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The opera companies that charge young singers to audition

We’ve been receiving a welter of complaints from young singers, complaining that opera companies are ripping them off at audition:

Here’s one, concealing the singer’s identity for obvious reasons:

 

 

audition

It’s a struggle for a young singer to pay for lessons, travel costs and coaching for auditions but a new expense has been creeping in: audition charges.

An administration or processing fee for a young artist programme or master classeses has ften been imposed, opera companies have now taken to charging singers for the honour of auditioning for a role.

“When mounting an opera costs thousands of pounds, it seems odd that they can’t afford to absorb the cost of a church hall and a pianist’s daily wage,” says one young singer.

Charging to audition is nothing new. In Germany paying 20 Euros to audition for an agent covers the pianist’s fee. However, when state-subsidised companies such as ENO Baylis Opera Works charge £40 to audition and clearly state that they will not give feedback, something is out of balance. One young singer had a dreadful experience as her pianist was not familiar with standard operatic repertoire. “He made so many mistakes. It was so bad that the people on the panel were giggling. I felt  cheated.”

Approximately 187 auditioned this year for one of the 20 places at ENO’s Opera Works (that’s £7,480 in revenue). Successful participants pay £1,900 to attend the course. That’s another £38,000.

The National Opera Studio also charges £75 to audition and an additional £25 for the pianist. Given the auditions take place on site and employ a staff pianist, one wonders what this fee is for.  As with ENO, you are not guaranteed feedback, something a young singer sees as absolutely vital. Co Opera charges £12 to audition and BYO charges £18.  BYO gives little or no feedback, around 400 singers apply each year.

One can forgive administrative charges but to not give feedback is simply deplorable when young singers need all the constructive feedback they can get, particularly when they have paid to audition.

We await creative responses from the opera companies concerned.

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Comments

  1. I think this practise is extremely underhand. Singers have to travel to auditions at their own expense, and risk being encouraged to over-work by agents.

    The whole system of recruiting, and nurturing emerging singers needs to be completely re-considered. The whole system is currently a mess.

  2. youngsop says:

    In my view, the problem is not so much the organisations mentioned, such as BYO and Co-Opera, which do a great deal of very good work offering young singers significant and valuable performing experience and exposure, working towards a specific performance of a complete role, guided by mentors who may prove to be excellent contacts (and which charge a relatively-affordable fee, even for an impoverished young singer such as myself).

    The problem really seems to be the training programs of varying degrees of usefulness, as well as many major competitions (which now seem to be indispensable in launching a career), and a plethora of small companies which are essentially amateur or semi-professional at best, which seem to regard young musicians as cash cows. There are certain boxes which have to be ticked to be taken seriously in the current climate, and the costs associated are often untenable. In particular, apart from application fees, there is an increasing insistence on the provision of DVD recordings with applications, rather than only audio, which was previously standard. An adequate audio recording can be made for relatively low cost. DVD or similar visual recordings, with an adequate standard of sound, especially for larger voices which tend to distort on the recording devices of your average camcorder equipment, often cost in excess of £500 for a basic recording of just a few arias. When every application requires different specific repertoire, and a young voice is constantly evolving, it’s virtually impossible to keep up.

  3. Martin McEvoy says:

    Asking singers to pay for an audition is outrageous.
    I am the founder and Director of Crystal Clear Opera and London City Opera.
    CCO toured very successfully throughout the UK for seven years as a mid scale commercial opera company. We had high production standards, we commissioned our own orchestrations and we played to an average of 80% capacity. We employed fully professional singers who were vocally right for the part and because of this attention to musical, vocal and production standards the Arts Council awarded us a touring grant for four years.
    We held auditions twice a year and the cost of holding these auditions was put against our production capital costs and amortised over our tour. At no time would I have thought of charging a singer to audition for me. To make a profit from auditions is quite immoral. My highly professional conductors were Roderick Brydon, Martin Handley,Roderick Dunk and Richard Balcombe none of whom would want to take fees from singers. Neither would directors of the calibre of Tom Hawkes, Sally Gilpin, and Jamie Hays all of who were involved in my productions. Audition costs are part of the capitalisation of a production. I now hear that young singers are being asked to pay to sing roles, so where does the box office take go to?? Im so pleased I am not promoting any more.

  4. Dear Mr Lebrecht,

    I would like to thank you for your staunch support of singers, and young singers in particular. It is testament to your standing that so many preeminent performers feel able to comment on your articles with freedom and without reproach.

    However, you paint an unceasingly negative view of our world. I agree that it would be better if all young artist programmes could give feedback, but school reports for 400 applicants is an overwhelming task for any administrator, and they have to concentrate on the current course participants and preparing them for the careers after which they hunger.

    Programmes such as NOS, BYO, Co-Opera Co. etc. provide a wealth of training and opportunities for the lucky participants and can act as a springboard into the profession. Many, if not all of the studios have bursaries available to the participants.

    Surely at some point performers have to take a punt on going the extra mile to get a leg up. How else will they get to the level of the super-star cancellers? £75 does not seem like a massive wager for an opportunity to set oneself apart from one’s peers.

    Thank you again, but a brief appraisal of some of the names who have graduated from BYO/NOS would do wonders to make everyone believe that there is good in our world.

    (I have no affiliation to any of the aforementioned establishments).

    • Unfortunately, the payment of a fee does not necessarily set oneself apart from one’s peers in terms of talent. It means the separation of those who can afford the fee and those who can’t- especially when taking into consideration travel expenses accumulated on top of said fee. I am not saying that either party is more or less talented or deserving of roles than the other, but a lot of talented singers fall to the wayside because £75 is considerable amount of money.

  5. Gary Corbin says:

    This is terrible news. I suggest people stop attending these auditions until they change their policies.

    • Martin McEvoy says:

      If you are approached to audition for one of these companies you simply say no. I and my conductor and stage director usually knew who we wanted for particular roles. We would ask them to audition just to put all our minds at rest. We would then take advice from trusted agents as to who was new or who had been around for a while and wanted to be heard again (new teacher, new technique etc). We would hear these singers for future reference.

      This is called being a caring professional opera promoter. I managed to pay my mortgage and bring up my children and pay for a divorce from professionally promoting opera and never asked and never would ask a fellow singer to pay me to hear him or her sing – totally immoral, they should have their finances in order.

      • Martin, I think it’s fair to say there is a significant difference in cost between what you seem to describe and what we are hearing from the other companies. It looks – to me as an outsider – like

        [a] you had an idea which singers you wanted, and could invite a small group of likely candidates for audition to make sure / check / small competition. That represents a short and low-cost audition process

        [b] placing a general call for auditions to give a chance and access to the widest possible range of singers; and trying to audition as many as possible. That represents a significantly longer, more complicated, and much higher-cost audition process.

        Is that a fair perspective? If so, who do you think should cover the costs of [b], and if the opera company, would you accept that broadly it’s a cost that will be bourne by all the singers and other members of the production, overall? Is it fair that the chosen singers should effectively pay for the privilege of a multitude of other singers (some of whom will not be of good quality and shouldn’t even be auditioning) to have an audition slot, or is it more fair that each pays for their own?

      • Anita Parakh-Morgan says:

        Dear Mr McEvoy,

        It is just fantastic to know that we have professional caring people in our business. As a professional soprano in Australia who has yet to sing for the likes of yourself and others in the UK and Europe, this will be very handy advice.

        Thank you again,

        Anita

  6. Buzz Murphy says:

    If the singer was represented by an agent and landed a gig through an audition, they would be paying a fee anyway to the agent. Similar?

    From a producer point of view, it might cut 400 auditions down to 40. Unfortunately, very good artists that are broke might never be discovered.

    For the talent, it is an extremely devistating blow to put out your all at an audition and not get the gig. It would be worse if you had to pay for this awful experience.

    “Starving Artists” truly are……..

  7. anne mason says:

    I think 75 pounds to audition for NOS plus 25 pounds for an accompanist is deplorable. Why do they charge? It may be some time ago but I don’t recall having to pay to audition for NOS. I only ever paid the maximum amount of 10 pounds to cover the cost of a pianist but this was very rare.I recently had to pay 50 pounds for my son to attend a 15 minute interview at Leed College of Music, as well as the cost of a hotel the night before , train fare , the whole experience costing me 260 pounds. outrageous.why does a music college charge to audition but a University does not.

  8. Young Singer says:

    The Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme has a similarly disappointing application process . It charges applicants £25 for the privilege for sending in their own audition material, including a specially-recorded video, and the option of additional audio.

    Not only are interested singers required to pay an application fee, for an application that requires no hire of venue or pianist on the part of the company. This application also requires them to find the money to pay for their own accompanist on their audition video, to source the necessary recording equipment (and of course, singers without access to superior equipment will immediately place themselves at a disadvantage, in terms of the sound quality of their application), and to find the time and tutorage required to learn how to record a video of good quality, format it for YouTube, and upload it to the Britten-Pears YAP’s requirements.

    This application alone requires a significant amount of time, work and financial outlay from the singers applying. Of course, the programme offers no feedback to unsucessful applicants.

    It’s a pretty disgraceful way of running things, in my opinion. Having seen various singer friends go to these great lengths only to hear a simple ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ in reply, I would certainly be reluctant to apply myself. I don’t paying a small fee to a company that is just starting out, where you know that your fee is covering the cost of pianist and venue hire, but in the case of well-established companies like Aldeburgh Music and ENO, who charge great amounts for opaque costs that should be covered by their own financial resourses, and who can’t even find the time to send you a couple of sentences of feedback, I think it is rather outrageous.

    • Yes, the audition fee for Britten Pears has been increasing steadily since 2006, and seems risible now that one has to arrange the video recording for one’s own audition, as well as finding a suitable space in which to record. While I’m sure that the panel takes these problems into consideration, it is inarguable that a person who has access to really good quality video recording equipment, or a studio facility or similar, will produce a recording which sounds better, and which will make a better impression. Instantly, the playing field is not so level.

      Making recordings for Britten Pears is actually far more stressful than turning up at an audition venue, and believe it or not, takes more time. I don’t mind paying an audition fee if I know that this money goes towards paying an accompanist (after all, accompanying auditions is hard work) or paying for a good, central audition location. But, the situation at the moment is iniquitous. As Young Singer says, Britten Pears is well-established, and shouldn’t make things so difficult.

  9. It’s not really on, but I imagine the administrative effort to sort out 187 auditions and then write up feedback is quite considerable. Having myself just sat on an audition panel for a couple of dozen hopefuls I can see how much work is involved on that side of things.

    Also, for somewhere like ENO, I imagine it’s considered something in itself to sing at an audition, regardless of whether you even want the role or are available, in order to have been heard by whatever luminaries are on the panel. So perhaps the fee is a way of dissauding those who are just using it for that purpose – a bit like charging a nominal sum to see your GP.

    £20 seems a bit on the steep side however.

    Now then, you should have a look at the fees charged to enter composition competitions – and the feedback (or utter lack thereof) that you get afterwards. Again this, I am sure, is partly to put off timewasters as well as to raise a bit of revenue in addition to covering the not insubstantial cost of sending dozens of scores out to a panel. But even so, it’s not uncommon to see £40 as an entry fee. It’s been a long time since I entered a competition though – most also have age restrictions which I think is a travesty.

    I have certainly heard students advised to put in for everything possible, just to get their name and work in front of a panel.

    • youngsop says:

      I think the ENO program being discussed is specifically the ‘Opera Works’ training program. On the occasion I auditioned, thinking exactly as you have, there were certainly no ‘luminaries’ on the panel – I’m not even sure there was a member of the Company-proper’s music staff – and the provided pianist was unable to play standard Mozart repertoire to an adequate standard. Not really good enough, and I certainly haven’t applied since.

