The State of Opera


This thread is to discuss the current state of opera in the United States and worldwide. And also, anything else to do with opera.

I’ve never seen a live opera. I’ve caught a couple on PBS on occasion, but somehow I don’t think that’s quite the same thing. It’s just that they don’t come along through central Illinois very often, and Chicago and St. Louis doesn’t have them very often, either. I’d love to see one, though.

Scout :tiphat:


What do you mean they don’t have them often. Here is the largest (as far as I know) opera company in Chicago - Lyric Opera of Chicago
Saint Louis also has an opera company, but not as large as the one in Chicago.

Thanks JMJ_coder, for directing me to this. :thumbsup:

Speaking as a young, emerging professional opera singer, I can say it is still very competitive. I’ve heard some older singers say it is even more competitive than ever before because there are apparently more people getting into it and many more superficial requirements that previous generations of singers didn’t have to go through.

When my teachers (now in their late 60s) were starting out, the only way to really jumpstart their careers was to go to Europe - mainly Germany as that country was very open to singers, especially American singers. American singers were apparently the hardest workers. They would work when others would call out sick. There used to be a rule over there that women could take off from work during their time of the month. My former teacher told me that she and her other female American colleagues never took advantage of that rule, so the opera houses loved them for it. It was also easier as a upcoming singer to get what was a called a Beginner’s Contract at the smaller opera houses. When the Berlin Wall came down and communism fell, though, things changed as singers from Eastern Europe flooded the opera houses.

But things changed in the US as well. There are many more opera companies in the US - small and large - and many have Young Artists and Resident Artist Programs, which wasn’t the case 15-20 years ago. There are also many training and finishing programs in the US and Europe where young singers who have already finished conservatory, college or private training can polish their techniques and performing skills through private lessons/coaching, master classes and performances.

There is also the Chicago Opera Theater and a few other smaller opera theaters around. You could probably do a Google search and find many smaller companies. They sometimes can’t put on the grand scale sets, or full orchestras, but you can still get to see some opera at affordable prices. Only problem is that along with hearing some wonderful young voices at these smaller companies, you can hear some so-so and sometimes bad voices.


Sarabande, what operas have you been in, and what were your roles? Every sing at the Met?

We had season tickets at the NY City Opera for 20 years. You always got a workmanlike performance, and at one point it was about the price of a movie (we sat in the nosebleed section).

Lately the hassle of getting to the City and the expense have soured the experience. This is the first season we have not been regulars.

They have some great Handel, using countertenors, and they do clever staging.

Here is something that my friends, teachers and colleagues are often discussing with the state of opera today:

The overabundance of cookie-cutter voices. Too many voices sound alike today. There was a time when you can listen on the radio or the record and without knowing who was performing, you can say, “Oh, it’s Sutherland!”, “Caballe”, “Moffo”, “Callas”, “Te Kanewa”, etc.

You can find voices today that sound all it’s own, but it’s few and far between. It seems as if everyone is trying to sound pretty and polite. They don’t surrender themselves to the music, to their bodies and to God when they sing anymore. You don’t hear the character and uniqueness of the voice because singers and/or their teachers appear too afraid to sing like a peasant. The great singers of the past sang like peasants. They weren’t afraid to take chances, make mistakes, make themselves raw and open for everyone to see and hear. It takes a lot of guts to get out from behind the pretty and princess-like voice. It doesn’t matter if you are a soubrette or a dramatic. Every kind of voice, if totally surrendered to the spiritual realm of God, can show a unique quality and presence.

The other problem, too, is that the people hiring are afraid to take the chance on those open singers as well because they are so used to the polite singer and afraid that maybe they won’t get as many people coming to the box office if they do take that chance.


My favorite opera is Tosca.
My favorite composer is Puccini.
My two favorite tenors are 1. Placido Domingo and 2. Jose Carreras.
My favorite low voice (in this case bass) is Ivan Rebroff.
I don’t have a single favorite soprano, but I was taken by Leona Mitchell’s performance in Turandot and Hildegard Behrens’ performance in Tosca (particularly Vissi d’arte and Questo è il bacio di Tosca)


Another question I have for you Sarabande - when rehearsing for an opera, do you have music and lyrics to look at? My only experience of the actual preparation of an opera comes from “The Great Caruso” and they just got up and just knew their parts for rehearsal.

