Thoughts and suggestions for young singers from Australia and New Zealand

updated 07.02.2024

Martin Cooke
Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera

Personal observations about the profession - What young singers should know about themselves -
Resident visas and work permits in Germany - Agents
The audition process - Health Tips during the audition period -
Suggested course of action for those planning German audition tour -

The importance of oratorio and related styles in the cultural life of Europe
Suggested basic repertoire
Which singers stand a better chance of making a career?
How old should you be to start auditioning for an operatic career?
Types of career possibilities in Europe
Opera Studio of the Bavarian State Opera & other international young artists programmes
Career as a chorister in a major "A" international house

Career as a chorister in a B, C & D house and Rundfunk Chor - Radio Choir
Preparation for life in an international opera house

Bavarian State Opera Munich

The requirements for an operatic career in an international forum: in particular Germany and Austria
A personal viewpoint

A career as an opera singer in the European scene, to be brutally honest, is not something for the faint hearted. An essential factor is a solid voice with an even two-octave range. Whether it is beautiful or not is a purely subjective matter. I have experienced singers who have made a fabulous career with an ugly voice.

A robust constitution is also a prerequisite in today's jet-set world. Of course all singers are worried about getting a cold yet there are other problems such as allergies to mention just one that can be treated at the outset so as to avoid any setbacks when one is literally raring to go. A thorough knowledge of the vocal apparatus through the assistance of a singer orientated ear-nose and throat specialist is to be recommended. This should all take place during the course of studies at a conservatorium. The understanding and solving of such problems means that a singer has less to worry about and can learn to cope with certain difficulties should they arise.

For young students at an institution teachers should in my opinion impress upon their protégés that it is paramount to strive to become a professional singer from day one and not just a university student. The three to four year course is the most important time in your profession as this is where you will hopefully lay the foundations for a solid and long career. The time of initial study will fly by and an overall negative experience during this phase can lead to unnecessary obstacles revealing themselves when you don't need them at the beginning of your professional life.

Singing lessons - ideally three per week - coaching sessions and language study classes are equally the most important subjects in your course. After nearly twenty years at the Bavarian State Opera and having listened to so many solo and chorus auditions, not forgetting my own audition experiences, I believe there should be classes to develop this very important area. Music theory, should your musicianship skills be lacking is also not to be underestimated. If you feel secure personally, vocally and linguistically you will radiate self-assurance; you then can approach the essential areas of interpretation, movement and dance with confidence.

Teachers carry an enormous responsibility to instruct their charges in an honest and realistic manner. It is essential to educate a pupil in a positive and constructive way nevertheless one should avoid building false hopes in those who are not suited for a career in theatre. The aims must be very clear and generally speaking students should not receive the impression that the entire world has been waiting for them to arrive.

On the other hand "First appearances can be deceptive" as Ken Neate, my teacher, would often say. One never knows exactly what talents lie within a person that are waiting to be revealed through good teaching and positive motivation. The excellent international Australian baritone David Wakeham who did not have it easy during our time of studies is a case in point.

Every performance opportunity is important be it a small Mozart mass or a major role in either opera or oratorio. Nothing at this stage of your career is to be underestimated: use every solo possibility to improve your performance standard and lay another solid foundation in your quest to become a professional artist.

Make a plan at the beginning of each semester as to what you desire to achieve. Learn roles that are suited to your personality and voice: don't just concentrate on the arias. This is an unfortunate situation in Australia where the performance opportunities for young singers are mainly singing competitions and not operatic performances.

It is a very different situation in Europe where competitions also play an important role yet the chances to sing in staged performances are much greater. No part is greater than the whole and the concept and knowledge of an entire role can often make the difficult parts such as arias somewhat easier. One must have a target and a clear perspective; this means an enormous amount of work however the seeds sown in good soil at this most important phase of your career will bear fruit a hundred fold.