      As for competition entries, I hate to tell you, but a £40 entry fee is cheap. I have regularly had to scrape together £100, or £150, even £200 (or more, if I need a DVD with specific repertoire) to apply to major international singing competitions, transported and accommodated myself all over the world at my own cost, only to be eliminated in the first or second rounds, with no feedback, and often no comeback against some outrageously-obvious, on occasion, national or professional bias. I now can only afford to apply/justify applying to competitions which pre-screen on audio recordings or have auditions in London, as well as other cities around the world, to pre-select competitors. Fortunately many, though not all, of the most important competitions, are now doing this.

      • youngsop says:

        To clarify my first paragraph above “the ‘Opera Works’ program” rather than ENO-proper. An Opera Works audition is by no means an ENO audition, though I do kno w some singers who have done very well from the program, and gone on to work in the company.

      • (Ah well of course the £40+ is just the entry. fee Usually they expect 3 or more bound copies of everything you are submitting, so there’s all that to do, plus signed-for postage of a large packet. You usually don’t get back any materials you send in, so there’s the pleasant thought of your expensively bound and sent scores being chucked out with the garbage. Some of the more enlightened places now accept everything via FTP or on a CDROM.)

        Anyway, speaking of auditions and not wanting to thread-jack: With the panel I was on, the singers all seemed surprised when they were asked to act at the same time as sing and to describe the scene and character they were singing. It seemed a fair request to me and I was surprised that it seemed such a non-standard thing for which to ask but this was my first time on a panel.

        Is that really the case?

        • youngsop says:

          Sorry, Tim, but the last major competition I entered cost me well in excess of £1,000 in total, in directly-associated costs alone, and we rarely get our materials back either. That’s pretty standard, and I save up all year from other jobs to be able to afford to enter one or two major competitions a year. It’s not a competition, of course, between disciplines, but singing does seem to be particularly expensive on the competition front!

          To answer your question, I can’t understand surprise at being asked to act and sing simultaneously – that’s the job, surely? I’ve never been asked by a panellist in an audition to describe character or plot, though. While I’d be perfectly happy to do so, I’d be somewhat surprised as well! Panel questions, if any, generally seem to be about other repertoire sung, whether I’ve sung the role in full or just the aria, occasionally availability or something else of a practical nature. I’d hope the panel would get some idea of my conception of the character from my performance!

          • Fair enough that does seem a lot more expensive and there’s no point in comparing how hairy our mutual shirts are!

            All we asked was that the singers set the scene, i.e. how they imagined it, what their character’s doing, etc., and usually we gave them some chairs / music stands and said those were other characters / trees / statues / whatever, to give them something to act with. This let us see acting ability as well as get an idea of whether they were “switched on” and thinking about their role in a wider context, and had an imagination. It seemed to us that their usual auditions involved standing and singing and not much else, but when given the chance they were (mostly) all dab hands at acting too. Not only that but combining the acting actually improved the singing in most cases.

          • youngsop says:

            Most opera auditions do pretty much require stand, sing (and act!) with minimal physical movement. I’ve been at numerous ‘how to audition’ talks where physical ‘acting out’ of a scene, props etc have been very much discouraged, even implied to be unprofessional, so I’m not surprised your auditionees were taken aback! I’ve encountered a similar approach just once, in a more ‘workshop’-style audition. I think it’s quite a good approach in some ways, but definitely not the norm!

            And you’re absolutely right about hairy comparisons! ;-)

        • Hello Tim,

          I was trying to reply directly to your comment below about setting up chairs and music stands to be other characters or trees and such. There was no option to “reply”, so I’ll put my response up here.

          In setting the scene, so to speak, you’re not requiring the singer to ‘act’ – you’re requiring them to ‘improvise,’ which is a completely different process. If the singer is smart, he or she will have internalized all this information before presenting it to a panel – setting up props is just going to distract them from their game plan and put them in a precarious position similar to “Whose Line is it Anyway?” without the laughs!
          Even if it’s not made absolutely clear that Blondchen is singing to Osmin (the music stand), or that Lucia is recounting a legend to her maid (the chair), I think the seasoned auditioner can tell the difference between a singer who is concentrating on their technique while auditioning, and one who is actually emoting a performance. It is true, however, what you say about the acting “switching on” the singing. Aye, there’s the rub!

  10. Beckmesser says:

    It’s not so bad: at the colleges we’re more than used to this, having paid £75-£100 per application per institution for postgraduate courses (only 1% of the average UK fees of course). Especially fun is the CUKAS system, by which the mode of informing you that, sadly, there isn’t a place for you this year, is an automated “change of application status” email – there’s your feedback. By no means limited to singers either, and arguably less acceptable for such a major chapter of further musical education (or not, as the case may be)

  11. soprano singer says:

    At my ENO audition, the administrator told me the audition fees where there to part fund the course. Unfair when no feedback is given, and people apply year after year thinking they have improved, when actually they are jsut funding the course…

  12. AnonBari says:

    American singer point of view here:

    In the States, one isn’t guaranteed an audition if you pay. They call them application fees. Once, I paid a fee of $30 and was turned down for an audition the very next day. No refunds. For another, I was told after I’d been accepted for the audition (and paid a $30 fee), that I would have to bring another $20 to pay for the audition pianist. I thought long and hard, and I declined the audition.

    And as youngsop wrote above, the technological requirements change every year. It is no small matter to make a decent sounding recording, let alone DVD, of an opera singer. The skills required are those of a specialist, especially as the size of the voice increases. And often a requirement is that it should be a recording from the past year, which only adds to the cost if you apply for these companies every year.

    The justifications for the fees that I’ve read are: 1) to pay for the pianist, 2) the cost of the panel’s travel expenses, and 3) the audition space. It’s never been made clear why the singers themselves should have to shoulder that burden. By charging singers, they’re hitting the shallowest pockets. And because there are so few jobs available per company (usually around 25-30 spots), a singer has to apply to multiple programs on a regular basis. The likelihood of actually being hired by any particular company is so small that the singer has to spread out the risk; and eat more fees as a result.

    There has to be a better way for the singers. Even if it were something like the NETC or SETC (big audition conferences for summer stock companies, musical theater singers and stage actors), it would be better than the current system.

    • youngsop says:

      Agreed, though, to clarify, there are usually no guarantees of auditions for application fees here either. Charging these fees for company auditions, as opposed to traiing programs and competitions, does still seem to be less-common a practice here than my US colleagues experience, however, for which I am profoundly grateful!

  13. Auditions – all auditions – are hard. Administration fee, or flight, airport parking, hotel, meals, haircut, dry cleaning, all with the possibility of no feedback, or not getting the job. OR, the chance of a lifetime, the big break. Isn’t it just what we do? Best to spend the energy on positive thought rather than negative introspection.

    • anne mason says:

      Just one question how many young singers are given a role from a General Audition. I for one have never been given a role from a General Audition .My last one several years ago resulted in me telling the panel, after two disastrous attempts by the pianist to accompany my aria, “actually I don’t think I’ll bother”. It was so liberating.Yes remain positive but also remain realistic.

      • Anne, we just offered 7 professional solo roles to young singers from a general audition.

        Our pianist was first rate and sight read quite a lot of modern music that the candidates brought, excellently, and thoroughly enjoyed himself as it happens. One candidate brought their own pianist.

        “We” are not ENO though just a small independent company formed recently to stage my first full length opera and hopefully lots more in years to come. (We did not charge for the audition, the thought didn’t even occur to us and we were just grateful that we had more very keen first-rate singers trying out than roles available! Such is life at the bottom of the food chain, I suppose!)

      • I couldn’t agree more, Anne – I have never got a role from a general audition either. I’ve occasionally been fortunate enough to be “called back” for a specific audition after a general, but more often than not I’m cast because I know the conductor or director or am known by the company.

        I have always been willing to pay a fee for the pianist and the hire of the room for an audition, but because I now sing non-standard repertoire I have recently taken my own pianist more often than not for UK auditions, or I’ve found out who the pianist is going to be and have made contact with them.

        After a recent experience in Germany, I am now more inclined than ever to take my own pianist – even abroad. This was a call back. The pianist who’d played for my general audition was excellent. I was asked back several weeks later to audition for a specific role with a specific aria (Verdi). The pianist at the recall hadn’t been given this information, or the bound copy that I’d sent on in advance. He had no idea at all of how the piece went and complained that it wasn’t standard rep. After me demonstrating how the accompaniment should go, he still couldn’t get round it and I was in the uncomfortable position of either explaining to the panel that he couldn’t play it, or finding someone who could. In the end I decided to scour the corridors of the opera house for the pianist who’d played at my original general audition. I persuaded him to play for me and then apologised and explained to the other pianist which was very embarrassing for both of us.

        A similar thing happened to me when I took an excerpt from Wozzeck to one of the major opera houses in the UK – I had sent in my repertoire weeks in advance and was faced with someone who was freaking out and didn’t know how the (admittedly tricky) excerpt went in any way. I had to conduct him through the audition.

        Now I think auditions are the bane of all of our lives. They are stressful and expensive, even when there isn’t a fee attached. I’ve sometimes felt I had more chance of getting a job when I haven’t been free for the auditions but have expressed interest in the role “if the company doesn’t find someone”. I’ve also been on the other end of it when I’ve been the official pianist for the auditions for the youth opera company I help to run, and when I’ve had to play for students auditioning at Huddersfield University. I have SO much respect for repetiteurs and accompanists. For any of you reading this I know you are a million times more talented than I will ever be.

        I’ve had certain auditions go like a dream because of the rapport and support of the pianist and ultimately I think paying an accompanist for a rehearsal and to play for an audition is a massively good investment (unless you know for a fact that someone AMAZING and perfect, ie. David Syrus is going to be the one on the other end of the piano). So I’ll pay for that.

        But… as for paying to be allowed to audition for an opera company??? If it’s for a young artist programme (ok I’m too old for those now) I think it’s just about acceptable for them to charge a fee… but ONLY if the audition forms part of the training which means detailed feedback. Any opera company or young artist programme making revenue from this and not providing the vital feedback that young singers need is ripping them off.

        Many years ago I did an audition for ETO. Not only was it free, and the accompanist was excellent and provided by ETO free of charge, it was in a nice, big room with a good acoustic and the director and conductor were present. I received excellent, detailed feedback from that audition (which hadn’t been successful) and that feedback formed the backbone of my (much more successful) audition strategy which I have used to this day. Thank you James Conway. And if ETO can do it, so can other companies. To be honest, I think that about ETO’s productions, artistic vision, organisation and publicity too. If ETO can do it, why can’t everyone else?!

  14. I am a soprano. I’m 43, been working freelance doing the odd gig and teaching but yes, I would like to sing in Professional Opera.

    My voice is now ready for it. Given its fach it would not have been ready much earlier. YOUNG TRAINING PROGRAMMES PLEASE TAKE NOTE. I’m 43 and only just vocally ready, but then again I’m not a soubrette or a Lyric Soprano, I’ve got a Dramatic Coloratura voice with weight and flexibility.

    Of course, like many singer, I could have auditioned at 27, and crashed and burned. That would be silly.

    When is the industry going to wake up. I’m savvy enough to know how to look after my voice. (I’ve been telling singers how to do so for the past nine years, so I’m hardly going to not take my own advice).

    To get to an audition, there is all the travel involved, which is expensive. For a company not to give feedback, and treat young singers as non-entities is unreasonable.

    I know there is competition for places, this is a tough business. However there is a difference between tough and inhumane.

