Which Matters More: What You Sing or Where You Sing It?

By: Edna Landau

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Congratulations to soprano, Amy Oraftik, whose question below won Second Prize in The Ask Edna First Anniversary contest. Amy wins a free review of her press kit or website.

Dear Edna:

I am an opera singer who recently graduated from school. In my first year out, I had a variety of opportunities. I sang at a well-respected young artist program, sang in the chorus of a B level opera house and have been singing lead roles at very small/low budget opera companies. At every turn, I’ve had to decline one opportunity in order to pursue another. For example, to sing chorus I had to turn down outreach work with the young artist program and to do a lead role at a small house, I had to turn down a chorus opportunity that would have paid more. I know that what matters most is talent, but I’m just not sure what the best choices are to build a resume and a career. It’s exciting and fulfilling to have roles but the venues are anything but impressive; whereas the young artist programs and chorus positions I get are with opera companies that are impressive and pay more, even though I don’t get to be a featured singer. My question is this: When casting directors and agents consider engaging an artist, do they care more about what the artist has performed or where they performed it? —Amy Oraftik

Dear Amy:

It is actually a bit hard to answer your question in a vacuum without knowing more about your overall career aspirations and financial realities. If your dream is to be a “featured singer” and you have reason to think that you will achieve that some day, based on feedback from your teachers and other professionals who know your work, it probably makes sense for you to go on singing lead roles, even in smaller houses, in order to build your repertoire and gain experience in those roles. Working in a young artist program can also prove beneficial, as many such programs are watched by agents and casting directors, provided that they are at a certain level. If your financial situation is such that you need to do chorus work from time to time to make ends meet, perhaps you can fit that in whenever possible.

To answer the question in your last sentence, agents and casting directors are definitely influenced by where you have sung. If your experience has only been in small companies and there is no evidence that you are advancing to new levels or attracting the attention of their colleagues, they are unlikely to make offers to you. This could well prove frustrating to you after a while and have a significant impact on your income. If you truly enjoy chorus work and feel that you could be very satisfied with the potential income, as well as the opportunity to sing in high quality productions that you find inspiring, this might be an equally good option for you. You might even find yourself singing alongside individuals who, at some point, enjoyed active careers as soloists. These are difficult economic times and everyone needs to find stability in their lives, especially if they have a family to support.

Soprano Laura Claycomb has a very interesting and informative blog on which she offers career advice in the “Young Artist Corner”. A recent column, written by bass, Martin L. Poock, shared the rewards of being a professional chorister. It sounds to me like Mr. Poock found himself in a situation exactly like yours at one point. He writes very honestly about his past quandaries and how he resolved them. While his decisions will not necessarily dictate your own, I think you will find it beneficial to read what he has written. All the very best of luck to you!

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

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