Eliana

“The staging was fantastic, but that tenor was horrendous!” says one operagoer to another as  they exit the show. These murmurs of disappointment  wouldn’t be especially surprising overheard at a local community theatre.  But what about at the Met, La Scala or Chicago Lyric?

Lately, more and more operagoers are gripping about how one particularly atrocious singer ruined the whole show for them. But why would so many A-list houses have this same issue?

As it turns out, major opera houses do not run auditions just like everywhere else. Smaller houses hold  huge auditions at the end of the season to cast the roles for the next. Major opera houses, however, might cast their lead roles half a decade in advance and often do not hold auditions. (I wonder when the last time Netrebko auditioned for something was.)

This strategy is lucrative for the well-established, well-managed singers, yet has hurt the careers of so many others. I believe that  this concept of “advanced casting”  is directly ruining the experience of opera for so many.

Casting used to look differently. In the 1960’s, Rudolph Bing would wait until the spring tour of a season to cast the next one. Now casting is done with the same haste but it occurs years in advance. Opera houses scramble to book a shrinking pool of “world class” singers three, four or five years before the designated season. Meanwhile, the “not so world class but damned fine” singers are hung out to dry. It seems that the only way to make a big debut at many of these houses would be to land an understudy gig and step in at the last minute for the ailing superstar.

Now, a lot can happen in those 2-5 years. A singer could develop nodes, they could have a baby, they could overbook themselves. . . and the list goes on. The issue is that now, a singer can overbook themselves, show up in less than stellar form, and it is increasingly hard to fire them. The contracts have become bulletproof. Even if the whole show sags because of someones performance, the only way to nix them and pull in a ringer is to pay out the original singers contract AND pay the new artist’s fees.

So, instead of firing them, the show just goes on, much to the chagrin of the people who paid hundreds for their seats.

Now that doesn’t seem fair. . . Does it? 

Mike

Advance Casting is Killing Opera

“The staging was fantastic, but that tenor was horrendous!” This is something that is now commonplace to overhear at the opera.

This wouldn’t be surprising if it were happening at your local community theatre. . . but it isn’t. It’s happening at the Met, La Scala, Chicago Lyric. Why would so many A-list houses have this same issue? Is there some commonality that someone might identify? Turns out, there is!

One might think that major opera houses run auditions just like everywhere else: at the end of the last season, there are huge auditions and all the roles for next season are filled from that pool. Right? Wrong.

Many opera houses contract their lead roles years in advance, and lots of times there is no audition. (I wonder when the last time Netrebko actually auditioned for something.) Some bigger houses cast half a decade in advance. A lot can happen in those 2-5 years. A singer could develop nodes, they could have a baby, they could overbook themself. . . and the list goes on.

This strategy is lucrative for the well-established, well-managed singers, but not so well for the majority of others. I assert that this concept of “advanced casting” is what is ruining the experience of opera for so many.

As late as the 1960’s Rudolph Bing used to plan the next season of the Met as he was on the spring tour for the last season. His pool of talent was smaller and more local. He didn’t have the luxury of pulling in the big shot tenor from the Ukraine. In those days, operatic casting was more fluid. If a singer couldn’t perform, they got fired. Point blank.

Now, opera houses scramble to book a shriveling pool of “world class” singers three, four, or five years in advance. These are the singers that are so famous that they dictate the terms of their contract, and those terms are tight. Meanwhile, the “not so world class but damned fine” singers are hung out to dry. The only way to make your big debut at many of these houses is to land an understudy gig and step in at the last minute for the ailing superstar.

The issue is that now, a superstar singer can overbook themselves, show up in less than stellar form, and it is increasingly hard to fire them. The contracts have become bulletproof. Even if the whole show sags because of their performance, the only way to nix them and pull in a ringer is to pay out the original singers contract AND pay the new artist’s fees.

So, instead of firing them, the show just goes on, much to the chagrin of the rest of the cast and the beleaguered audience. In this flawed system, the hard working “middle class” of singers aren’t afforded their fair chance at fame, and the audience leaves in a huff, feeling used.

And the superstar moves on. . . absolutely oblivious.

Nora

Lately, more and more operagoers are gripping about how one particularly atrocious singer ruined the whole show for them. It is becoming commonplace to hear, “The staging was fantastic, but that tenor was horrendous!”

This is something that wouldn’t be surprising if it were happening at your local community theatre. . . but it isn’t. It’s happening at the Met, La Scala, Chicago Lyric. It turns out many of the A-list houses have a similar casting protocol.

Many opera houses contract their lead roles years in advance, and lots of times without an audition. (I wonder when the last time Netrebko auditioned for something was.) Some bigger houses cast half a decade in advance. This strategy is lucrative for the well-established, well-managed singers, but not so well for the majority of others. My theory is that this concept of “advanced casting” is what is ruining the experience of opera for so many.

In the 1960’s Rudolph Bing used to plan the next season of the Met as he was on the spring tour for the last season. Now that the pool of “world class singers” is shrinking, opera houses are scrambling to book the stars three, four or five years in advance. Meanwhile, the “not so world class but damned fine” singers are hung out to dry. The only way to make your big debut at many of these houses is to land an understudy gig and step in at the last minute for the ailing superstar.

The problem is twofold. While René Flemming can have a baby, strain her voice and still overbook, the up- and-coming soprano doesn’t even get a shot. Even if the whole show sags because of Flemming’s performance, the only way to nix her and put in a ringer is to pay out Flemming’s contract AND pay the new artist’s fees. The contracts have become bulletproof.