Prinzregententheater - Prince Regent Theatre Munich -

What should young singers know about themselves before entering the profession?
A personal opinion:

Do I have a robust constitution?

How is my general health, my emotional and psychological state?

Do I have strong nerves in stressful situations?

Do I have medical problems with allergies, tonsil, throat and sinus infections etc. that can be treated before I enter the profession?

What is my correct voice type i.e., buffo, leggero, lyric, coloratura, spinto or dramatic?

How do I work under pressure singing up to six days per week? This can be assessed to a degree during the course of studies in staged productions.

How do I get on working in an ensemble, with my teachers, management, producers, conductors and colleagues?

Do I have an adequate number of mainstream roles learned in oratorio and opera (in particular Mozart)?

How long do I need to learn music and operatic roles?

What improvements can I make so as to further develop my skills as a musician, singer and actor?

How are my languages skills particularly in Italian, German and French?

What do I need as a person for my personal happiness? Do I need a spouse and family/ a partner or remain single?

Do I need firm roots and belong to an ensemble or am I happy travelling continuously?

Am I happy to concentrate solely on a career at all costs, which means spending my main time either in aeroplanes, in hotels or on stage?

These types of questions are just thoughts and personal observations after many years as a former student and as a professional singer in a major house in Germany and having helped young Australians establish their careers in this part of the world. A career in theatre is often hard, unjust and merciless: a singer should be totally aware of the consequences of such a monumental decision. The Lyric Art is also an exacting mistress: demanding significant sacrifices and strict discipline of every artist.

The former Aller Heiligen Kirche-All Saints Church of the Residence in Munich
now a beauitful concert hall

Personal observations about the profession

Experience has revealed to me that absolutes in the world of theatre tend not to always exist. The Lyric Art is a very personal and subjective genre and one should not expect justice and rewards for individual efforts. Fate also seems to play a major role in our field: one can only do one's best to be well prepared for all eventualities. The reasons as to why one singer makes it opposed to another are of course very human considerations still they don't necessarily bring one further in the quest of a career. It is important to be aware and aspire towards the virtue of "Gelassenheit" as they say in German; this is a combination of the English words: composure and calmness. My observations have revealed that many singers who are successful possess this quality.

Resident visas and work permits in Germany

Before writing these paragraphs I contacted the Australian Embassy in Berlin to obtain the latest information regarding the rights and obligations of Australians and New Zealanders desiring to live and work in Germany.

The web page from the official German Foreign Office has been copied and inserted below. Currently, Australians and New Zealanders are permitted to reside and work in Germany under the terms of the European Economic Area, which means that should a young singer be offered a written contract whilst staying in the Federal Republic of Germany, a singer may apply for a resident and work visa within Germany. It is no longer necessary to apply from Australia for these permits before entering the Federal Republic of Germany.

Table of countries whose citizens require/do not require visas to enter Germany Last updated 28.06.2016. The entry "yes" against a country's name means its citizens always require a visa to enter Germany. 2) The entry "no" against a country's name means its citizens do not require a visa to enter Germany. Without a visa, however, they may not stay longer than three months every half-year or take up gainful employment requiring a work permit. Excepted are citizens of European Union member states (marked with "*").

If required, citizens of member states of the European Economic Area and some other countries may obtain a residence and/or work permit after entry (these countries are marked with "**").

Country Entry visa required no/yes
Australia (including the Cocos Islands, Norfolk Island, Christmas Island)** no
New Zealand (including the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau)** no

German Foreign Office Website HERE Visa information for Australia / NZ HERE

and the official listing HERE

These are the literal requirements for Australian and New Zealand citizens however I would suggest that singers really plan their trip well in advance and do the paper work correctly: check with the consulate in your area just to make sure the rules have not changed. One should never underestimate just what unpleasant surprises could be awaiting them on the other side of the counter at these official governmental departments. A member of our consular section in Berlin related some very unpleasant experiences he has had where ill-prepared and unknowing Australians came to grief with the law in Germany. Germany is very different to Australia and does not have much understanding for our easy going and uncomplicated way of life: particularly in the area of bureaucracy.