    • Clarissa Smid says:

      Ach thank you Joanna! I too have a a similar issue but have the added bonus of having had a lot of personal chaos along the way which was totally out of my control. The years out of music have not trashed my voice either and now that I’m getting my life in order I really want to go back to singing and get back in the saddle. Sadly, the money, the moral support and mentoring one needs when entering with a mature fach is non existent. Singing lessons with anyone who really knows what to do with voices, are unaffordable when you haven’t been able to work through illness. .. So I worry not only about the fitness of my instrument but also about the cost of auditions too. Awful.

  15. Here’s another money maker feeding off singers who are willing to pay for a chance to be heard. Just have a look at the audition fee structure of this organisation….the first round is €400 or $650USD, non refundable. on top of which is a pianist fee is 20 more They will not tell you exactly who exactly is listening, and if you get through the first round, there is another fee for the next. You may get invited to audition, which means skipping level one and paying into level two
    http://nyiop.com/upcoming-sessions/international-auditions/

    • I had a different experience with the NYIOPs. I paid $300 in New York, got through to the finals, and did not pay anything more. The theaters who were attending, as well as roles needed to be cast were listed on their website well in advance of the auditions. At the preliminary and final auditions, they provided a sheet of paper with all the names of who was in attendance and the theaters they were from.

      Maybe things are different in Europe. It looks like they are doing auditions in London, though there is no additional information on the website. I got an email from them saying that they are not doing preliminaries there, and all singers are singing in the finals. My experience was that the same casting agents were hearing both the preliminaries and finals.

      I got heard by 8 European opera houses, and that would have cost me $2000 if I went to Europe to do the same thing. I feel that the NYIOPs are legitimate about charging the fee.

      • Except that not all NYIOP participants pay. Some slots go to singers from management companies (not always the good ones, who discourage their singers from singing in this forum), and those singers do not pay. They are also generally the ones that make it through to the final rounds. See how this works? Also, I believe that many singers sign up for coaching sessions with the organizer to “prep” them for the NYIOP – for which they pay a nice sum. Oh, and if my understanding is correct, many of the people from the houses present at the NY auditions have not (in the past, at least) had the real, independent ability to cast roles.

        • I am not sure who you are talking to, but I do not doubt what you are saying. All I can do is tell my experiences with the one time that I sang for them. When I sang in the finals, I met with some other managed singers there who I know well. They told me they had paid the full fee.

          I have heard hearsay about some singers not paying the fee, but I have yet to hear from someone I know who has not.

        • Oh and also, I do know that during the November 2012 auditions, managed singers automatically sang in the finals. They did not have to go through preliminaries at all.

  16. I think there are two separate processes going on here, one via the BYO / NOS route which is about talent and development and the professional companies. I have to say that in other lines of work where an applicant for a position may well be required to commit time and materials to an interview process would not expect remuneration (and why should they – they want the job after all). Freelance singers should bill this as professional expenses and get it back from the taxman at year end.

    Singers are skilled professionals who incur professional expenses. Hand the receipts to your accountants and move on. There’s nothing to see here.

    • youngsop says:

      I don’t think any singer expects to be remunerated or even reimbursed for auditioning, but would your applicant in other lines of work expect to pay a fee just to apply for the job, as well as his/her investment of time and materials, and perhaps travel expenses as well? I agree, by the way, with a distinction being made between BYO et al and professional companies, and other profit-making organisations.

      Young freelance singers (and many of their older, more-established colleagues) often quite literally live job-to-job, or alternatively have to subsidise their professional aspirations/work with non-singing jobs which inevitably cut into the time and energy they can dedicate to preparing for auditions in the first place. Before I realised the realistic necessity of other, more significant income, I quite literally could not afford to wait for the taxman at the end of the year to refund application fees, costs of recordings etc. There’s a long wait, even in the best-case scenario to be earning enough from singing to live on. In the meantime, rent, bills, singing teachers, audition travel – and application fees – still have to be paid to get the opportunity to move into that privileged position. The one thing in that equation that could realistically be removed is the application fees, where organisations are funded sufficiently well for the small revenue stream (in relation to their total income) this practise brings in.

      As a note of interest, my music-specialist accountant strongly advised me not to claim the full amount of my actual professional expenses last tax year, because they so far exceeded the 50% of income HMRC apparently generally thinks is a reasonable upper limit, that I risked investigation, and because so small a proportion of my income came from the fruits of those professional expenses – an unfortunate, but understandable reality for a young singer in the present climate. While I have nothing to hide, financially, the stress and angst of explaining to a non-musician tax man with only the vaguest of ideas about how an opera or a singer actually gets onto the stage, that yes, I did legitimately need to spend over a third of my total income on professional tuition and coaching fees alone, is quite simply not worth it. This is not bitterness, but pragmatism speaking.

      • youngsop says:

        Apologies once again – thinking faster than I type. “where organisations are funded sufficiently well for the small revenue stream (in relation to their total income) this practise brings in [b]not to have a significant effect on their funds[/b].

    • Sorry “Anon”: I very much disagree: You say: “in other lines of work where an applicant for a position may well be required to commit time and materials to an interview process would not expect remuneration (and why should they – they want the job after all).” If I go go for a job interview, of course I would not expect reimbursement for the preparation, travel and other investments I have made in order to optimise my interview chances, but then niether do I pay the company for the “privilege” of actually being interviewed!!!!!
      And when it comes to “time and materials”, what the blazes do you think the years of training and preparation to be audition-ready actually consists of? If a company is recruiting, then the costs of holding interviews and is down to them, and THEY should be claiming against tax, which by the way is merely an offset against tax, not “getting it back from the taxman”…… When it comes to auditioning for training courses, there are of course other factors in the argument, but your comment seems aimed at singers who are “freelance professionals” who should accept such rip-off charges as routine in their professional work…….

  17. Dear Norman,
    I am Kate Flowers, Artistic Director of Co-Opera Co. in answer to your call for the companies concerned to give creative responses.

    First of all it would seem that the organisations mentioned are for the most part training courses as opposed to opera companies – BYO and ourselves are the exception I suppose in that as well as the training aspect of our companies we both present performances for which there is a charge for tickets.

    It would also seem that there are two situations which are being complained about, the charge asked for the audition fee and the lack of feedback.

    I cannot of course answer for any other company but my own so let me try to explain our position on both these problems – for problems they certainly are, for us as well as our auditionees.

    At the moment we do indeed need to ask for a financial contribution towards the cost of holding auditions, the costs being mainly venue hire and pianists’ fees.
    Every year since we first started auditioning for our then summer course in 2009, we have a discussion as to whether or not we need to ask for a contribution and so far we have reluctantly had to decide to do so. We are not in the lucky position of having any outside funding whatsoever – at the moment – and being only four years old we simply do not have the reserves available to cover the costs of venue and pianists for the five, sometimes six days, in which we hold auditions. We do not have our own venue ( yet) or a league of pianists on salary as other organisations do and so this large expense has to be accounted for and covered one way or another.

    I can see that it might seem a small expense in comparison to the amount an opera costs to put on but I do have to say that the cost of our auditions is not inconsiderable and equates to a large percentage of our overall production costs for one production.
    Also at the point in the year when the auditions are held we are not in a position to know what the expected income will be from performances as the tour at that point is still in the process of being negotiated and although we could I suppose add the cost of auditions into the fees we charge the venues, the knock on effect I fear would be less performances; theatres are less and less able to offer guarantees and the fees we can negotiate, especially in the current climate, tend to be for the absolute minimum- enough to cover our artists’ fees, travel and accommodation and no more – so no profit to plough back in to the following year’s productions – yet.

    BUT I must emphasise that we are a very young company – still working within our initial five year plan and things will change. This year we have appointed a Board of Trustees whose remit is to guide the company towards the next stage in our development which includes sourcing substantial outside funding.

    We do feel that what we offer each singer is well worth their investment though. Everyone who applies is offered an audition – either in a 10/15 minute audition on stage, accompanied by a highly experienced pianist with whom they have time prior to the audition to work on their pieces, or in a one day workshop audition for those more suited to our development programmes.

    Feedback is a very difficult problem. As the main ethos of our company is to help singers in their early years in the profession we feel that written feedback can sometimes be less than helpful because it can be misinterpreted and so we prefer to talk to each singer during the audition or in the secure environment of the workshop.

    I do hope this has gone some way to explaining our company’s stance on two problems and I can assure everyone that next year we will yet again have our annual discussion about charges and hopefully we will be in the position to be able to waive the charge. Or I suppose the alternative would be to ask the singers to bring their own pianist as I have been asked many times during my career but that is not an option as far as I am concerned, that would be a considerable for our singers and impractical for most.

    Kate Flowers

    • Thanks, Kate, that’s very helpful.

    • Given some of the scales of fees, and the state of arts funding, at least your audition fee reasonable.

      I can see how this does go on the venue, accompanist fees, and all the admin. costs. You are not charging anything unreasonable given what you are giving in return.

    • Young Singer says:

      Hi Kate,

      I auditioned recently for Co-Opera. I did not mind paying the audition fee, as I know you are a relatively young company with limited financial resources. When I arrived, the atmosphere was very welcoming, with food and drink on offer, and I was shown to a practice room where I could warm up. I was very grateful to you for making the audition process less stressful then necessary!

      However, I must say that in my experience (and I am not speaking for other auditionees, only for myself), several elements of my audition were rather different from how you have described them in your post above. Firstly, I had no interaction with the audition panel, beyond telling them which pieces I had brought. I wasn’t actually expecting to receive feedback during my audition, but I do think it is misleading for you to say that you prefer to talk to each singer during the audition, when this doesn’t always happen.

      Secondly, I had no time to rehearse with the pianist beforehand. In fact, when I showed him my pieces during the one minute that we had to speak before my audition (in front of all the other singers waiting to audition), he complained that he had never seen one of them before, and made it quite clear that he was put-out by my bringing a piece that was new to him. This was not a hard piece at all, and indeed he did eventually play it with little difficulty (aside from some problems with tempi at the beginning).

      I don’t mind not having the time to rehearse my pieces before an audition. In fact, I specifically avoided bringing arias with difficult accompaniments, as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to rehearse with the pianist provided! But I do mind the pianist complaining about the easy piece I have brought, just before I audition, particularly when it is done in front of a room full of the competition! If part of my fee is going towards paying for an accompanist, then it should be an someone who knows (and isn’t freaked out by the fact) that they will have to play a wide range of repertoire throughout the day, some of which may be new to them. At the very least, they should avoid contributing to a singer’s pre-audition stress by chastising them for bringing a piece which they happen not to have seen before, and certainly they should not do this in front of their peers!

      As I said before, I am not suggesting that all of your auditionees had similar experiences to mine. My audition overall was a very welcoming and pleasant experience, and worth the small fee. As I am writing this, you are also the only company mentioned by Norman to have responded to his article here, which I think deserves some recognition! However, I do think it is worth pointing out that your description of Co-opera’s audition process may not be entirely accurate, in terms of the experiences of every singer who auditions for you.

  18. As a working singer, I genuinely don’t mind paying audition fees… IF I AM ACTUALLY GRANTED THE AUDITION. I think it’s downright thievery to demand an audition fee, and then deny the audition. A kinder (and more equitable) practice is to request a fee once the audition has been granted in order to confirm the spot. I’m sure many, many hours have been wasted on the part of the listeners because an auditioner did not show, nor give notice for cancellation.
    Another policy I would like to see in practice is a better division of age groups/performance levels within competitions. Voices suited to bigger rep mature much later, and often age out of competitions. Break it down further! 23-30 UNLESS you’ve been granted a contract at level 2 house or higher. 30-45 or contracted singers.

    There. I fixed it.

    • Yes totally agreed.

