View Full Version : Opera Companies/Houses

08-10-2009, 01:49 AM
I wanted an interesting occupation for my next WIP and chose an opera singer (understudy, small parts, basically up-and-coming talent). Though the opera would only be used more as a setting, I wondered if anyone had experiences with such theaters.

Are there small, independent opera companies, and do they offer some form of contract or salary for a singer? Could she support herself on said salary? Do opera companies travel, or are they fixed in a particular theater/house? Are companies dependent on investors? Are there profound differences between an opera company and a theater company (beyond the choice of production)? Not sure what else to ask, but any additional info is helpful.

Thanks all!

08-10-2009, 10:08 AM
I'll try to provide a bit of feedback, since I am friends with professional singers, operatic and otherwise, and I have a particular fondness for opera.

There likely are small, indie companies, but I am not familiar with them. Same with traveling companies. Full production of an opera is not a small undertaking, what with the need for large casts, expensive, heavy and space consuming costumes, extensive lighting and sets, orchestras, etc. I've seen revues where several of the more successful members of a company might perform favorite selections without the full production. I've also seen opera companies take their acts to parks or outlying areas to the main urban home, but these are never full productions and are often done in the summer months (off-season).

Unless you are a primary/star/diva in a major opera, you might have a hard time living off your singing. Some opera singers make millions but, like writers, the majority do not. And those that are making that much are not making it off of their company salary. They are making it from recordings and special engagements. One professional opera singer I know is a high school choir teacher and gives private voice lessons. Another is an accountant. Another is married to an international businessman and uses her "income" to get her nails done. Because that's about all it pays for.

Opera companies are absolutely, 100% dependent on financial contributors. But they aren't the same thing as investors. Companies and individuals donate/purchase advertising rights or simply give because they love opera and know the art form needs the money. There are also government funds for opera companies. Ticket sales do not cover the cost of productions. Take a look at your program next time you go. Those ads are paid for. Oh, and somewhere in the lobby there will be plaques or tiles or statues or something with people's names on them. All purchased. There are "circles" for those who donate - and their names are listed in the programs. Don't forget the name of the opera house. It just might be the name of a local company who paid millions for the naming rights. Operas nowadays are sometimes written as one act pieces or use smaller orchestras because of the dwindling funds available to support full productions.

Profound differences? Yes. Opera is HIGHLY specialized. You do not sing opera without specific training. Don't get me wrong - good acting takes training, too - but singing opera is not the same as "having a good voice." It really takes stamina and practice and natural born talent and weight lifting, but for your vocal cords. Singers sing 2-3 hours a day, minimum. The scores and librettos for opera are far more complex than for musical theatre. I've seen people try out for - and get a role in - a theatre or musical without formal training. Certainly not Broadway or anything like that, but this simply does not happen with opera. Also, many theatre companies operate on a shoestring budget and perform in small houses with small casts and small audiences. Opera cannot be supported that way. It costs too much money to produce.

Make sure your character has formal training or it won't be believable. You can study opera in college or in music schools. Private lessons are common. Europe is the ultimate for opera, but South America (believe it or not) is not far behind. Many of today's great talents come out of Brazil. The programs in those places are very advanced, and children begin training early on. Also, opera singers must study languages. More than one or two. Absolutely Italian, but also French, German and English (if not a first language).

As for being an understudy, not all divas are "divas." I've met the classical high needs divas, but most of the opera singers I know are lovely people with a genuine passion for the art. They will sing on cue, sing for children, sing to make you laugh. They just love to sing. And act. And wear fifty pound costumes. So your character might study under someone with a flair for diva-ness, or she might have a very humble person to study under. Small parts means your character will sing in the chorus. A villager, perhaps. That sort of thing.

Hope that's a good start for you!

08-10-2009, 03:30 PM
Wow! Thank you so much! This helps a ton!

08-10-2009, 04:02 PM
Let me just toss this in here:

Well-established opera companies and regional/summer stock theaters do offer apprenticeships and internships to young, up-and-coming talent. In exchange for doing technical work with the company and choral/ensemble work, these young performers are given lessons, housing, food, a stipend and the opportunity to audition for larger roles in the productions. Therefore, it is just possible for a young opera singer to support themselves in this type of atmosphere.