The prerequisite of an excellent agent-manager is paramount to having a successful career. In Germany many agents are purely agency-contract handlers who negotiate the contracts of new and established singers at the same time receiving a 12% commission for their efforts. This means 12% of the gross salary in the first year of employment. The singer pays six percent of this commission; the house pays the remaining six percent. This is a one time fee however if your contract is for one year only and the management decides to offer you another two year contract you are required to pay the 12% commission for the first year of the new contract again.

Two major German agents are Germinal Hilbert and Karl Erich Haase in Munich. These are real agent-managers who have an entire staff that looks after the careers and contracts of leading artists and those whom they believe will become major performers. In America Columbia Artists is the world's leading agency. The main Austrian agents are Raab-Böhm, Hollender-Calix and Michael Lewin. The important point to remember is that your agent must be "pro-active you" as a successful singer described it to me.


list of many international agents

Opera Base

very good website for vacant positions for singers,
musicians, producers, conductors, choir directors etc

Musical Chairs

Some agents who will hear beginners

please cut and paste links
Volker Piefke -
Karin Fuger -
Barbara Guelzow -
Antonia Klein -
Frank Langosch - Dresden
Therese Renick -
Heidi Steinhaus -
Inge Tennigkeit -


Central Foreign Artists' Recruitement Agency

Zentrale Auslands und Fachvermittlung
German Federal Department of Employment
Oper / Operette
Telefon: (089) 381707 - 0
Fax: (089) 381707 - 70

Major Agents

Hilbert Artists Management

Maximilianstrasse 22
D-80539 München
Telefon: +49 89 290 747-0
Fax: +49 89 290 747-90


Tal 15, D-80331 München
Tel: +49 - 89 29 16 16 61/2
Fax: +49 - 89 29 16 16 67


Michael Lewin International Artists Management

Gluckgasse 1/1
1010 Wien

Hermanngasse 3
1070 Vienna

Dr Raab & Dr Böhm
Künstleragentur Dr. Raab & Dr. Böhm GmbH
Plankengasse 7
A-1010 Wien

Telefon: +43-1-512 05 01
Fax: +43-1-512 77 43


Prof. Ariane Hollaender-Calix
Grinzinger Allee 46/2, A - 1190 Wien
Telefon: 0043 1/ 328 47 33
Fax: 0043 1/ 328 90 70

Agents charge a fee for the use of a pianist which will cost approximately €20-30.

The audition process

There have been several books written on how to audition the best being Anthony Legg's "The Art of Auditioning". Tony Legg who is an internationally renowned conductor and vocal coach is currently Music Director with Opera Australia. His book is full of insight into the entire European opera scene and is a must for the aspiring singer.

Having gone through the audition process myself as a singer and as a member of the panel for auditions for the Bavarian State Opera Chorus I would like to share my experiences and observations.

Firstly: fate again plays a major role in auditions and one should not have the illusion that contracts in opera houses are plentiful and easy to obtain in the German speaking world. This is often a major misconception of many young singers in Australia and New Zealand. I'm sure that I also suffered from this fallac many years ago in spite of the warning from my teacher Valerie Collins-Varga that I should not expect to find a job immediately. I don't think these supposed "golden days" ever existed in Germany, maybe just after the war with the huge shortage of labour.

After the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 the situation became far more competitive and this trend still shows no signs of discontinuing. To find any form of contract today is extremely difficult and one should be prepared for the possible reality that one's ambitions may not be fulfilled. Some may be fortunate to find something immediately, others may have to do numerous auditions before achieving success. The first round of agent and stage auditions, should one be fortunate to be given them can generally prove to be a great deal of fun and inspiration. However one should not assume that one will receive stage auditions; these are also becoming much harder to obtain as at the current time supply greatly exceeds demand. The second and further audition rounds can become stressful, whereby a singer can begin to loose confidence and suffer from depression. The result maybe the development of vocal indisposition and colds etc. This is quite normal and I would suggest that a singer discuss such matters openly with a close friend, family member or a singer orientated medical practitioner.