      I also do not mind paying the fee, but I do have a personal cap on the amount I will pay depending on the circumstances. But, I will absolutely never again pay money to a company, unless I am guaranteed an audition. I did it one last time last year for an opera company who has never even heard me before In the end, I felt as if I were just funding them without even getting the luxury of seeing an opera there. It would have been better if I had just bought a ticket to see a production!

    • Anita Parakh-Morgan says:

      J Singer, that is an absolutely fantastic idea!!! I hope the companies can engage in this in the future.

  19. It does break our hearts we have to ask singers for any money for anything.

    Co-Opera Co is almost five years old and we started with nothing except an idea to try and help singers gain valuable performance experience and get a role or two under their belts. After four completed seasons we have produced 7 brand new productions which visit venues around the UK.

    We have been self funded since day 1 and the only way we can afford to hold auditions is to ask singers for a contribution towards the costs without which we simply could not afford to hold them. We would be unable to say to the pianists who play for us, or the venue we hire, that we can only pay you in September once we start to receive our box office receipts.

    As soon as we are able, (funding or profits from the touring productions allowing) there will be no need to us to ask for a contribution for the audition costs. We have come along way in 5 years but not quite far enough to be able to cover these costs.

    Paul Need
    General Manager Co-Opera Co

  20. Graf Nugent says:

    It’s a thorny issue. Established companies with their own premises and salaried music staff should not, in my opinion, charge auditionees anything. It’s in everyone’s interest that singers be heard and free auditions should go with the territory. It’s hard enough for those trying to break on to the scene as it is without this form of exploitation rearing its head.

    I remember a large agent audition in Germany where the only money changing hands was for the (excellent) pianist; the agent considering the day listening to unknown artists as part of her job.

  21. Although this article does refer particularly to singers, I noticed someone above mention the Britten Pears Programme and another mention conservatoire application fees and wanted to add my voice to the mix about how much this affects instrumentalists as well!

    Britten Pears Orchestra (brilliant though it is) charges an audition fee so high (for the method of audition) that I know a huge number of talented instrumentalists who have not applied because they don’t have the equipment to provide a video recording (without distortion – as requested on their website) that is adequate for the job. I myself have previously recorded auditions for them, listened to them back and decided not to apply at the last minute because the quality of the recording, not the playing, completely rules me out of having a chance.

    Fees are not just charged for UK based courses….the Schlesweg-Holstein course charges €40 to apply. Verbier festival costs in the region of €60 to apply and I understand there is no information about whether you are paying to apply for a place that exists (or is already filled) or not – you could literally just be making a donation of €60!! They are by no means the only courses/training programmes that charge extortionate amounts to apply, just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I have no objections to paying a small charge, the people who run these beneficial courses have to live too, but some of the fees are ridiculous. As a young performer it can feel like the world is against you – you can’t get the work without having experience and good training, you can’t pay for the opportunity to get experience and training without having work!

    Of course it isn’t just BPO and the other (admittedly brilliant and worthwhile) training programmes….I have frequently been asked to supply a cheque in order to apply for funding towards studies…..surely this is going too far!!

  22. Rosalind says:

    If an organisation needs to charge fees for their auditions for presumably economic reasons, I feel at the very least the candidates merit feedback on their performance. It doesn’t even need to be typed – surely if the candidate phones in someone can read off the necessary details from the audition report.

    I’m glad I’m not a young singer starting out, it all sounds so soul-destroying.

  23. Companies charge fees because young artists pay them. If the artists stop paying, the system would change.
    The problem is, opera is all about money and the struggle for survival.
    The same can be said for all performance arts and sports. Find a sponsor and let them pay.
    Opera singers, sadly, often come out of school with an attitude of self-entitlement to some special consideration because they’ve been told how awesome they are their whole career. They also act like auditioning is the only way to be heard. They fail to see that they’re running a business, and their business is selling themselves to whoever will pay them for their services. Any promotion costs money and you pick where and how to promote yourself.

    • Graf Nugent says:

      Let’s not confuse issues, here. Young singing graduates with a sense of entitlement will feel the lash of the cold wind of rejection very quickly, regardless of whether or not they pay to be heard. Charging singers to audition when you are incurring no costs yourself, however, is just ethically wrong. What company charges you to send in a job application or demands an interview fee?

      • I’m not agreeing with the opera companies charging money, I’m amused at the singers who pay it and then get angry. They choose to send the money for an administration fee. I’ve checked and this is what they call it. If I were asked by a company to send in my resume with a fee, I wouldn’t, and clearly neither would you, so why do they?

        • Little Voice says:

          We pay because working with these companies is excellent experience, and is a massive boost to our CVs. Without certain boxes ticket, it is much harder to work one’s way up the ladder.
          I’m not angry because there’s a fee. It’s annoying, but obviously, I could choose not to apply.
          I’m angry because when I do choose to apply and to pay, I get no return on my investment if I get no feedback. I feel that my money ought to afford me less than 5 minutes of the panel’s time to send me my audition notes, or discuss the audition with me after singing.
          It’s hardly a lot that we’re asking!

        • youngsop says:

          Because, quite frankly, auditions, let alone properly paid work, are, at present, so hard to come by that young singers will do almost anything to be heard. I’m intrigued by your earlier post that suggests auditioning is avoidable (what do you have in mind?) – most singers, teachers and industry professionals agree that it is anything but avoidable and is utterly critical to professional development, but the reality at present is that a singer unknown to a major company is highly unlikely to be granted an audition unless through some recommendation, usually from an agent. To get an agent interested, one must have a high-quality performance or three to invite a wide range of managers to (in the hope that at least one will come, and often that requires a recommendation as well), that offers a chance to see you performing a full role, ideally in a staged performance. They may, MAY, then take an interest, but many reputable agencies are closed-book, or even stripping their lists down in the present climate.

          Many traditional stepping-stone companies are, understandably, employing singers who, five years ago, had moved beyond that level, but are now keen for work wherever they find it. This leaves fewer and fewer opportunities for more recent graduates, who are consequently desperate for any platform for the skills they have spent years of dedication (and a small fortune) honing, because they know that this is absolutely critical to progressing up the professional ladder. Is it any wonder singers will pay, albeit begrudgingly, for opportunities when they are so scarce?! By the way, I find it odd (and somewhat offensive) that you should describe young graduates as feeling ‘entitled’ to be heard, when you yourself are operating a small company that gives opportunities to young singers. Seems a bit of an odd juxtaposition to me. Presumably you audition your participants? With, or without fee?

    • Clarissa Smid says:

      With the risk of sounding daft, Opera companies charge audition fees because they legally CAN. The answer is not for everyone to stop auditioning or stop paying: a change in employment law is required. Who on on earth is going to put their moniker on a letter proclaiming the obvious unfairness of paying to apply for work if the address on the envelope is that of the potential employer? DOH!

  24. Little Voice says:

    Hello, all!
    I’m a young singer in what I call the “apprenticeship” stage of the singing career. However, unlike an apprenticeship in plumbing, or carpentry, or accountancy training, or teaching, or any number of other professions, I do not get paid while I develop and improve my craft. I do not get to follow other opera singers around, shadow them at work, observe real-life opera company rehearsals or anything like this. No, I have to learn on the job, which is becoming increasingly difficult because of a nasty situation.
    Without experience, it is difficult to get a job. Without a job, how does one gain experience?
    I have undertaken a lot of unpaid performances. Not because I can afford to work without getting paid, but because I can’t afford not to get the experience and keep building my “stage hours” as it were.
    I happily sang for free last week because the experience I was getting was singing the Soprano solo in the Mozart C Minor Mass at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I was given four comp tickets, but it was, as such, unpaid.
    I felt the experience and boost to my CV and confidence was worth preparing for and doing without remuneration.

    This experience vs cost dilemma is what brings me to the matter at hand:

    Having auditioned for a number of the companies mentioned here today, with the exception of Britten-Pears (because I simply couldn’t afford the recording at the time), I have auditioned and paid nothing, a little, and a lot. The helpfulness of my experiences has had very little to with the fee paid. I do not wish to acquire any black marks against my name, but I cannot afford to continue to pay for auditions without any kind of feedback or experience box that I can tick and say, “Okay, you paid £x, but you learned something that you might not have otherwise.” If I am going to pay to do an audition, I need to gain some kind of tangible benefit from it. I’m not being demanding. I’m asking for the bare minimum of courtesy.
    I have no problem in the world with receiving a rejection email. I’m more than aware that, as a light soprano, it is likely that I will only get a job from one out of every 25 auditions, I believe the statistic was a few months ago. If I have sung badly, I will know that, and I will know what to improve and work on for the next time.
    However, if I have sung to the best of my ability, and get rejected. What can I learn from that? If I’m too short/too blonde/too light for the particular ensemble of voices, then that’s fine. But to hear nothing. What can I learn from that other than that I am inconsequential. I do not matter. That’s hardly fair.

    I am fully aware that these application fees are claimable as expenses, but that means little when you are still a few years away from breaking the income threshold and “getting your money back”, and in order to get the fee together in the first place, I have to sacrifice a number of other things.

    My experience:

    - I auditioned for ETO last year. No fee was required. There was a fantastic warm-up room. I did not get to rehearse with the pianist, but her standard to artistry was so high, that it didn’t matter that I had presented her with an obscure, and very fast aria. The aria was over 5minutes long, so I did not get to sing a second aria, but I did have a short chat with the very pleasant panel, which was helpful in itself.
    I received an email after midnight that night, explaining I would not be performing with ETO for that season, but that I had a lovely voice and should please reapply the next year. This very kind rejection was followed by a lengthy, and constructive critique of my audition, with pointers on how I might improve my technique for the next time. I was bowled over, and extremely grateful. I am aware that this generosity of time is not the norm, and treated it as a precious gift and used the advice to improve my audition technique. 10/10 for ETO! I will be applying again this year, improved, and hopefully what they are looking for.

    - I paid £12 for my Co-Opera audition in 2012. I had a room to warm up in, time to rehearse with the pianist, who was great, and there were free tea/coffee/biscuit facilities which were much appreciated on the day.
    I sang my two arias, and chatted with the panel for a good 5minutes afterwards, whereupon they asked me to sing half of another aria, which I did. I received a pleasant rejection email, which managed to be encouraging despite not offering a role. I did not begrudge one penny of the audition fee, although of course, it would be ideal not to have to pay at all.

    - I paid £18 for my BYO audition. I did get to rehearse with the pianist, but I did get to speak to her beforehand about tempi, which was helpful, and she played excellently. I was given time to sing both of my arias, although combined they did only last 4-5 minutes. I was thanked, and I left. 5 weeks later, I received a generic letter saying, “Thank you, but there were many applications and the standard was very high. Feel free to re-apply next year.” I feel my £18 covered an excellent pianist’s fee, the time of three highly-respectable panel members, the hiring of the NOS room for 5minutes, and the paper my letter was printed on, with its stamp. I’m sure a few pounds may have been left over from it though…

    - I paid £40 for ENO Opera Works audition (£35 in 2011). As stated in the audition letter, there were no warm-up facilities. I did not get to rehearse with the pianist, but felt it would be okay, as the girl just before me had sung the same aria. This was not the case, and there were a number of mistakes, and although I did not let them put me off, the atmosphere in the room was unhelpful.
    I sang one aria, was thanked, and left. I was in the room for no more than 4minutes. I received my rejection email a few days later. It opened with “Dear singer…” and further generic “lots of applicants, high standards, try again next year.” ENO Baylis clearly stated that no individual feedback would be provided.
    I would dearly love to know what my £40 paid for. It did not go towards an audition-standard pianist. It did not go toward warm-up facilities. It covered 4mins of the panel’s time, but not one further spare 60-120seconds to have the audition notes typed into an email along with my name?
    I see a comment above which states this fee goes toward funding the actual course. This is not good enough. I can only afford to contribute to my own career development right now. When I have eventually reached the higher rungs of the ladder, and can afford to, I’m sure I will help out initiatives for young singers either by donating cash or by performing in fundraising concerts, and I will pay my taxes and help young singers who have no other option but to sign onto Jobseekers allowance.
    But right now, I need to be selfish. I need my money for me, and to improve myself, so that I can get experience, and work, and climb the ladder so that I can help others out some day.
    I cannot afford to continue to pay people to listen to me sing anymore, especially if therejecting me without even the slightest indication as to what I might be able to do to get the job next time.
    Don’t they want singers to improve? Don’t they want everyone to be able to have work and be happy, even if they themselves cannot provide the contract at this moment in time?