Hey there! I’m still young and working my way up. Never sang at the Met - Yet! :smiley: I’m still in the small opera houses with the tiny orchestras, but I’m making money at it - not much, but I can say that I’m a professional now. I just saw Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met with my teacher. My teacher used to be a lead singer there during the 70s and 80s. She is an excellent teacher and not easy with the compliments. I trust her completely. But she told me this past Saturday that I was just as good and my voice quality even better than the woman who sang Cherubino that evening (and that woman was very good - I enjoyed her immensely). I just need to get more stage experience and a little luck to get me in the door. I almost cried when I heard that - like I said, she’s not easy on the compliments like that. That meant a lot to me as I’m very hard on myself and have gone through quite a lot of emotional and mental turmoil to get to the point where I am now.

It’s a difficult road traverse, but I’m determined, realistic, and always keep my heart and soul focused on the love of the art itself, humility and especially on God. Both of my teachers always preached humility and spirituality to me within my singing. They always said we wouldn’t be there without Him, so no reason to get all puffed up about ourselves. :stuck_out_tongue: He can take it away just as easily as He gave it to us. Also, when you give love as you sing and when you work with your colleagues and listen to your colleagues, a special, sincere beauty comes out of the voice. We’ve all heard it with various singers - past and present. It makes no sense to be competitive with your colleagues - at least to me. The better the other singer, the better we all sing as a group.

I’m a lyric mezzo, so I do a lot of the pants roles which are fun. My repertoire includes Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro)
Siebel (Faust), Angelina (La Cenerentola), Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Mercedes (Carmen - not vocally mature enough for the main role - Mercedes is a lot of fun actually - great ensemble works), Zweite Dame (Die Zauberflote), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Dorabella (Cosi fan Tutte).

Well, when I go in for actual stage rehearsals, I believe it is right for me to have my part totally memorized. I also try to have the other parts within my scene memorized as well. I think it would be disrespectful of me to my other colleagues to not have my part memorized for staging. Of course, there may be times when you forget words, entrance, etc., but that should be few and far between. In the smaller houses, you do get people who are not as prepared and it wastes tons of time and very unfair to the rest of the singers who are prepared.

When coaching a role, I will have my music with me to make sure I’m doing things right and to write notes, etc.

The other bad thing about not having your music and words memorized for the rehearsals is that you can’t truly really make that role your own and play around with it. When off score, it’s when you can create the art and the magic and have lots of fun doing it!!! :smiley:

Wow! I am REALLY impressed! Even if I had a voice (and believe me: I DON’T, I would never have the guts to pursue a career in such a – um – unstable? field! You are heroic.

Favorite opera: Tannauser. But about a dozen come in second.

Lohengrin, Meistersinger, Tosca, Cosi fan Tutte, did I mention Tosca? Marta, Parsifal, Tosca . . . Fanciulla del West, Tosca, Rheingold, Tosca

NOT Wozzeck (gag). Lose Lulu.

Thanks! :wink: Yeah, I think I’m a bit crazy. You have to be a little crazy to pursue any of the arts. haha! It is a little scary sometimes. There are months where I get lots of gigs and have no weekends off and that great, albeit very stressful. But then there are months that there is nothing at all. It is the reason why I have a steady church job as a cantor (Yes, I actually get a little pay for cantoring at a Catholic parish no less) and I work between 10-15 hrs a week at a “normal” job for some sort of steady income. The great thing about that is my boss knows I’m pursuing a full-time career in opera and concert repertoire, so he lets me make my hours. I come in when I want and when I need to in between rehearsals, lessons, performances, gigs. I can’t stand my job in one way, but very thankful that my boss is understanding and supportive of my real career. I actually spend more time singing than working, which has been my goal for the past 5 years. I started out working three jobs, seven days a week while I was studying and auditioning to now just one non-music job three days a week with the rest of the time dedicated to gigs, music, practice and rehearsals.

Like I said, a long haul. I’ve been studying voice since I was 13 1/2and really took it seriously at 18. Studied music/piano since I was 4 years old. Lots of money, time, love and tears have gone into it and I’m starting to see results. I can’t give up now.

