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My German Career
'The artistic atmosphere is different in Germany'
Photo: Private

'The artistic atmosphere is different in Germany'

Published: 27 Mar 2013 06:13 CET

The 32-year-old American tenor had already worked at several prominent opera houses in the United States before he made a conscious choice to audition for a position to Germany.

Where are you located and what do you do?

I live in Hannover, Lower Saxony, and I am an Ensemble Singer with the Staatsoper Hannover. I sing various roles within a particular vocal and character range throughout Staatsoper Hannover’s ten-month season.

What brought you to Germany and how long have you been here?

I was interested in getting my foot in the door of the European opera scene, and was lucky enough to be offered a position as a tenor in the ensemble at the Hannover Staatsoper. I have been happily working in Hannover since September 2011.

How did you land your job and do you have tips for anyone seeking similar work?

Oof, that can be a long story! There are full how-to books written for American/non-European singers trying to break into the European market. For me, I arranged auditions with agents in Germany before my initial trip in fall 2009, and after these auditions the agents arranged other auditions with opera houses in various German cities spanning multiple trips between fall 2009 and spring 2010.

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As for advice, I would say to prepare thoroughly for an audition trip, and to be realistic in one’s hopes and expectations- if you aren’t finding any real success in your home country, don’t expect to get something here just because “there are so many opera houses” (despite the fact that there actually are a lot of opera houses, per capita, compared to most other countries).

Is it important for you to be able to speak German in your position?

As part of our training, opera singers all learn a fair amount of German, Italian, and French, so I wasn’t a complete beginner when I arrived. The Opera House is a very international place, with lots of singers and dancers from the US, all over Europe, Asia, and Australia, so they are very understanding about those of us who are still learning the language. They know we are trying!

For performing it is a little bit different, as the focus is on absolutely perfect diction, be it in German, French, Italian, Russian, or any other language. Beyond the requisite correct word pronunciation, one should know the more general sound of the language, how stresses fall in phrases and sentences, etc. Comprehension is therefore very important here, but it requires language skills more similar to translating documents than to conversational usage.

What are the key differences practising your profession here and your home country?

In the United States, opera singers typically spend 6+ months of the year on the road, doing shows at different opera houses across the country. In Germany, the opera houses are repertory theatres, and a group of singers is employed year-round at a single opera house. Although a singer can work as a guest singer here, working on the road similar to American singers.

What are the best and worst parts about working in Germany?

The best part about working in Germany is getting to perform with my outstanding colleagues at the Staatsoper Hannover. The artistic atmosphere is very different in Germany than in the United States. German opera is much more experimental, and they are not afraid to push the envelope, which really tests a performer to see what they can do, in a good way.

The biggest challenge is acquainting myself with the German opera scene socially. The opera world is pretty small, so back in the US I was connected to most people I would meet by a common acquaintance or colleague, but not too many of those connections work here, so I have to build a network of friends and acquaintances again.

Do you plan on staying?

My wife and I adore Germany and Hannover, and we’ve made some really wonderful friends here. Although we miss our family back in the US, we would be more than happy to stay in Germany for a long time.

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