    • Thank you, @Little Voice. Very interesting and detailed, and all information new to me. It is a shame to read about the Opera Works process.

      I wish you well in the future and hope to hear you sing one day.

  25. Michael Gray says:

    I think everyone is missing the point. Who has paid for any sort of interview in another industry?
    I am a contractor and have never been charged for an interview- even if they have 100 people applying for a position.
    Isn’t a singing job just the same as any other contract job.
    Previously I have had 4-5 staff on the panel (as well as the HR department organising interviews). The pianist is just another member of staff.

    • Well said! (Though I rather disagree that the pianist, who can make or break an audition, is ‘just another member of staff’ – I presume you mean that both standard of playing and remuneration should be the concern of the company, rather than the singers?)

      • Michael Gray says:

        Of course, I mean that if an accompanist is provided by the company – they are usually a member of staff – and their wage should be borne by the company.

        If you choose to bring your own accompanist, of course it is reasonable that you incur a fee as this is your choice.

  26. OperaGirl says:

    Unfortunately, Opera is one of the few performing arts where it is legal to charge the singers to audition. Here in New York, (and I am assuming in the USA in general), Actor’s Equity has deemed it illegal to charge for auditions, so every musical theater and theater audition that is Equity is free. I don’t mind paying a pianist fee– although I am baffled as to why the pianist is getting $20-$40 for 5 minutes or less of playing. However, when I am only paying for the pianist, it will generally say something like “a pianist will be provided for $____ or you can bring your own”. Ultimately, at the end of the day, if it came down to paying an audition fee or buying groceries, groceries win. It is not easy living in New York and paying New York rent while trying to have a performing career on top of a day job and it is extremely disheartening to realize that you can’t take an audition because it costs too much. My rule of thumb is if the person or people sitting behind the table don’t give me their full attention for the 5 minutes I have paid dearly for, I stop and wait for them to realize I am there. When one man rudely asked me why I had stopped singing in the middle of my aria, I calmly said “I have paid for this time and I am happy to wait until I can have your full attention. If you are too busy reading your news paper to give me your attention, I am happy to get a refund for this time”. Needless to say, I didn’t get the part, but I hope I got my point across!!

    • Almost exactly the same thing happened to me in Vienna – their was one man on the panel and he was reading a magazine!!! So I stopped – he then asked me to sing Ach Ich Fuhls – which I did not have in my rep and I said so – he said that being five feet tall and blonde I should ……….. “You’ve heard it haven’t you ? You know the tune don’t you ? Well sing it !!! ”
      It had cost me a small fortune to travel to Vienna and I was furious and deeply upset – I didn’t get the job – for which I am so pleased!!!
      That is just one of many horror stories of hateful auditions – I won’t bore with any more.
      Kate Flowers

    • Clarissa Smid says:

      Cor! Right on lady. I hate that sort of rudeness too. Shuffling papers, talking. .. gits.

    • Lori Fredrics says:

      Oh Opera Girl, you must stop behaving badly at auditions! You don’t like paying $20 -40 for a pianist for 5 minutes or less of playing? How much would you pay fora few minutes of a doctor’s time? Well a good sight reading accompanists has put more hours into becoming a musical artist than a physician has put into his training, I GUARANTEE IT. And how much would it cost you to bring your OWN pianist?

      You will very often not seem to be getting the attention of those behind the table, they may not look because they are listening, they may be eating, because they did not have a break, they may be talking, because they may be talking about hiring you.

      It is a small world..People talk. I recommend changing you stage name and hair style getting an attitude adjustment and starting again.

      Or just get married and brow-beat your husband into paying attention

  27. All this moaning. Singers have always had to make an investment in their career. Charging is one way of filtering out the many hopefuls and dreamers. The possibility of making a career is limited to a very few, most of whom are known from student days, competitions or via word of mouth within the music business. If you think you are talented go to the continent and audition for the many opera houses all looking for young talent. It has been for years the best reality check on career potential. If you are British try the Glyndebourne chorus route. It has proven over the years to be a very reliable proving ground. If you are not willing to make that sacrifice it is unlikely you will survive anyway. It is just possible most wannabes do not have the talent to make a career.

    • Hard truths from a successful agent.

      • This really doesn’t seem to be a healthy or proactive thread. That said, there are many brilliant contributions. Thank you Rachel, Anne and Graf Nugent.

        Unfortunately it has veered off topic somewhat. The original list of Devil-worshipping, baby-eating opera ‘companies’ are nothing of the sort. They are, without exception (including ENO Bayliss NOT ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA), training establishments and must be treated differently.

        I don’t think anyone in a professional capacity would pay (or be paid) to audition to a theatre, but training is different and you’ve got to do it. The more the better.

        You win some, you lose some. Pay the fees to BYO, NOS, Britten-Pears etc. because they are brilliant establishments which may well result in young singers winning more than they lose. Or don’t, and you’ll never know.

      • Michael Gray says:

        Why not just ask for an initial recording and CV and cull the applicants by having a quick listen. It is one reason that people submit CVs for normal job interviews and the successful candidates are invited to an interview.

        Why have the need to impose a fee to weed out the ‘hopefuls and dreamers’ as you say? Why impose pecuniary measures?

        • Exactly…..

        • OK. But is that any fairer? Would you rather pay $50 for a chance to impress a panel, or $0 to send in a CV with little-to-no experience on it which will 98% likely go in the bin – because if it’s free to send in a CV twenty times more people will email one over (cost – 2 minutes) than would pay for the audition, so the likelihood is they almost all go in the bin except a tiny number called for audition.
          I don’t know the answer: I’m not a singer. But I’m interested in a singer’s answer. I suspect enough will pay the $50 that this practice has become widespread.

    • Little Voice says:

      Yes, young singers need to invest in their career. But each investment ought to give some return, especially when the money for investing is scarce.
      I pay for a singing lesson, my return is improved singing and advice upon which to work. I pay for masterclasses, I get educated, another item on my CV, I often make contacts, and sometimes the added bonus of exposure.
      If I invest £40 in an audition, I really don’t feel it’s unreasonable to anticipate a return either in the form of an offer/recall, or a short email with the audition notes, or simply two or three lines of feedback.

      I don’t think it’s terribly fair to label as “moaning” the dissatisfaction of singers at being denied basic etiquette despite having paid, sometimes dearly, for a panel’s time.

      Charging may well be a way of filtering out those who are not ready for the opportunity, but it is also a way of denying the opportunity to those who are ready for the challenge, but simply cannot afford the fee, and this is a terrible shame. I have made many sacrifices for a career I believe I have the talent to succeed in (my teacher would have informed me by now if this was not the case.), and I will be auditioning on the continent (especially as one can get a part-time job in Germany without being told one is “overqualified” because one has an MA) Having applied to the UK opera choruses and received auto-confirmation of receipt emails and nothing more, I’m afraid I despair at the demise of basic manners anywhere anymore.
      I don’t think disappointment at not being shown minimal courtesy is “moaning”. I’m quite sure companies would “moan” and have every right to if singers didn’t reply to their emails.
      Respect is a two-way system.

    • Tom Kennedy says:

      All the more reason for providing feedback, and not charging exorbitantly. If ‘wannabes without talent’ are being charged to audition and being allowed or encouraged to reapply, that’s just exploiting them, and also denying precious audition slots to those with more talent but shallower pockets.

    • I have no reason to moan, as I have never paid to audition in my life, and am at the fortunate stage in my career where I don’t have to do any auditions unless requested to for specific roles by well-known conductors and/or directors. But I do take issue with your comment (Hasbeen) about charging as ” one way of filtering out the many hopefuls and dreamers”…. of course only the most dedicated, serious, determined and talented stand any chance of making a career, especially in these economic times, but to suggest (assuming I have understood your penultimate sentence correctly….) that paying an audition fee is somehow affirmation of serious commitment, when the fee is nothing more than opportunistic way of making money out of an unregulated work practice is something I cannot agree with. Paying for a competent pianist is not unreasonable, but paying for what is effectively the equivalent of a job interview is not……. I appreciate that applications for educational and training courses merit different arguments, but in those situations I agree with those who feel it reasonable to receive feedback in their efforts to receive to improve their chances of receiving that education/training…..

      • I should add as a footnote, that all the other comments form Hasbeen (career routes via Glyndebourne and continental auditions, especially (still) in Germany) are spot on…….

  28. Hasbeen’s remarks strike me as being entirely sensible. Of course, going to the continent presupposes that the young singer concerned is capable of communicating in a foreign language; that criterion in itself would probably eliminate 90% of wannabes who emerge from what passes for England’s “education” system.

  29. Clarissa Smid says:

    I think we are all missing the point. Quite recently the government warned prospective job applicants not to part with money in order to apply for work of ANY kind. If someone wants to contact the relevant minister, it would be fascinating to see what the response is.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t help either opera companies or singers that such audition fees price a raft of potential talent out of the running. One’s personal wealth should not dictate access to opportunity.

    All of this reinforces the notion that the arts contains a stronger bias towards WHO and not WHAT you know, when in fact the industry should be based upon meritocracy. Call me naive – I don’t care… But I still think those who sing best on the day deserve to be put forward. Free anonymous and blind auditions anyone? That might rid us somewhat of the monied, cronyist, body-dismorphed nightmare that many of us experience. …

    To the hardened agent who commented above: your response is typical of someone who has no real idea exactly what some of us sacrifice and experience along the way. If you think that shelling out hundreds of pounds a year in audition and competition fees shows the sort of commitment from a singer that you expect I’m glad you aren’t representing me. You seem not to realise that many young musicians are about to expose the alternative to paying a fee for access to the wider world of professional music: that of payment in kind. The former is nothing more than good old fashioned money racketeering and jolly well ought to be as illegal and immoral as the latter.

  30. Is it possible that the higher fees are really just a screening process?
    Most young singing graduates have remarkably similar and indistinguishable CVs – everyone has done the same lists of masterclasses, venues, teacher, opera roles… blah blah. And many are advised to “audition for everything you can”. So if an opera company might be faced with 800 applicants for one role, clearly it isn’t possible to sensibly audition them all; making a charge probably reduces that number significantly to those who are at least decently interested, and the higher the charge the more so. There will be an optimum charge – a level that gets rid of the time-waters but doesn’t remove the poor but committed and talented, and this level will be different depending on the opportunity on offer. One must assume that each opera company charging these fees believes they have set it right, after all, none of them actively want to lose talent nor wishes to have their time wasted.

    Two (related) questions occur to me, to which I do not have the answers.

    - is it cheaper overall to record a DVD / video and submit to multiple ‘audition’ first rounds then to actually go and visit all those companies, when some may be abroad etc.?

    - would a singer prefer to pay for an audition that they then get to sing at (assumed result – smaller number of singers at an audition event funded by those singers, in effect), or go through a no-charge CV-/DVD-only process where they don’t get to actively respond to a panel (because number of applications too large for a ‘live’ audition process, so applicants rejected remotely) ?