A young Australian or New Zealand singer on the audition trail is a long way from home should difficulties suddenly arise and often problems can be solved by talking to someone close who is compassionate and understanding. The main point is to prepare for a tough road ahead; our Australian attitude to life will prove to be a great support for the adventure that awaits the aspiring singer. However we Australians and New Zealanders should not forget that Europe is not "Down Under", with our relaxed and easy going manner not forgetting the high quality of life and standard of living we enjoy in a very pleasant climate.

Normally to obtain a contract in the German house system a singer does the round of agent auditions that generally take place between September and December of each year. I say generally, as auditions are held throughout the entire year, however the main time is the last four months of each year. Should one be fortunate to make a good impression on an agent the agency may then send the singer to various houses to do stage auditions. One should be aware that in this day and age it is extremely difficult, one could say miraculous to receive stage auditions. It is always good to clarify with the agent exactly what the houses are looking for so that you can sing the appropriate repertoire. Beware that the agent is not just sending you out for an "information audition". This can prove to be an expensive undertaking for singers on a tight budget as the rail fares and accommodation in Germany are most expensive. One must use one's intuition in such situations. If a house calls you back for a second stage audition they will cover your fares and accommodation costs.

photo with kind permission of Wilfried Hösl

The auditorium and chandelier of the Bavarian State Opera

One should have a selection of about six mainstream repertoire arias in Italian, English, German and French that are suitable to one's vocal abilities. An audition for an agent or an opera house is not the time to be trying out new or overly ambitious repertoire, unless one has been asked especially to prepare a certain aria or role. A singer should only present the arias suitable to their voice type that he or she can sing well in spite of a cold, sinus infection, pneumonia or any other form of vocal indisposition.

A singer should never audition when he or she is suffering from a serious respiratory infection. Again, each singer must know what he or she can perform under stressful conditions and be able to discern as to what is just a sniffle or slight head cold and what is a full infection. No one will thank you or offer sympathy after singing badly at an audition. The first impression generally speaking is the lasting impression with audition panels. My suggestion is to cancel when you are ill or see a specialist for sound and objective advice if you are still in doubt.

Generally speaking, you should never sing an aria if you haven't learned or at least have the concept of the entire role. By learning the entire role you gain the insight and depth necessary so as to command a character. The audition panel can tell before you even open your mouth just what you can or cannot do. Somehow from the time you walk on stage you have revealed your soul to the people listening.

I have experienced this situation many times at the Bavarian Sate Opera where I have often gained the impression that some singers walk on stage with body language that says "I don't want this job, I look terrible and I have absolutely no vocal technique, which I would now like to display to you all in my atrocious rendition of this aria, which I can't sing."

The Bavarian State Orchestra

Of course there is the exception to the rule. I witnessed a fine singer who looking terrible then sang the house down. Somehow she was totally confident as a person and didn't care about the opinions of anybody. Her confidence and charisma just radiated everywhere and the panel engaged her on the spot.

The main aim is to be yourself and act naturally. The character you are portraying must come from within; over exaggerated acting or emoting just looks very out of place and really quite stupid. It is important that a young singer learn to stage his or her audition arias with a good producer or teacher so one has a routine that doesn't look too artificial or mannered. When one has worked out the basic staging one can then leave room for the spontaneous in one's characterisation.

