by Stefan Zucker
In the U.S., few singers earn livings unless they are engaged by major companies. There are nine reasons for this:
1) Arts councils now have little money. Foundations have shrunken stock portfolios. Even though there recently may have been some improvement in the latter, foundation budgets are shaped by the downturn of the last few years. Therefore grants to opera companies are small.
2) Because of what The New York Times terms a “societal change,” fewer people are buying CDs, videotapes, classical-music DVDs or tickets to classical-music events, including opera.
3) As a consequence, most opera companies have downsized their budgets 25 percent, compared to 2000.
4) They give roles to singers who had roles in productions that were canceled.
5) Opera companies tend to cast roles with known quantities.
6) Singers are a glut on the market.
7) Managers’ commissions are 10 percent. Although managers do arrange auditions with opera companies, they typically won’t represent a singer unless he already has enough contracts to suggest he’ll bring in a substantial amount in fees. One prominent manager told me he declines to represent anyone who wouldn’t earn at least $100,000 a year. Some managers require less.
8) Singers become discouraged from endless auditioning and unkept promises.
9) Since 40-50 opera companies come to New York each year to hold auditions, singers who persevere may get some thousands of dollars in engagements. This is enough to keep hope alive, but sooner or later virtually all singers who try to live from performing alone run out of money.