    • I’m inclined to disagree with your comment about “similar and indistinguishable CV’s”, and I’m fairly sure most companies with a sufficient degree of nous would be able to filter that 800 applicants to a more reasonable number simply by looking at those documents, rather than by imposing a fee. Like it or not, there are still hierarchies of institutions and courses, and certain boxes that, if ticked, function as an almost-guarantee of reasonable quality. Additionally, if you’re looking for an Aida or a Peter Grimes, and the majority of your applicants last role was Zerlina or Nemorino (or vice versa), there’s a certain amount of reasonable elimination that can be done there also!

      However, leaving that aside, my thoughts on your questions:

      I’m not aware of any companies (though there may be some) who offer the sort of system you suggest of audition ‘first rounds’ by visual or audio recording for principal roles, though it is common practice in major international competitions, where hundreds of applicants are pre-screened to reduce numbers, usually to around 50-80 for the first ‘live’ round. Agents putting forward a singer to a new house might well send recorded samples with their recommendation, but I’m not sure that your system would work for a theatre as a replacement for the general audition, and here’s why:

      Audition repertoire is usually adapted to the house, country (different operatic communities have decidedly different expectations for the same roles, in many cases), the specific role or roles being auditioned for… occasionally, waking up on the day with the start of a throat infection and realising that a set of repertoire without top C’s (for example) would be advisable, though the rest of the voice is fine – there are a lot of variables. Additionally, the very act of recording introduces a whole new set of variables – some voices record better than others, variations in recording quality/equipment/expense make a great deal of difference, relative vocal size/appropriateness for a space is difficult to judge from a recording which is made inevitably in a different acoustic, and recording ‘fraud’ is not unheard of… I suspect the cost-benefit analysis to the company would not be favourable, considering the time invested in listening to .

      Would we prefer it? Well, on a DVD/CD, one can, funds permitting, take and re-take until one gets as close to ‘perfect’ as possible. Editing can splice together sections, even notes, to produce something no singer is capable of in live performance, and add extra bloom, accurate tuning, or apparent strength to a voice… It would undoubtedly be easier on the nerves, and perhaps the pocket, but would, I think, rather defeat the purpose! This approach certainly has, in some cases, at some competitions I have participated in, “painted a better picture”, shall we say, of certain applicants than the reality perhaps deserved.

      I don’t think anyone objects to the cost of travelling to auditions – it’s a painful, but necessary part of the process – provided we are treated with some degree of reasonable respect at the other end of this expense. A panel with some knowledge, and casting decision power that do us the courtesy of listening at least a little rather than burying their heads in a newspaper for the duration(on one memorable occasion I couldn’t have told you if my auditor was male or female, as I neither saw their face, nor heard their voice), competent pianistic support if the company has undertaken to provide it, and ideally, not calling us to audition for roles that have already been cast (and covered!), though occasionally these auditions lead to an opportunity in something else entirely, so can’t be wholly derided. Paying for a ‘job interview’ itself, rather than the costs associated with attending it, which is, after all, our choice, and usually based on our own cost/benefit analysis, also rankles somewhat, when ability to subsidise a core part of any opera company’s normal operating costs and business, becomes the deciding factor in whether one is heard or not.

      • Thank you for your considered reply.
        Does not paying to travel to an audition count as “subsidising an opera company’s costs” as well, though? It’s just that it is so entrenched as the norm everyone does it without moaning. If a company want you badly enough they will pay your travel and take you out for dinner, don’t forget… I don’t quite understand the distinction of “I’m happy to pay the costs of having an audition” between “I’m happy to pay to get there, stay over, etc.” and “I’m happy to pay for the pianist’s time – they are experienced professionals:” with “I’m not happy to pay any costs to the company if they are labelled ‘administrative’ or ‘fee’, even if actually it pays the pianist too”. And let us not forget that one would hope the panel / jury members are respected, highly trained musicians / artistic practitioners in their own right, much like the aforementioned pianist. Does their time not deserve to be paid for? If you are happy to pay the pianist, why not the jury? If you won’t pay the jury, why the pianist?

        • You’re most welcome, and I hope I will be able to further clarify my thoughts for you:

          It wouldn’t occur to me to expect a company to travel to hear every potential auditionee, or, if any were willing to do so, to consider that extra expense as part of a company’s fixed costs, particularly when considering established companies with full-time theatrical ‘homes’, which for the most part are the auditions one travels some distance for (and are least-often charged to sing for). Perhaps that is to do with established norms and precedent, but I suspect it’s hardly realistic to expect a company to come to each singer, purely by dint of numbers, especially to hear singers in the early stages of a career, when many auditions are more speculative (“What might this person bring to the table for us?”) than focused on a specific outcome (“We need a Violetta/Don Ottavio/Marquis de Posa, right now!”). I don’t know anyone, no matter how desired, who has been wooed – by a theatre – in the way you describe at the outset of their career. Even very prominent young singers generally have to attend auditions, unless they’ve been heard elsewhere by a person in charge of casting (assuming they don’t have to consult a conductor/director or other member of staff), and tend to be keen(and grateful!) to take up opportunities to be heard and to work, without this sort of bribery (for lack of a better term!).

          I do, however, see holding auditions, and paying for a venue/adequate pianist/appropriate staff to sit on a panel (if these things are not already provided for by permanent or part-time staff and venues), as being costs which are fundamental to a company’s activities, and not costs which should be borne by the auditionees. Realistically, the company has no product unless it auditions performers, and I can’t really see any reason why said performers should subsidise that fundamentally-necessary activity.

          In company auditions, panellists (as well as administrators) are usually already being paid by dint of salary or contract with the company in question, as are music staff ie. the pianist. Is there a reason these people should be paid twice-over, by the company and the auditionees? (One would indeed hope to audition for respected, highly-trained arts practitioners in their own right, but this is very often the exception, rather than the rule, it seems). If I choose to bring my own pianist, or am able to arrange a rehearsal with the pianist provided, in order to improve my chances of a successful audition, of course I expect to pay them for their time, but if they are salaried or contracted members of a company, then I’m afraid I can’t see a legitimate reason to be asked to supplement their salary for doing their job.

          Training programs not affiliated with a major company or well-funded in their own right, or semi-professional or amateur companies run on a pay-to-sing/unpaid/profit-share or partially-voluntary basis, without a fixed venue or staff are a slightly different question, of course. I think that’s when you will find that singers are generally willing to make a small (reasonable) contribution to pianist or venue costs (and most sane singers generally have a decent idea of what ‘reasonable’ is, having usually paid many times over for both pianists and rehearsal spaces by the hour, before they even think of attending an audition), in exchange for the possibility of much-needed experience and/or a platform. What, justifiably, rankles among young, usually-impoverished, singers, is when relatively well-funded and/or permanent, fully-professional organisations, or indeed their less-funded but more-grandiose semi-professional colleagues (by which I do NOT mean either Co-Opera or BYO, both of which do sterling work and charge minimal audition fees, which I doubt fully cover their costs), impose charges well beyond what is reasonable (singers can often do maths too!), or for things that should reasonably be expected to be covered by their own working budget – whether the fee is called ‘administration’ or ‘pianist’ makes little difference.

  31. I don’t like the idea of audition fees, but one understands the impulse to charge them. What do you think of choirs that charge an audition fee, where if you are successful you don’t get paid, but are asked to pay a further membership fee? You might then appear on recordings for a professional orchestra, where there is still no payment, let alone any acknowledgement of your performance?

    • I’m afraid I don’t think the situations are comparable. On the one hand, you have amateur singers wishing to join a choir for their pleasure, rather than aiming to make a living from their singing. Professional choirs generally pay (and acknowledge) their members’ work, as they should. On the other, you have singers, young or less so, trained to professional standard (at least theoretically), who are being charged a fee to apply for a job from which they intend/need to derive their primary income. (Training programs, I agree, are a different case).

      • I don’t find the distinction quite so clear cut, and that was my point. After all, there are quite a few people who join choirs who have professional training but are unable to find employment as a soloist. If you have had professional training, you quite likely to have a big voice, so you’ll need to join a large orchestral choir and there are very few of these choirs which pay their members – it’s just too expensive – even though a professional approach is required. The charging of audition fees in both cases is justified by the argument that arts funding is precarious. Of course, I find it terrible that singers are required to pay more than the already large amount they have invested in their career in order to have a chance to gain employment. I don’t like the charging of audition fees in either case; thankfully, I don’t know any choirs who charge as much as some of the huge amounts being mentioned here.

        • Bruys,
          If you join a large amateur choir then that’s what you are doing and you know what comes with the territory – you don’t get paid for it. It is inconsequential whether you have had none, some, or a lot of training.

          • Thank you – you took the words right out of my mouth. And ‘professional training = big voice’ quite simply doesn’t stand up to the facts. More focus in the voice, perhaps, but not necessarily a larger voice than an untrained person, otherwise we wouldn’t have professional soubrettes or light lyric tenors, as well as their heavier-voiced colleagues… I agree that the difference is essentially whether or not you expect/intend to make a living from your singing activities – the difference between paying a fee to do something you enjoy, but expect little or no financial recompense from, and being expected to pay a fee to apply for a job from which you intend to make your living.

          • I suppose you realize that the logical conclusion is that audition fees are, in fact, perfectly reasonable. Let me rephrase: if you wish to join a company that charges audition fees you know what you are doing and you know what comes with the territory. It is inconsequential whether you have had none, some, or a lot of training.

  32. Dear Norman

    British Youth Opera here. It’s a shame that when you finally mention us after 6 years of blog posts it’s to ask for a creative response. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. Oh, and there’s an invitation to observe one of our workshops first-hand on its way to your inbox.)

    Anyway, we don’t need to offer a creative response as we can offer an uncreative, boring, factual one. There might be a creative bit at the end though…

    You “can forgive administrative charges” so we won’t dwell on those. Suffice to say that the £18 to audition for BYO covers about 45% of the costs we incur in holding auditions in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and London, complete with warm-up rooms and expert pianists.

    (The other 55% is subsidised by BYO, and if you’d like that broken down further then approximately 5% is public funding, 5% ticket sales, 20% charitable grants and 25% philanthropy.)

    Also worth noting: BYO is extremely fortunate in being able to call on the services of some very experienced opera professionals to sit on our audition panels, all of whom do so out of goodwill and a desire to help the next generation of singers, contributing between them a total of almost 400 ‘man-hours’ for no financial reward.

    So, to deal with that desire to help the next generation of young singers and the issue of feedback…

    Firstly to clarify: we don’t give “little or no feedback” since that would be unfair to some. We give no feedback.

    Sure, we could decide to give every singer the unedited comments from the 3-5 members of the panel (3 in the first round of auditions, 5 in the second), but would that be constructive in every case? A voice is such an integral part of a person’s psyche that a few terse bullet points run the risk of inflicting a serious wound.

    No, we are proud not just of the depth of coaching we provide to successful auditionees, but also the nurturing environment we offer them. (And that’s not just the 60-70 who are offered roles in our summer season, but also the 35-50 who are offered places in our intensive 1-week opera workshops).

    The only way to offer feedback that would have enough depth to be useful and constructive, and to give it in a nurturing way to help singers develop and respond, would be to give each and every one a coaching session after their audition.

    Frankly, that would be wonderful, and we’d love to. A quick scrawl on the back of an envelope reveals that if any of your readers have something in the region of £40,000 to donate towards such a good cause we’d be delighted to hear from them. Or, of course, we could put our audition fees up by 500%.