It is important to dress well for an audition. By this I mean that one should try to look a little like the character or vocal category for which the opera house is looking. For example a Verdi baritone should cut an elegant and commanding figure on stage and portray an air of seriousness. Soubrettes should really look bright and charming with a dress that flatters their appearance and the character they are portraying. A Spieltenor i.e., Pedrillo in Mozart's Entführung aus dem Seral should portray a youthful character and be dressed in a smart and casual manner. Whatever the role one should wear clothes that flatter the figure and complexion, allowing a singer room to move without looking stiff or awkward. Hairstyles should also highlight the face and be open so one can see the eyes and facial gestures.

photo with kind permission of Wilfried Hösl

View from the Galerie of the Bavarian State Opera

Another hurdle to watch is the standard of accompanying in opera houses. The agents on the Continent normally have good pianists as do the bigger houses however be prepared for anything in the B, C and D houses of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I had the pleasure of watching a singer so incensed by the disgusting standard of playing that she pushed the appalling pianist to the side and accompanied herself! She happened to be an Australian and several singers then asked her if she could play for their audition at a professional rate. Auditions in the provincial houses of Germany are often not punctual. I found the audition process in England to be professional, courteous and punctual, the standard of accompanying was also very high.

The arts is often a very subjective genre and it is important not to be upset or put off by peoples' comments after auditions. Often language difficulties can create a wrong impression if one of the panel offers you criticism in either very direct German or inferior English. One can experience the case where members of the audition panel expound their personal views and criticisms in spite of an inadequate knowledge of music, opera and the vocal art. This can happen when certain types of directors sit on an audition panel who sometimes tend to have a negative disposition towards singers.

The important point to remember is that one should be one hundred percent prepared musically and vocally before embarking on the audition trail. An equally major part of vocal education is the building of self-confidence: without this quality all is in vain. During your time of study, work out your aims and pursue your goals with conviction together with your teacher. You must radiate confidence in an audition as this will transmit itself to the panel as soon as you set foot on the stage.

Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz - Gärtnerplatz State Theatre Munich
this house performs all operas and operettas in German

Health Tips during the audition period

Firstly apart from a healthy diet and a good and restful sleeping pattern one should drink at least two litres of fluids daily. The Continental climate is dry, unpredictable and harsh north of the Alps and even though it seems to rain more than in Australia and NZ, the humidity levels are often quite low. This is not good for singers who need a room humidity level of 65%-80%. Winter for Australian and NZ standards can extend to seven months of the year here, which can also make one feel depressed at times. Keeping the mucus membrane system moist is paramount as the internal heating systems cause dryness which then leaves the singer susceptible to colds and infection.

In the winter months I would suggest dressing warmly so that when indoors one can take layers of clothing off. Thermo- underwear is good if you are going to do a lot of outside hiking or skiing, it is not really necessary for normal living. One should never sleep with the internal heating on and preferably with a window slightly opened. The weather during the European spring from April till June is very changeable in temperature, one should always have a warmer jacket at hand even though the day may be quite hot. It is mostly cool in the evenings which is very pleasant especially for a good nights sleep.

Hay fever is also very harsh for many singers and the time period extends from the beginning of February right through to late July and August. A singer should consult a specialist immediately should he or she experience difficulty as chronic and acute hay fever can completely debilitate a singer and if not treated correctly can lead to further respiratory illnesses such as chronic asthma and bronchitis. Hay fever can also be treated successfully through various forms of immunisation.

In Germany, in the case of dryness one can buy Bepanthen nose cream (Euro$3.00) along with Bepanthen anti-inflammatory and swelling inhalation solution(circaEuro$7.50) which one can combine with Mucolsovan inhalation solution (circa Euro$5.00) which is an excellent and harmless decongestant. These can be inhalated through the Macholdt glass inhalation pipe (Euro$25.00): an excellent product from the former German Democratic Republic. Finally by rinsing out the nose and sinuses with the Rhinocare plastic bottle (Euro$15.00) or simply with warm water in a glass combined with a level teaspoon of sea salt when one feels a cold coming on, one can often get the situation under control quickly. All these products were recommended to me by my specialist and are harmless. Bepanthen is basically the cream mothers use against baby rash. All these articles are available at most pharmacies (Der Apotheke).

