Photo credit: Frances Marshall
We were delighted to attend Nina Brazier’s enlightening talk about Working in Germany at Opera Prelude’s annual conference and professional development day, OperaWorks. Nina is a Staff Director at Oper Frankfurt where she will direct Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba in the 23/24 season, with other venue credits including Kings Place London, 92nd St Y New York, Royal Festival Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, MuTh Vienna, Ryedale Festival Opera, Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, and so the list goes on. Nina is also the Curator and Host of OperaVision’s Next Generation podcast
1/3 of the world’s opera is produced in Germany
It was the lack of opportunities in the UK that prompted Nina’s (pre-Brexit) move to Germany, and reading in an article in The New York Times article noting that 1/3 of the world’s opera is produced in Germany. The first and perhaps most obvious challenge of such a move is the language, however, before leaving Nina completed two beginner courses at the Goethe Institute in London (A1.1 and A1.2), and advises that German courses are often cheaper here in England, than once you arrive in Germany. She advises that the more you can do beforehand, the better. A good starting point is to learn to introduce yourself and your audition arias in German. B1 is a great starting point for anyone pursuing a backstage job, however, singers can start with a lower level of German and improve on the job.
Differences between working in opera in the United Kingdom and Germany
Nina advises there are many differences between working in England and Germany. Perhaps the largest difference is that opera is more heavily state-funded in Germany and an enormous part of their cultural landscape. Nina recalls finding the German attitude to opera so refreshing and appreciative! But before you have got the work itself, it is all about auditioning. Nina advises to try and organise an audition tour if your budget allows, calling agents and letting them know that you are available either to sing for them, or to have a meeting. In German auditions, the panel will of course be interested in your voice, language and performance, but unexpectedly they will also be interested in the practicalities of you undertaking the position. “How do you intend to make it work?” “Will you be taking an apartment in the city?” and/or “Will you be commuting?” are all questions you can expect to be asked. She also advises to consider looking at smaller houses; it is certainly possible for singers to start off in smaller houses and to work their way up to a B or an A house.
An observership or internship as a route into directing opera
Nina’s first job in Germany was as a ‘Hospitantin’, which is an unpaid observership or internship. These are quite common in Germany as there are many German houses and plenty of work to do. She advises you will be busy even in an unpaid position, and it was undertaking this role that directly led to her job at Oper Frankfurt. When you have secured a role in Germany, there are a few elements of the production which you can expect to be different. Whilst a revival in the UK might be assigned three weeks, in Germany they will take as little as eight days and two weeks at most. Following from this, costumes and props will come later in the process than in the UK, so a singer will need to adapt to a wig or an original prop much quicker as there will be less time to rehearse with it in situ, and technical elements of the set are often ready later than one might expect. Also, when rehearsing, there is a period of at least four hours of silent time (‘Ruhezeit’) between the rehearsals, so you may find yourself living on a very different time frame to if you were doing the same role in England. It is perhaps this unique time frame that makes the opera house become your working life as well as your social life, but (with a positive spin) the opera house and your colleagues will become like a second family.
Speaking of family, another practical and big difference between the UK and Germany is when it comes to childcare, (‘Kinderbetreuung’), which is for the most part state-funded in Germany, therefore much cheaper and more financially feasible than in the UK, particularly in comparison to London.
Young Artists Programmes
Nina imparted some specific advice tailored to those considering Young Artist Programmes in Germany, and notes that large international competitions can be a good way to be heard, as well as the formal application process. Young Artists and Ensemble members are often asked to ‘Einspringen’ which we would refer to as a jump-in, especially if you have sung a role before. Nina advises you to think carefully before accepting the challenge, and to communicate your abilities and any needs concisely and clearly.
Of course, one of the largest talking points was Brexit, however, Nina would argue that Oper Frankfurt is no less willing to employ Brits than it was pre-Brexit, and therefore Brits should not feel discouraged. Brits are now required to do what American citizens have faced this entire time, and there are many US citizens working in Germany, so there is proof it is possible. However, if you do have access to an EU passport, then Nina urges you to get it, as it will make the process much simpler. For those who unfortunately aren’t entitled to an EU passport, learn the 90/180-day rule and make sure to count your days. There are also options for a Visa which allows you to look for work for 6 months once your contract is at an end, or as a new jobseeker with specific vocational qualifications.
is a great place to find out about singing jobs in Germany, simply register your free basic account and click ‘Auditions’ at the top of the page, filter by country and start searching. Looking for off-stage opportunities? Another great resource more on the theatre and musicals side is https://www.theapolis.de/