    Ivan Rockey
    Executive Director
    British Youth Opera

    • Little Voice says:

      Hi Ivan,

      I, for one, would find the bullet points more helpful than silence. I have enough faith in the fantastic panel you had assembled this year that any comments noted would be constructive. If the comments are harsh (but fair, of course) a good singer who is cut out for the industry will not be wounded, but ought to be able to agree, and then use the comments to improve and become a better singer, whereas a singer who is not cut out for this kind of career will be disappointed, and be made to seriously consider whether this is the career for them. The latter is not a bad outcome. It could save that wannabe singer a lot of emotional and financial wounding in the long term.

      I may look into a coaching with a panel member from my audition day, and I will pay for it, and I will be appreciative for what I learn from it
      But I can learn nothing from nothing.

      BYO has every right to be extremely proud of the work that it does. Of my friends and colleagues who have participated as soloists, covers, chorus, Easter workshop attendees, not one has spoken about the experience with less than admiration and gratitude, and this is wonderful! And this is why I want to be able to audition again next year, but have worked on what wasn’t right and improve my chances. I have done my own post-mortem of my audition and I know what I can work on to be happier for myself for the next time, but just a few bullet points would help me improve in a clear direction, rather than trying to improve everything, which leads to “fixing what ain’t broken” and over-trying, which is counterproductive.

      I’m just trying to improve as a singer. Bullet points would help.

      Thank you.

      • You really would not derive very much at all from my very idiosyncratic scrawlings – I find that during an audition I want to look and listen with as much attention as possible. Writing not only distracts the singer but detracts from my enjoyment ( or otherwise :) I write an aide-mémoire to help me remember what the singer looked like – skinny arms and orange dress are two I remember off the top of my head !! When you have so many singers to hear those little comments do help you remember them at the end of a long day. And my bullet points might be – open your mouth – nervous – perfect – not yet – for instance. I know exactly what I mean by my little comments and can remember each auditionee and their audition by referring back to them BUT in order to make them into constructive feedback notes would take a lot of time – and that is something I do not have to spare I’m afraid. Having said that, as those who have been to our auditions know, we do speak to each of our auditionees during the audition and if we can offer constructive advice we do so at that point.
        I am in the process of writing to everyone who has recently auditioned for us – a time consuming job in itself – and I will take time to refer to my notes and those of the rest of the panel when replying and if there is anything in particular I feel would be useful I will indeed include it. BUT only if I am sure that my comments will not be misinterpreted – as a singer myself I have suffered from less than helpful feedback from auditions – one in particular still haunts me – my agent said that the highly eminent conductor I had just sung to said that I was – ” A sad singer” !!!!!!! What on earth he meant by that I have no idea !!! That was several decades ago and I am still smarting !! But I did get the job :)

  33. Tom Kennedy says:

    I second Ben’s points about the companies referred to being excellent institutions, and I personally don’t object to their charging fees (above and beyond the actual costs of accompanist etc) because the valuable work they do has to be funded somehow and this is one way of spreading the cost to the successful participants. But that does imply of course that the unsuccessful auditionees are subsidizing the course, which you can understand may rankle if all they get back is a one-size fits all rejection. It can’t be described as an investment, it is at best a gamble and it is quite reasonable for there to be a debate about it without the implication that anyone questioning the reasons for charging is just bitter about their lack of success. I don’t believe any of the institutions mentioned are remotely out to exploit anyone, but it would be quite possible, once the principle of charging is established for it to slip from its original justification of plugging funding gaps for altruistic institutions in straitened times, to being something that young singers in particular are conditioned to expect. Hats off to Co-Opera for working tirelessly to reduce such costs!

  34. I think everyone is missing the point here. There are far, far more applicants than places. There is a glut of artists out there who want work and training. Opera (and dance, which is my field) cannot fund themselves and need outside support to do so, or very cagey strategic planning. No one has “the right” to their career and certainly the government shouldn’t get involved. Having said that, I do think it is a shame that the fees are so high and that the feedback isn’t forthcoming in many cases. You can’t legislate good behaviour. But each of us has to make the best educated decisions for ourselves. In dance we have all the same problems. If you want to change it, change it from within. As “the little guy” I am producing ballet in London in June – my way – the way i think it should be done. I won’t be charging for auditions, but it will take up many hours of my time (in addition to my regular jobs). But then, I won’t be able to pay very much. (And I know we shouldn’t get started on that topic or there will be some serious moaning!)

  35. Clara kraetke-Elstermann says:

    To all you young singers I would suggest that this system sucks.Believe it or not they need you far more than you need them.So understand your worth and don’t do it.Take matters into your own hands and find a different route into these courses and companies.These audition fees are extortionate.If you saved your money you could spend it instead on some seriously wonderful (and connected) teachers and coaches.Make those recordings,take your time,and put them on the cloud and on Vimeo and invite chosen people to view them.If the system no longer serves you,change it.

  36. Georgie Mc says:

    Hi guys. Forgive a non singer getting involved – I’ve been principal bass of co opera for the last three seasons and just wanted to share my view…
    Firstly, audition fees are not only limited to opera companies – all te conservatories charge obscene fees (in my opinion) for all levels of study. A number of orchestral training courses, and the occasional actual job do so too – or ask for deposits in case of last minute cancellations.

    I think there is a big difference between younger companies, who need to charge a small admin fee (such as co opera do at present) and well established, funded companies such as ENO doing the same.

    Finally, having sat on panels for co opera (admittedly orchestral jobs not vocal roles), I’d like to say the following:
    - everyone we saw had at least a 15 minute audition, and a rehearsal period with pianist,plus warm up time
    - there were refreshments available (as mentioned above) and a welcoming atmosphere, plus much interaction between audtionees and panelists
    - feedback was offered to all who auditioned, and was sent to those who requested it.
    Co opera is literally the nicest company I’ve ever worked for, and I am confident in saying that any fees charged here are out of necessity, not a desire to turn a profit. This is a company which exists to give young singers crucial experience, and to help them, not make things harder by charging unnecessary fees.

  37. There are surely a lot of issues at play here. Training programmes might charge audition fees for all sorts of reasons, many of them entirely justifiable. Some fees, I have always suspected, are to discourage mountains of speculative applications. (Why, otherwise, do the NOS not require an audition fee if a major company put you forward?) However, companies need to understand the singer’s perspective if they are to genuinely find the best people. A recent, and very expensive shared general audition for a couple of American & European companies provided a hearing for tens of wildly inappropriate singers (many of whom had alternative sources of income), and a good deal of weary rebuttals from experienced singers who balked at the cost. Young (and most older) singers do not have very much money. If charging for what are effectively job interviews becomes the norm, then this will become a career only for the independently wealthy. Audition fees are doubtless an unpleasant & sometimes necessary reality that will not go away. However, those imposing them must never forget the singer’s experience. Will asking a singer for a fee mean that a potentially qualified artist will not apply? If so, everybody loses out.

  38. Barry Tone says:

    Perhaps I’m not adding anything new here, but it’s worth mentioning the exploitative companies over and over again. Perhaps they’ll get the hint. In my experience as a young singer attending auditions, the worst culprits have been the Britten-Pears school and Verbier Festival Academy.

    Britten-Pears charged me £35 to audition – for this I had to bring and pay for my own accompanist, and then audition to a video camera flanked by two bored-looking administrators. No face-to-face contact with a musician panelist. Despite my gentle enquiries, I was unable to find out who would have access to the footage, and what would be done with it after the audition. They didn’t even mention the fact that I’d be filmed, or ask my permission. I simply entered the audition expecting to see a panel of expert musicians ready to decide my fate, but was greeted with the video camera, which was already filming as I entered, catching my surprise and enquiries about the unusual process.

    The worst for me was the Verbier Festival Academy, which I’d go as far as saying holds a corrupt and dishonest process. I applied and paid 60CHF for them to read my CV, and was told “we are unable to offer you an audition”. I found out very soon afterward, that at least three of the principal singers selected to take part in the festival did not even apply to audition, having been invited by ‘talent scouts’ and contacts in the industry. I’m not against people being cast by talent scouts, but they were invited BEFORE the audition process. Goodness knows how many singers paid 60CHF to audition for a role which had already been filled. I asked them for a full refund, which they ignored.

    Let’s continue to make some noise about this, people! Small admin fees for pianists are fine, but paying large amounts of money for opportunities which don’t exist is exploitative and unnecessarily dampening the spirits of us, the courageous and beautiful people who are dedicating their lives to music, art and joy.

  39. AnotherSop says:

    I also agree that feedback is the single most useful thing that can be gained from any audition, short of getting the job. As Little Voice says, most people who are serious about being successful are open to anything that will help us to make a better impression next time, and even open-to-misinterpretation bullet points are better than a generic rejection letter, for the price of an audition.

    I particularly lament the lack of feedback from the conservatoire application process, given that the fees for RCM and RAM are close to £100 each now. RAM will provide feedback – so long as you pay them a further administration fee to dig out and send it – but to my knowledge the other London colleges explicitly don’t provide any. I have sometimes wondered if companies and colleges fear legal recriminations if they provide feedback which is a bit too honest. Has anyone else wondered this?

    I understand that providing detailed feedback requires administrative input and maybe, given the volume of applicants for some programmes and the cuts in office staff numbers in many organisations, it is genuinely impractical – but companies such as ETO prove that it is possible and I really would encourage any company who is not sure if it’s worth the effort to consider it. It seems to me that the kind of auditionees you may want to employ in the future are the ones who will take any feedback on board and invest it into self-improvement.

    • Could you get feedback under the data protection act? I don’t know that much about it, but understood in years gone by that a registered organisation had to provide you with a copy of all data it holds on file about you, for no charge or a reasonable administrative fee (which is set in law – something like 10p per sheet of A4, not too expensive). One assumes RAM et al would hold a file on auditions for some period at least, so is this a way to see the comments made?

      • You certainly can ask for your audition notes under the Data Protection Act. I have been a panellist and it was made quite clear to me when I started that I should be careful not to write anything potentially hurtful (although no-one ever asked for their notes). Even so, I doubt much of my scrawl would make an awful lot of sense to anyone but me…

  40. Another US singer’s point of view here–I have gone to main stage auditions that my agent has arranged for me, not something I “applied” for myself, and was asked to write a check at the audition to the company to pay for “room rental” or “administrative costs”. At this point, I will flat out walk out of an audition if asked for money that doesn’t go directly to the pianist, and I have turned down several main stage auditions he arranged for me when I saw there was a fee. Things are not going to change unless singers stop complaining and just stand up for themselves by not paying. One of the auditions I turned down was for “Opera Piccola San Antonio,” started by the same man who was running San Antonio Opera, which went bankrupt last year. Sorry, but I have better things to do with my hard earned cash than hand it over to someone who doesn’t know how to run an opera company.

    I have no problem paying a pianist directly. But if their name is not on the check, I won’t even consider paying the fee any more, because I know they aren’t getting all of the money, the company is taking part of it. Why should I help you “pay for the room” or “pay administrative expenses” in a MAIN STAGE AUDITION? Those are part of your expenses as a professional opera company. You aren’t running a professional company if you are charging singers for that. You’re running a community theater or a co-op theater at best. But it is not professional.

    I pay MY business expenses-my scores, my coach, my teacher, my audition pianist, my education, my concert attire. I’m supposed to pay the company’s expenses on top of that? PLEASE. Check yourself.

    I think the fees surrounding training programs are more acceptable-in my young artist years, I saw it as similar to applying for school or for an educational program–But I’m not looking for “experience” or “training” or “feedback” any more. I am an experienced and highly skilled professional singer, and if you are a professional opera company looking for a cast (potential employees), it’s part of your business expenses to be able to afford to interview or audition those professional singers.

