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Singers demand fair play at festivals

The revolution is gathering pace.

What started ten weeks ago as a Facebook page for singers’ complaints has turned into a multinational campaign for obtaining decent rehersal pay and accommodation rights for singers in opera houses and festivals. Salzburg is one of the first in the firing line.

As of today, it has a website, Art but fair. It’s all in German at the moment, but the campaign’s co-founder Elisabeth Kulman is preparing an assault on the injustices and anomalies in the English-speaking opera world. Watch this space, singers. You are about to lose your chains.

Here she is, talking up the artists’ revolution on Austrian television. She quotes Luciano Pavarotti: ‘I made my career with a single word: No!’

elisabeth kulman

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  1. Catriona says:

    Meine Damen und Herrn, nicht nur beim Festivals, but in fact in many circumstances! Imagine asking the orchestral players to ‘work’ for 2 months without pay??? Ask them to work for 2 hours without pay and you’d have a resounding ‘nein!’.LOL! However, I’d love to know if the ‘pay’ for the singers’ performances has increased in order to incorporate the rehearsal period. Has it? Or has it not? This is surely the question in this video.

  2. Hasbeen says:

    Rehearsal pay in inconsistent from house to house. Most artists budget 1 or 2 performances for living expenses. By the way, there was only one Pavarotti and his ‘no’ did not refer to fees. Generally speaking singers are fairly compensated according to the standards of the market and if they can not organize their finances to take advantage of opportunities they should perhaps find another line of work.

    • Re: Hasbeen’s comments

      In fact soloists’ fees have held steady for years, and now are in rapid decline. So the issue of paid rehearsals, or paid accommodation now comes to the fore…..Engagers are under pressure to raise more and more money to maintain operations, as their fixed costs [halls, office staff, collective agreements that provide cost of living increases, travel, executives salaries (!)] increase each year. Combine increased fixed costs with declining government support, and the decline in gifts from donors and foundations due to recessions and weak economies since at least 2008, and you have the “perfect storm”. Unable to raise revenue (ticket prices are already high enough that they discourage attendance for many), engagers cut costs where they can – and solo artist fees they have been cutting for years! Aside from superstar fees for Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming and the like – who perform at Gala concerts – the day to day work of opera and classical music soloists is carried out by artists whose names you know, and who are getting on average, less per performance each year.
      Left to market forces, Hasbeen, some engagers will keep looking for the cheaper artist, having been forced to give up on the more established artists with a higher fee…..That is fine in itself, but followed to its inevitable conclusion, you will have some engagers asking artists to perform for free – “to advance their careers, for the experience and exposure”…..No harm in any of that, I suppose for the local amateur choir….But when established engagers have reduced the number of performances, and cut the fees, and the soloists are lucky to see 1/4 of the fee after accommodation and travel, income taxes, agent’s commission, meals, performance gowns etc….Well it is only natural that soloists would raise the issue of poor pay at Festivals, and now no payment for accommodation.
      We would do well to remember that outside from “Fest” contract singers in German and Austrian opera houses, and the rare full time opera chorus, no opera singer has a full time job! In fact, if you want a full time job in opera, you had best become an administrator!
      So please, enough of patronizing comments about “organize their finances”….We are raising an issue that needs addressing….Or would everyone be happier when soloists are part-timers, doing something else for a profession, and taking the occasional gig when they can afford to?

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