Bleak Prospects for Opera Singers

The Bertelsmann Foundation introduced this week its study about career aspects for young singers in Germany. The motivation for the study is simple – the Bertelsmann Foundation is behind the Neue Stimmen competition for singers, one of the most prestigious competitions for voice. They have realized that even for their price winners life is tough out there in the real world.

The study published in a nice book titled “Opernsänger mit Zukunft!” – they probably doubt that female singers have a future – does not reveal any big news. As many studies have shown before, only a few singers having studied for many years and graduated make a career and make a decent earning from it. The estimated average annual income for freelance singers in Germany for 2016 is around EUR 10,000. Yes, that is the yearly and not the monthly average income. And that is actually below the poverty threshold in Germany.

This is in line with other studies. We recommend the alumni study of the music universities in Baden-Würtemberg. This study goes into significantly more detail and shows that 25% of the alumni of the respective music universities make less than EUR 10,000 per year 2 to 7 years after graduation. 55% earn less than EUR 20,000.

These numbers are alarming, but they are not new. The statement in the Bertelsmann study citing too many singers studying, the increase from foreign singers on the German market, and the shrinking fixed contracts at theatres are known by most people in the business.

The study has some recommendations. The first recommendation is to entice singers into choirs as there are better job chances. Another one is related to free opera groups.

What surprises us is the micro-focus on opera and Germany. First most musicians – including singers – have portfolio careers today, comprising of sometimes fixed contracts, guesting in opera houses, concerts, teaching, etc. Secondly the music market, including opera, is an international one. Even though Germany is a desirable market because of its theatre density, there are opportunities elsewhere, too.

The study by such a prominent sponsor will hopefully raise the awareness for an important issue. Furthermore, we hope that the study will initiate change on all levels, music universities, opera houses, singers, teachers, politicians, but also the general audience. We believe that important foundations like the Bertelsmann Foundation can not only present a study about an important issue but could actually lead by example and do something concrete, such as create a career management institute for musicians of all universities. Waiting for state-run universities to change will not help a whole generation of highly talented young musicians.

P.S.: And here is a link to another discussion about career opportunities for musicians held at the Music University in Karlsruhe. The discussion is in German and was recorded during the Rising Stars Festival of the Music Universities Freiburg, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart made possible by a donation from the Sparda-Bank Baden-Würtemberg. On the panel where former bassoonist Hannah Bregler, who is now in the programming department of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, pianist Magdalena Cerezo Falces, and the Dean of the Music University Stuttgart, Dr. Regula Rapp. Bernhard Kerres moderated the panel discussion.
Link to the “Karriere heute” panel discussion

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