play the game of baseball. Now all that their fans think is, "You know, I'm paying $50 for this seat in Yankee Stadium in the nosebleed section to watch someone who makes 10 times more than I ever will..." and it's disheartening. The players then aren't heroes- they're just greedy bandwagon jumpers- for whichever team will pay them more.

    It's honestly very sad and makes for a deflated understanding of the value of art and culture.

    So, to sum up after that long-winded tangent, I do see the sense in your suggestions, but I wonder if ultimately it will all be for naught anyway?

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  3. But, thank you so much for reading and for taking an interest and for passing the cry for help along to those who might actually be able to help! ;)

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  4. I totally agree and have noticed the same thing--well, sort of the same thing as a musician. I don't know about you, but doesn't it make you feel like you're performing for no one but yourself sometimes? I hate that feeling :/ And it's not fair that only the rich should be able to afford singing. Weren't arts supposed to be based on talent or 'that special something' or whatever?

    Classical music and arts in general have usually depended on the support of patrons...oftentimes wealthy individuals. I think what you say about the "deflated understanding of the value of art and culture" is very true. Now it's all about money. But it's like the industry itself doesn't seem to understand that in order to keep getting funds, there has to be an INTEREST. There has to be a SPARK. Patrons should want to give money because they enjoy the art form, not because their company has to make a charitable contribution for tax purposes, not because grandma's favorite niece on her rich uncle's side wants to become an opera singer. For any art form to receive money for just those reasons, in my opinion, brings it closer to its extinction every day.

    I tried to explain this only a few days ago to someone who was interviewing me for the position of Development Director with a medium-sized symphony. They guy wanted me to come up with ways to, and I quote, "Schmooze those little old ladies. Individual patrons need to be reaching our maximum donation target. Give me some creative ideas for making that happen".
    What a horrible attitude to have! And in such a crummy economy too. As a musician, I feel that classical music needs to evolve. I want to generate more ticket sales, spark an interest in a younger crowd, appeal to the middle classes, and if that means the orchestra dresses differently, plays different music, whatever, then that's what needs to be done in today's day and age.

    It's a shame that it would have to come to that--classical art offers something very unique and it would suck to change that--but I think it's either that or the interest/funding will die out.

    ANYWAY! Goodness, we could probably talk about this forever :) Thanks for responding to my post. Don't give up!!!! (unless of it's not what you want any more, then go ahead! lol)

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  5. Sadly, though I wish it weren't true, I do have to agree with all of what you said and go on to further say that it's not going to get easier either. Historically people had to depend on going out (normally to the theater) for their entertainment but nowadays we are surrounded by limitless possibilities which are more and more becoming things which you can do at home, alone in front of a computer or your television. That is honestly one of the biggest problems that live performance is fighting: immediate, digital, personalized concurrence. I am not sure how the arts will be able to maintain a foothold if it does not change, as you have said above.

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  6. Julia, I applaud your openness, and your honesty.

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  7. Wow. Thanks for this. I might actually write something similar in my own personal blog for my friends and family to read, as I feel the same way and have a hard time with the 'asking for help' thing. Maybe it would help to make more people understand the pressure this career choices puts on us all if we all post our own stories of financial woe in our individual blogs.

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  8. @ Anonymous: I am sorry to hear that you're also experiencing financial woes, but I have to say, I am not surprised. And, if you're a Soprano, then I'm REALLY not surprised. Though, I can offer hope that if you are based in Germany, it is at least much more reasonable to live there on a singer's budget than it is in the USA. It seems that a lot of things in the USA are not only more expensive (if you don't own a car for transportation, for example) but also more inefficient.....I'm not quite sure how the multitude of American singers can keep it going. So, I admire your efforts, and I would like to say, if you can't do anything else, then stick with it. Heck, even I'm doing that, although I can't quite see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I have blind faith that it will either happen, or I'll simply go bankrupt. ;)

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