Of COURSE you can’t give up now. And I hope that Catholic parish pays you what you’re worth. People always want to stiff the musicians – after all, my cousin has a pretty good voice and would do it for free, so why should we shell out all that money for a professional singer?

Here are some of my fave operas:

Der Rosenkavalier (That trio at the end is to die for. I’m starting to cry just thinking about it.)
La Traviata
La Boheme
La Cenerentola
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Lucia di Lammermoor
Dinorah - Meyerbeer
ANY MOZART OPERA - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Mozart operas. Did I mention that I love Mozart operas?

I do like Wagner, but only in doses. He has some of the most beautiful, sublime music, but I need to be physically ready to sit through hours of good music to hear those periods of heaven within it. :slight_smile:

Ever hear Margaret Price do Wagner? Gorgeous!!!

Well, the state of opera here in San Francisco is that it is alive and flourishing. We have our main company, the San Francisco Opera, and then a few smaller companies, like San Francisco Lyric Opera and Pocket Opera. This has always been a very opera-loving town with a knowledgeable and appreciative audience, and many big opera stars would come here to perform quite often even though they could make much higher fees elsewhere; singers like Pavarotti, Domingo, Leonie Rysanek, Frederica von Stade, Gwyneth Jones and many others. Currently Thomas Hampson is starring in Verdi’s Macbeth; I didn’t get a chance to see it.

My favorite operas? Well, it’s an eclectic lot, but here goes:

Gluck: Orphee; Iphigenie en Tauride
Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria; L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Handel: Giulio Cesare; Alcina; Rinaldo
Telemann: Pimpinone
Rameau: Les Paladins; Hippolyte et Aricie; Pygmalion
Gretry: L’ amant jaloux
Cimarosa: Il matrimonio segreto
Haydn: La fedelta premiata; Il mondo della luna
Mozart: Mitridate; Lucio Silla; La finta giardiniera; Idomeneo; Don Giovanni; Die Zauberflote; Il re pastore; Der Schauspieldirektor; Lo sposo deluso; La clemenza di Tito; Marriage of Figaro
Rossini: Semiramide; La Cenerentola; Il barbiere di Siviglia
Bellini: Norma; I capuleti e i Montecchi; I puritani
Donizetti: Anna Bolena; Lucia di Lammermoor; Maria Stuarda; Roberto Devereux
Meyerbeer: Les huguenots; Le prophete
Wagner: Lohengrin; Meistersinger; Tristan und Isolde; The Ring; Parsifal
Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel; Die Konigskinder
Offenbach: Les contes d’Hoffmann; La perichole(operetta)
Charpentier: Louise
Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande
Verdi: Oberto; Alzira; Les vepres siciliennes; Attila; Rigoletto; La traviata; Il trovatore; Aida; Don Carlos; Otello; Falstaff
Puccini: Tosca; La boheme; Il trittico; Turandot
Respighi: La fiamma
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Wiener Blut; Die Fledermaus; Der Zigeunerbaron
Richard Strauss: Salome; Elektra; Die Frau ohne Schatten; Ariadne auf Naxos; Capriccio; Rosenkavalier
Berg: Wozzeck
Moore: The Ballad of Baby Doe
Birtwistle: Punch and Judy
Reimann: Lear
Janacek: Katya Kabanova; The Makropulos Case; Jenufa
Smetana: The Bartered Bride

Just the tip of the iceberg; I have many more favorites, but I didn’t want the post to get any longer! :wink:

You named so many good ones!!! :thumbsup: It truly is hard to name all of the ones you love.

You mentioned “Iphigenie en Tauride” and Placido Domingo. I’m seeing that with Placido Domingo and Susan Graham at the Met in a couple of weeks. I’m soooooooo excited!!! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get tickets, but I got three in the nosebleed section. I never heard Domingo live before nor ever heard that opera before. I feel like a little kid going to see Santa Claus or something like it.

And speaking of San Francisco Opera, my teacher sang L’Africaine as Inez with Domingo and Shirley Verrett at the SFO many moons ago. I have this great photo of them on stage together. I hear it’s a wonderful opera house.

It is outstanding in Houston. I was a subscriber for many years and the HGO is world class. on of my greatest Opera Moments was seeing Cecilia Bartoli perform when she was still young and realtively unknown.

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