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News & Views
Working as an opera singer in Germany
Audition Oracle – Sun 27 Mar 2022 @ 0:01
Have you considered working in Germany?
- Soprano Laura Curry gives Audition Oracle the inside scoop
Have you thought about your pension? What about a job with your own desk? A job in a holiday destination? What if you could have all this AND still perform?
Perhaps then, it’s time to consider a full-time chorus job in Germany! (Or Austria or Switzerland).
When I was in music college, I never considered taking a full-time chorus position, mainly as I had no idea they existed, or how many benefits they provide! I diligently applied to all the Young Artist Studios and Summer Opera Festivals (even with success!), but I still found the need to have lots of non-performing jobs to make ends meet. After seeing an advert on Audition Oracle, I decided to take a chance and apply for a chorus job abroad. Four seasons and one pandemic later, I’m still working as a full-time chorus singer.
Like all jobs, there are pros and cons but, if you’ve been considering making the move to opera-loving Germany, keep reading…
For those with experience of UK summer chorus jobs, a German chorus is very similar, although with some fundamental differences:
- In German-speaking countries, chorus positions are mainly for a full season and will include European working benefits, such as health insurance, sick/holiday pay and pension.
- Most jobs begin in September and finish the following July, however there are shorter contracts available depending on whether the job is permanent or temporary.
- The standard working hours are 10:00 - 14:00 and 18:00 - 22:00, six days a week, however this varies with size of theatre and number of shows required.
- Chorus are predominantly needed for mainstage shows, but can also sing in orchestral concerts, city performances and local festivals. It’s not uncommon to boost your annual income with a summer stint in Bayreuth or Salzburg!
- Most theatres, outside of repertoire houses (or A house category), present approximately ten shows with chorus a year, each with eight-week rehearsal periods. The summer holidays are never less than a month and normally six to eight weeks, with the pay being either 13 or 14 months per annum (yay, double pay!). There are often opportunities for small solo roles within the theatre and additional pay for these!
So, what are the BIG differences in Germany?
- Say goodbye to paying for those private sessions and extra coachings, and get ready to be taught everything from scratch! Because the chorus positions are full-time, they will always schedule music rehearsals to help you learn the music, often far in advance of staging rehearsals, so you’re never asked to study outside of work hours. Sight-reading is a desirable skill for choristers, however good musicality will get you through, and even the most difficult music will be more than prepared by the first show! This was a big shock at first and I turned up to my first day being extremely over-prepared!
- There is a culture of only learning the chorus parts and the immediate cues instead of the whole show in-depth, as this allows theatres to have a speedy turnover of ready-prepped music. This culture does sometimes leave you on the edge of your seat anticipating when your next entry is, especially in a four-hour show and you’ve no idea when the cue is coming!
- In my first job, I was confused how such a busy theatre was always so empty, but I soon realised it was because of the split day working-pattern. The chorus are legally designated a set number of hours between rehearsals and performances, the afternoon ‘pause’. Often morning rehearsals will be music only and evenings more likely to be staging rehearsals or shows themselves. It takes a little adjusting, and I found, at first, it was difficult to find a rhythm. After a while though, they become quite normal and it can be very useful to do your supermarket shop at 2pm when it’s quiet! In the big cities, you will always find lots of opportunities in the afternoons for things like German classes, sport clubs and even sight-seeing! It seems like a lot at first, but often rehearsals are shorter or get cancelled altogether and you will always be allocated one day off a week in advance. The chorus can be a group between 16-120 and ages can range from 18-65! The average age for starting a full-time job is 30+ and at 27 I was classed as a baby!
What about the language?
Do I need to speak German fluently? This, I find difficult to answer. Originally, I had around A2 German when I auditioned. In big houses the feel is very international and it is not surprising to find people would rather speak English than German, however some theatres are specifically German speaking. I would always suggest, brushing up on the audition vocabulary to start with, and although German is known for being difficult, German-colleagues will always forgive your grammar if you make the effort to speak!
So what are the downsides?
- You will be limited to the school-timetable for holidays. During the season, it is difficult to predict when the chorus will be needed and asking for extra holiday is not always possible. In my experience, theatres will endeavour to be reasonable but if they need you to work a show, this will always take precedence. The payoff is that you get guaranteed time off in the summer and unlike the soloists, you will get your designated free days allocated months in advance!
- It can be very lonely moving abroad, especially with the language barrier. As English-speakers, you will always find a group of lovely expats, but to really integrate, having some local friends will increase your downtime enjoyment!
- Chorus positions can vary a lot from house to house and it can take some time to find the right fit. You may be a city-dweller but hate the speed of an A house, or love the countryside but be bored with a quiet theatre. If you enjoy consort singing and working in small groups, take a look at the regional theatres, who keep their employee numbers small but with no lowering of standard! If you love being busy, larger houses such as a Staatsoper or Landestheater in a major city will be a great fit. Big theatres attract opera’s biggest stars, but be warned, they can perform 300+ shows a year and most productions are revivals, with zero time for revival rehearsals, which may result in performing shows without ever having seen the set! Applying for extra-chorus and freelancing work is an excellent initial idea to get to know a theatre and these auditions normally take place all year round, just pick a theatre and start emailing!
With a theatre in practically every city, you can take your pick, as long as you’re willing to wait for a full-time job! They can be very rewarding and bring that balance between performing and stability. Many people stay in these jobs for years, and with such good benefits, it’s easy to understand why!
To find open positions, check the Audition Oracle website!
Laura now performs at the Tiroler Landestheater, to find out more about her work visit her Audition Oracle profile.