So, instead of firing them, the show just goes on, much to the chagrin of the people who paid hundreds for their seats.

Now that doesn’t seem fair. . . Does it? 

Remy

Advance Casting is Murdering Opera

Lately, more and more operagoers are gripping about how one particularly atrocious singer ruined the whole show for them. “The staging was fantastic, but that tenor was horrendous!,” audience members everywhere are saying.

This wouldn’t be surprising if it were only happening at your local community theatre. But it isn’t. It’s happening at the Met, La Scala, Chicago Lyric. Why would so many A-list houses have this same issue? Is there some commonality between these venues? Turns out there is!

You might think that major opera houses run auditions just like every other house. At the end of last season, there were auditions and all the roles for the next season are filled from that pool. Right? Wrong.

Instead of regular auditions, many opera houses contract their lead roles years in advance. (I wonder when Netrebko last auditioned for something.) Some houses cast half a decade ahead of schedule. This strategy is lucrative for the well-established, well-managed singers, but not for the others. My theory is that this concept of “advanced casting” is ruining audiences’ operatic experiences.

Now, a lot can happen in those interim years. A singer could develop nodes, they could have a baby, they could overbook themselves. . . the list goes on. A singer can overstrain themselves and show up in less than stellar form; it is increasingly hard to fire them. The contracts have become bulletproof. Even if the whole show sags because of an overbooked artist’s performance, the only way to replace them is to buy out the original contract AND pay the new singer’s fee.

In the past, even as late as the 1960’s, Rudolf Bing used to plan the next season of the Met as he was on the spring tour for the previous season, hiring the best of whomever was available at the time. Now, houses scramble to book a shrinking pool of “world class” singers three, four or five years in advance. Meanwhile, this strategy hangs the “not so world class but damned fine” out to dry. The only way to make your big debut at many of these houses is to land an understudy gig and step in at the last minute for an ailing superstar.

Oftentimes, much to the chagrin of both rising stars and the people who paid hundreds for their tickets, the house will retain the original singer regardless of their capabilities. In short the art form is suffering from an overreliance on the often outdated status of lead singers, leaving both promising singers and fans in the cold.

Now that doesn’t seem economically feasible or even smart. . . Does it? 

Advanced Casting is Killing Opera

by Michael Davis

Lately, more and more operagoers are griping about how one particularly atrocious singer ruined the whole show for them. It is becoming commonplace to hear, “The staging was fantastic, but that tenor was horrendous!”

This is something that wouldn’t be surprising if it were happening at your local community theatre. . . but it isn’t. It’s happening at venues like the Met, La Scala, and Chicago Lyric. Why would so many A-list houses have this issue? Is there some commonality between them that someone might identify? Turns out, there is!
One might think that major opera houses run auditions just like everywhere else: at the end of the last season of the year, there are huge auditions and all the roles for next season are filled from that pool. Right? Wrong.

Many opera houses contract the singers for their lead roles years in advance with an audition. (When was the last time Netrebko auditioned for something?). Some bigger houses cast half a decade in advance. Advanced casting is lucrative for the well-established, well-managed singers, but doesn’t work so well for the majority of others. Now that opera houses book a shrinking pool of “world-class” singers three, four or five years in advance, the “not so world class but still damned fine” singers are hung out to dry. The only way to make your big debut at many of these houses is to land an understudy gig and step in at the last minute for the ailing superstar.

As well as making it impossible for new singers to get a chance to break out, advanced casting doesn’t even guarantee a good performance. A lot can happen in those two to five years. A singer could develop nodes, have a baby, overbook themselves. . . the list goes on. And when a star’s performance threatens to tank the show, a house can’t even fire them without having to pay their fee, as well as the fee for their replacement.

So, instead of firing them, the show just goes on. The superstar gives a horrible performance, much to the chagrin of the people who paid hundreds for their seats.

Julia

“The staging was fantastic, but that tenor was horrendous!” Lately you hear more operagoers gripe like this about how one particularly atrocious singer ruined the whole show for them. These horrendous singers are ruining the opera experience, and “advanced casting” is to blame.

A-list houses like the Met, La Scala, Chicago Lyric experience this criticism on a regular basis. Why do so many A-list houses have this same issue? Is there some commonality that someone could identify? Turns out, there is!

You might think that major opera houses run annual auditions like theater companies or smaller opera houses. At the end of a season, houses hold auditions and all the roles for next season are filled from that pool. Right? Wrong.

Many opera houses contract their lead roles years in advance without an audition. (I wonder when Netrebko last auditioned for a role?) Larger houses cast half a decade in advance. This strategy is only lucrative for the well-established and well-managed singers.

In the 60’s Rudolph Bing planned the next season of the Met while on tour with the previous season; just a few months in advance of the new season. Now, opera houses scramble to book a dwindling pool of “world class” singers years in advance. Meanwhile, the “not so world class but damned fine” singers hang out to dry. The only way to make a big debut at many of these houses is to land an understudy gig and step in at the last minute for the ailing superstar.

Now, a lot can happen in those 2-5 years. The issue at hand is, a singer can overbook herself, show up in less than stellar form, and it is increasingly hard to fire them.

The contracts are bulletproof. Even if the whole show sags because of a singular performance of a world-class star the opera house loses lump sums of money if the star gets fired. The only way to nix the star and pull in a ringer is to pay out the original singers contract AND pay the new artist’s fees.

So, instead of firing the stars, the show just goes on, much to the chagrin of the people who paid hundreds for their seats.

Now that doesn’t seem fair. . . Does it?