Working in Germany: Finding the right opera house and repertoire for you

By Audition Oracle – Thu 28 Apr 2022 @ 9:00

Soprano Laura Curry joins us once more with her top tips for finding work in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Vienna State Opera

Working in Germany: Finding the right opera house and repertoire for you

So, you’ve completed Duolingo’s German course, researched post-Brexit visas and decided to book your Ryanair flight to Berlin… but what the heck do you next?

Germany is a haven for opera singers looking for jobs, and with over eighty dedicated theatres, it’s not hard to see why! 

So, where do I apply?

Just like in the UK, all chorus jobs are auditioned (which you can find on Audition Oracle). Solo opportunities will also be auditioned, however are more likely to be by internal invitation. Unlike England, Germany has a state-funded agency whose only job is to help find you work and it doesn’t cost the singers a penny! The Zentrale Auslands- und Fachvermittlung (or ZAV as everyone calls it!) have offices in several areas of Germany and help to guide singers to appropriate auditions for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They often know theatres and solo agents personally, and are very helpful with advice on where and what to sing. To audition for ZAV, simply write to the office in the area where you would like to live! The offices are all interconnected so even if you audition in Berlin, you may be offered something in Stuttgart!

Types of opera houses:

Unfortunately, just like London, Germany has a lot of excellent musicians living in the capital, and with only three full-time companies, competition for available jobs is fierce. It’s worth looking outside of Berlin and at smaller houses to start. The German theatre system (including Austrian and Swiss theatres) has a simple categorisation plan for Opera houses, which officially correlates to the size of the company, but unofficially how hard it is to get in! 
There are three categories of Opera house: A, B, C. 

A House

These are the biggest and traditionally the best! They attract international stars and can be the busiest houses. The chorus can be 120 with extra chorus and the orchestras are large eough to routinely perform Wagner and Verdi without extra staff. The ensemble can be made predominantly of guests with a few young artists and the guest-list can be extensive. These houses tend to be the oldest and most established and will share productions with other A houses allowing stars to fly between them and keep their same costume!
Examples: Think Deutsche Oper, Wiener Staatsoper, Opernhaus Zürich 

B House

The next size houses are normally in cities, and can sometimes be the second theatre in town. They are a little smaller with up to 50 chorus members with extra chorus, however their ensembles tend to have less guests and more house singers. They don’t always have young artists, therefore allowing small roles to be sung by either house ensemble or chorus members. Productions are often new but can be shared and many have a second stage for chamber operas.
Examples: Oper Graz, Theater Bonn, Theater Freiburg

C House

If you prefer to work in small groups and enjoy interesting projects, (or even touring!) then a C house may be the right fit for you! They can have very small ensembles and chorus with one to a part. The quality is still professional and these theatres can work a lot with the city, giving you opportunities to improve your German quickly! These theatres tend to be in smaller towns but many are much more international than you’d think!
Examples: Theater Ulm, Landesbühne Sächsen, Theater Görlitz 
When applying for houses, it’s a good idea to consider the house categorisation, as this will give you some indication as to style. Theatres that sing a lot of Wagner will be looking for voices which are naturally bigger, whereas smaller theatres may perform more Baroque works. 
As well as the size, the location of a theatre can make a big difference to your life as a singer in Germany. You may be a perfect fit for a touring theatre, but if you don’t think you’d be happy in a tiny German town without an airport, the chances are you won’t stay too long… You can always leave a theatre for another, and many singers work at several places before finding their perfect fit.

So, what should I sing? 

In Germany, there is a big emphasis on singing in the correct ‘Fach’ for your voice. The best persons to decide what Fach you should settle on are, of course, your trusted teachers or coaches. The Fach system helps agents and houses assign you roles which you can sing now. They are very busy and it helps them to not need to re-audition singers continuously but simply offer roles in your voice Fach. The Fach categories can be broad however, and singers can very often find they fit in more than one… 
Annoyingly, not everyone will agree on what Fach they think you are, even in Germany, and it helps to feel confident you know yourself before starting to audition. I have known several singers argue their opinions successfully and have excellent careers, as well as some who felt pushed too far in the wrong Fach by their theatre. My personal advice here is to always sing a Fach lighter than you think and do it well! Sadly, nobody has time to hear you more than once, and if you sing a beautiful Susannah now, you can start working straight away – even if you may end up as a Countess!

To find open positions, check the Audition Oracle website!