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Slave labour: Salzburg won’t pay singers for rehearsals

The sad and shameless Facebook page about singers’ fees and engagements has come up with some fascinating inside tracks on the Alexander Pereira regime at the Salzburg festival. Apparently, since Pereira took charge, singers are no longer paid for rehearsals, only for performance. The no-pay rule applies also to the general rehearsal, for which tickets are sold.

The festival does not pay hotel costs, leaving non-star singers to find private accommodation. ‘If after six weeks of rehearsal I fall sick and cannot sing any of the performances, I am left with a big fat nothing,’ complains one singer, justifiably.  See here.

salzburg beggar

The issue has been highlighted by Elisabeth Kulman, an Austrian mezzo, who was invalided out of Salzburg last year after being struck in the throat in a bizarre rehearsal accident in Bochum. Kulman has happily made a full recovery but she remains uncomfortable with conditions at Salzburg, especially the concentrated scheduling which prompted Franz Welser-Möst to pull out of a Mozart cycle. She has raised her concerns in an interview on the national television channel, ORF.

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  1. Not sure what the issue is. Its very common not to pay for rehearsal in opera. It stinks but is nothing new. Or was is this new at Salzburg?

    • Steve de Mena says:

      Interesting. As a non musician I had no idea about this. I would think accommodations would cost a lot around the time of the Salzburg Festival and that rehearsals for new productions could last several weeks. Is their singing fee supposed to accommodate the cost of a hotel and thus the concern that if they get sick, no fee?

  2. Graf Nugent says:

    I agree with Michael. As far as I’m aware, the Met is one of very few institutions to pay singers rehearsal fees. Most theatres only pay singers for their sung performances, out of which travel, board and lodging must be paid.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      It is a means of incentivising singers to actually sing at the performances they have rehearsed for, and also of insulating management from potentially exorbitant demands relative to lodging, airfare, etc.. Traveling instrumental soloists and guest conductors, too, are normally paid per performance, not per service. Exceptions exist; but the most common arrangement, industry-wide, is that visiting artists cover all their own expenses, and are remunerated only for their performances before a ticketed audience.

  3. Graf Nugent says:

    Incidentally, Salzburg pays extremely well, even the small roles.

  4. I’ve been a singer in the business for 20+ years (incuding singing at the Festspiele in Salzburg) and I can count on one hand how many opera companies have paid me a rehearsal fee. Usually it is when you are starting out and have a really low per-performance fee. So this is nothing unusual at all in the business! If you don’t perform, you don’t get paid. Cruel, but true.

    However, the problem Elizabeth Kulman has had is a different one – it should be Bochum to pay for her “invalidation” (in English, read: “workman’s comp” or “handicap”).

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Laura, thank you for this important insight, which helps put things into perspective.

      What is your take on Salzburg’s fees to singers?

    • Bassocantante says:

      The case of the festivals like Salzburg is somewhat different. The town is not Berlin, Amsterdam or Paris where you might find a wide range of accommodation possibilities. It is a rather small province town, not on an important international route; this means limited travel connections compared to a more central place i.e. higher costs. Furthermore Salzburg is already a more expensive reality compared with the cities in the region, let alone how the housing prices skyrocket during the festivals. While singing a production in Berlin for which the rehearsals aren’t paid you can still find affordable housing. This is not the case of Salzburg.

  5. And yet, they all sing there when chosen. I don’t know if Pereira ran Zurich the same way, but I can tell for sure Neil Shicoff won’t sing without rehearsal fees.

  6. invienna says:

    In this video clip, the primary concern that Elisabeth discusses is that she (and her colleagues) must sing four performances of “Falstaff”in five days. She was not aware of this at the time she signed her contract, and only found out after she read the schedule in Internet. Not very well handled by the Festspiele!
    Kudos to her for speaking so frankly.

    • Bassocantante says:

      It is very typical of Austrian theatres compared to other countries. They can change the rehearsal schedules within very short time and add during the season further performances which are none-existent on the webpage at the beginning of the season. You must continuously be updated – or do it yourself.

  7. I am not familiar with compensation practices of opera companies, though I would have figured that given the time spent in town for rehearsals, many would provide accommodation and per-diem to singers, even if not rehearsal fees. I imagine it all depends on the bargaining power of the singer. But if all the money hangs on the singer actually doing the performance, then perhaps singers need to find ways to hedge their risk – cancellation insurance or something to that effect?

    • another orchestra musician says:

      The most frequently practiced form of insurance, among traveling singers, conductors, and instrumental soloists, is to avoid putting all their eggs into a single basket – and to avoid living too close to their means. An occasional cancellation, with the financial loss it entails, should not lead a musician to financial ruin. Some traveling performers do have invalidity insurance that covers prolonged inability to work; others insure particular body parts against injury. For many, their career as traveling performer exists primarily to anchor a professional reputation, upon which they are offered teaching positions at conservatories and universities; their teaching salaries pay the rent, their solo performances are an occasional bonus.

      Poisonous, in certain contexts, is the star system, which leads to some performers being paid spectacularly well while others are barely paid at all. This subject is treated in two books by the editor of Slipped Disc: The Maestro Myth, and When The Music Stops.

  8. Salzburg fees have always been fair and the number of performances in a relatively short period makes it a profitable gig. Singers have their choice of accommodation from houses to rent to small flats. Salzburg is a prestigious engagement that enhances any artists CV which helps lead to additional career opportunities. Singers at the Salzburg level are well paid !!

  9. It used to be common practice to get paid for the rehearsal period. The going rate was 1/2 a performance fee per week. I am talking about the 80′s here. You, as an artist, are expected to pay for your housing; which given the lengthy rehearsal periods ( 6 weeks and upwards of that) can leave you pretty strapped. Especially if you have to pay for housing up front. To my knowledge, no opera company provides housing. They do pay for travel. But even that is subject to taxation.

  10. Richard Hallam says:

    It’s despicable behavior. It’s a premier music festival doing things on the cheap, and as long as people (musicians) go along with it, they’ll continue to get away with it. Don’t come crying when musicians’ are no longer paid because, ‘they’d do it anyway and, in any event, it’s not a real job, is it??’

  11. well … ever wondered why Kauffman’s and co tend to rock up late during rehearsal periods … ?

  12. have a chat with Natalie Deassay how she feels on that exact topic …

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