    The only way this will change is if singers stop paying. Which is not likely, with all the singers out there who are supported by their parents or spouse who don’t actually need to find a way to support themselves. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms (agents and companies who prey on singers who have cash flow they want to take).

    I think there are advantages to singing for many companies at once, and I have paid to do the final round of NYIOPS. I had some callbacks, good feedback and got on a few radars I might not otherwise be on, so I considered it a good investment, and I know singers that HAVE gotten work through NYIOPS. Will I do it again after doing it twice? Nope. I paid enough. West Coast Auditions on the other hand should be avoided at all costs. The money they take from singers auditioning in the spring for a bunch of companies that have already cast the next season and/or cast local for the most part is downright criminal. Think twice before giving your money to a thief.

  41. I’d like to add that as someone who also does crossover and is a member of Actors Equity, I have done countless musical theater auditions as well. They would never DREAM of charging a fee. If all of those regional theaters can come to New York and have a pianist for the day and hear hundreds of singers and not charge any of them a dime, why can’t an opera company? It makes absolutely no sense.

    • Opera America does just that in New York. They have built a wonderful National Opera Centre with great facilities for artists and auditioning companies. Perhaps the companies can coordinate their auditions in the UK? Ann

      • I have auditioned at the Opera America center. I did need to pay my own pianist, so it was still not the same. I was out 30 dollars that I would not have been out in a theater audition. But I was ok with it as it all went directly to the pianist.

  42. I think the companies should give feedback. The artist has paid for the audition and is entitled to having feedback. If the companies are truly interested in the singers advancement, perhaps for future employment, they would give feedback. It could be that the staff isn’t qualified? One major company I spoke to told me of a wonderful dramatic soprano they heard and they were reluctant that there was nothing for her. I asked if they told her this. No, they didn’t think of it. Here is a case where just a word to let the artist know that the audition was in fact successful in terms of acceptance, but that they didn’t have a role for her. They have since ‘thought’ of it.
    Ann Summers Dossena

  43. I disagree with everyone saying that getting feedback is useful, unless you are still in the young artist part of your career in training, or unless your agent is hearing the same specific negative comment over and over. You’re never going to please everyone, and not everyone is going to like you. You have to be sure enough of yourself as an artist (at a professional level) to not take every little piece of feedback to heart and not allow yourself to be pulled in every which direction. Opinions are like A-holes. Everybody has them. I don’t care how wonderful you think I am if you don’t have any work for me. I don’t wants compliments. I want a contract.

    • AnotherSop says:

      I can see that there’s a difference and I suppose it does depend on what you’re applying for. I do come under the definition of young artist, and if I am going to pay someone money to hear me, I feel that the least I should expect is a fair assessment of how I did if I didn’t get a part/place, as essentially it means I’m paying for the opportunity to sing – and I don’t think that’s silly or unreasonable. But I can understand that perhaps further down the line this is less helpful.

      However, the majority of the groups being discussed here are enterprises geared towards young, emerging or newly-professional atists, so I think making sure they know that many of us would appreciate feedback isn’t a bad thing.

  44. Graf Nugent says:

    I have to say I agree with Marcy Richardson on every single count.

  45. Graf Nugent says:

    Concerning feedback, it is often massively subjective and not always dispensed by those with either a great knowledge of voice or repertoire. One must be very careful not to fall into the trap of believing everything one hears, just because it comes from the other side of the table.

  46. In this discussion, I see two different types of organisation, one that puts on commercial performances, and uses the services the singers to do this, and one that offers training and professional development opportunities to singers.

    I see commercial opera companies as the same as any employer. Employers do not charge candidates an application or interview fee; so opera companies should not charge for viewing a showreel, listening to an audio sample, or live audition. If opera companies are complaining that they ‘have to’ audition hundreds of applicants, and that this is a headache in overheads, then they are not doing their job properly. Like any employer, they need a better pre-audition sifting process, and create shorter interviewee / auditionee shortlists. A prospective employer who turns someone down can choose to give feedback, but I don’t see that there is an a priori obligation (moral or contractual) for them to do so.

    If the opera company is a training organisation, then it seems reasonable that a candidate should be charged something. There are costs in administration, pianist’s fees, audition panel fees, room hire etc that have to be covered. An organisation could offer a lower fee to those who do not want feedback; and I think it is reasonable to charge the applicant for a feedback process, because this takes extra time (and professional experience), whether it is extra time face-to-face in the audition itself, or in written comments sent afterwards, and that time has to be paid for by someone; since it is the auditionee who wants to benefit, why should they get something for nothing? The audition is not a ‘service’ provided by the singer to the audition panel.

    Whether for commercial work, or training work, feedback from audition panels is a service, and I therefore think it is reasonable for those requesting it to pay for it. I suppose there is an exception if the organisation is a charity or a social enterprise with a brief to help singers financially and in feedback, then maybe the funds for this should be raised from sources other than the singers themselves.

    Yes, it costs aspiring singing careerists to develop their career. It begins with singing and music tuition, continues with learning stage skills, audition skills, promotional strategies, self presentation (haircuts, clothes etc), CV preparation, recording showreels and audio samples. Why single out auditions for training and exposure opportunities as something they ‘shouldn’t’ have to pay for? That doesn’t make sense to me. However, as I say, once the audition is for a commercial job, I don’t think a singer should have to pay for that.

  47. Getting feedback gives insight to the opinions of the companies. It doesn’t mean you have to believe it, and it gives an indication of what they are looking for or on what they are basing their opinions. It can also indicate who is qualified and who is not in their jobs. This is useful information for long-term planning. Ann

  48. Mark Mortimer says:

    Lots of interesting standpoints here but my views are very clear. Charging young singers to audition for roles is a deplorable practice, little short of exploitation and any opera company that insists on it should be ashamed of themselves. With a few notable exceptions, the same is true for training courses/apprenticeships designed to bridge the perilous gap between conservatoire/university and paid professional work.

    I’m not much of a singer myself but I have been piano accompanist to numerous young hopefuls at auditions. It is a desperate plight for so many, the vast majority of whom have talent and expert training (OK maybe the odd Callas/Pavarotti wanabe turns up not quite aware of their limitations- the exception rather than the rule in my experience), to be chasing such little work in the UK operatic arena made doubly worse by the current economic climate. There is something of the unpleasant phrase ‘They saw you coming’ about the whole situation. These organisations are totally aware of the fact there are so many competent young singers about and what better way to get a bit of cash in than have a hundred or so along at a fee and provide opportunities for less than 10%.

    BYO is an honourable institution and has provided fantastic opportunities for young operatic talent over many years. But I’m rather stunned by Ivan Rooky’s remarks implying that they’re doing these youthful singers a favour by charging such a low audition fee. The point Ivan is that you shouldn’t be charging anything! The cost of an accomplished pianist should be covered by the company itself and not footed by the auditioning singer (if he/she wants to bring their own at personal expense then fair enough). My overall point is that any musical organisation worth its salt should be adequately funded as to not rely on the good will of its increasingly desperate aspirants. Otherwise, we should question as to the operatic organisation’s motives and its very existence in the first place. BYO has a clear raison d’etre but there are plenty of offenders around with one that mainly involves making a fast buck.

    As regards feedback from the auditioning panel, if you’ve paid for the pleasure of them listening to you then you’re certainly entitled to it. Criticism is difficult for artists to swallow and particularly young ones who’ve not yet developed a thick skin. But stony silence is worse. In addition, even the greatest singer can have an off day and somebody in the seat of judgement may not have had enough time to make a proper assessment of an individual’s vocal worth. Even worse, and very common in the classical music world, that person may be biased, ignorant or just plain wrong. Ivan Rockey comments that BYO would like to offer expert feedback in a masterclasses situation in conjuction with auditions. I’m sure that the figures he mentions to achieve this are grossly exagerrated but is a great way forward.

  49. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to stop watching the newly painted hallway dry for an hour or two at least and so have welcomed the chance to read this fervent and virile discussion. Now I’ve finally come to the most recent post and my hallway has already become out of date in it’s choice of colour, I’d like to add to the discussion not so much on the money/fee strand but more on the thread about ‘feedback’.

    In all honesty not getting feedback from an audition as a young singer is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, unlike an exam or perhaps a competition, an audition for a role has very specific constraints and in most cases the stark reality is that you are just not right for the role in their eyes. Constructive criticism can’t hide the fact that person ‘A’ just fitted the bill better than person ‘B’. And often there is nothing more to it than that. In asking for feedback you may be forcing someone to string together unnecessarily detailed criticism to satisfy your demand…when a simple “it’s not you it’s us” would have done.

    In more general company auditions I can see how getting some idea about what they liked or disliked is useful – but it is unlikely that anything particularly ground breaking that either your coach or teacher hasn’t pointed out already will be revealed and if it is ground breaking (e.g. we suggest you wear clothes next time…) it says more about your own self awareness as a performer that you haven’t noticed or realised it thus far.

    Certainly in the world of opera casting auditions at national and international houses it is not prescribed to receive feedback; or to put it another way, the feedback is pretty damn clear cut “you did/didn’t get the role”. Add to the mix a disagreeing director and conductor duo and you just don’t need to know…
    But, agents are often more than welcome to sit in on an audition and if they are any good will be on speaking terms with members of the panel and be able to learn opinions with no great difficulty.

    Nothing prepares you for rejection and as a singer one tends to take it more to heart than perhaps an instrumentalist because it is your own bodily instrument being judged – it is YOU they don’t want. And no amount of sheets of paper with comments from unrelated and variously differing audition panels can change this fact. Yes, it can make you aware of what you might be doing wrong (singing the wrong rep for your voice/age for example) but the realisation must be that auditioning is part of the job too. It never ceases to be in most cases. It is often harder than the performing in public bit and yet one of the best ways to discover your limits. It is a very false environment and is not made any easier when an audition fee has to be submitted.

    BUT…as one or two have mentioned already, if that is the case (and whether it is right or wrong to charge someone to audition)….it is healthier to learn earlier rather than later that you don’t always get back what you put in (in the short term certainly) and to approach performing and a career in music with the attitude that everything you do should be quantifiable in terms of £s and pence and that one is deserving of criticism or comment at every turn will leave you bitterly disappointed. Furthermore, a good musician will be careful and critical of what they choose to audition for or not. A bad one will throw themselves at everything and pay the price.

    The good news is that the further you get in a career: a) you won’t be charged for auditions (I’m pretty sure…) and b): you won’t have to audition as much. The bad news….you’ll always be giving somebody somewhere a load of money every time you stand on a stage and perform and at various points (hopefully not too frequently) someone somewhere will say something horrible about your performance(s) in a national newspaper (at no extra cost). Yet brilliantly, despite all of this, the experience and opportunity are priceless and rarely if ever gained from nothing.

  50. Singers are the biggest suckers in the business, that’s for sure. We are taken at every turn, and a company charging a fee is just adding insult to injury. I don’t care how big of an expense it is to organize such an audition, or manage the administrative efforts – no one is covering the expense of the singers’ travels, training, CD/DVD production, wardrobe, sheet music, health care, etc. If a company wants the best singer for the job, then they should take the singer’s own example and invest in the time, money and effort it takes to find one.

    • I’m replying to myself because I forgot to check the Follow-up Notifications box prior to posting.

      And another thing…. if the company (start-up, low-budget, what-have-you) can justify the fees, okay. If it’s a major company, well then, I smell a rat.
      Another favorite let’s-rip-off-some-singers technique is so-called Audition Workshop, most often offered by agencies who aren’t getting enough work for their singers. Okay, fine, the real young singers might need this – but this kind of advice is also something you can get for free from mentors and colleagues if you just ask.

      Singers, stop paying!!

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