Philharmonie am Gasteig
Munich's biggest concert hall and home of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

Suggested course of action for those planning the German/Austrian audition tour - some thoughts for consideration

Start to make a plan at least one year in advance to be ready for the German /Austrian audition period of September to December.

Remember to read the section in this story on visas and work-permits in Germany for Australians and New Zealanders.

Do a language course in German at the Goethe Institute or similar institution at the beginning of the year of your departure. Really concentrate on getting the language into your system and throat. German is a great language to sing and speak. Read children's books like Max und Moritz or Der Struwelpeter. These are a helpful and entertaining way of learning to read and speak in German.

Make sure you have the standard arias from the German repertoire learned before you leave Australia.

Remember that you will need at least 2000 Euro per month to cover travel costs, rent, food, singing lessons and or coaching sessions should you be planning to stay for several months. Singing lessons range anywhere from 40-100 Euro, coachings now cost approximately 45-60 Euro. (Currency converter here)

Try and save as much as possible and see what you can organise in relation to scholarships. Buy a Eurail Pass in Australia or NZ. One can only purchase this pass outside Europe. The "Deutsche Bahn" is terribly expensive and no longer has the number of "specials" it used to have. For example the trip Munich-Frankfurt return costs 150 Euro in the economy class. Try and only use your train pass for the long trips.

If you win a language scholarship see that you can study in a major city with an international opera house and concert halls such as Munich, Berlin or Hamburg. It is most important to see and hear as much as you can. This also applies to the art galleries and museums. At the theatre one can always obtain cheap standing room tickets or "Stehplätze".

Plan to arrive for a language course by the end of May. This way you can acclimatise and feel your way into a new country so that by September you will be able to communicate adequately and be used to your new surroundings, e.g., becoming used to the transport system. One needs time to adjust to the different culture, lifestyle, climate and language. I have experienced many Australians who thought they could just get off the plane and go auditioning. That may work for some however I know of several cases where young singers have really fallen apart and felt totally lost in a strange environment. It is always good to allow time so that your system can absorb all these new experiences. This way you will also be able to perform better. I found my first months in Germany especially during the audition and competition period totally inspiring and challenging.

Let's Go Europe will give you the addresses of inexpensive hotels and pensions which cost anywhere between Euro$45-75 per night. Try and get something in the city centre that is relatively close to the opera house and always ask for a room "hinter Hof" i.e., facing the back courtyard and not on the main street. It is most important to sleep well during the demanding and challenging audition period.

You must write to the agents by May to obtain an audition for the following September, either from Australia or simply contact them in Germany should you arrive early enough. Some are now on line and can be contacted per email, however a proper CV and photo should be sent by post. Your biography should be in German, well presented and concise including a normal size colour photograph for publicity purposes. See if you can record a few arias during your time of preparation on a digital recorder that one can then burn on to a CD on a computer. This is a relatively simple exercise these days with a small compact digital walkman and microphone. There is nothing more stressful than getting a recording together in a rush: one needs time and patience to produce something artistic and worthwhile.

Viel Glück!

photo with kind permission of Wilfried Hösl

The Bavarian State Opera Munich




The importance of oratorio and related styles in the cultural life of Europe:



Salzburger Dommusik - Salzburg Cathedral Choir and Orchestra
Director: Domkapellmeister Janos Czifra

Choral life flourishes in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Every normal sized village has at least two choirs for men and women and two brass bands. Oratorio is an intrinsic part of culture particularly in Germany and Austria. In my ten years of professional engagements I have only sung to packed churches and concert halls irrespective of the season. It is in this form of music that young European singers learn and absorb the Continental style i.e., noble, smooth and round singing with an excellent legato.

In cities such as Munich, Salzburg, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Vienna the number of professional performances that take place is large which are basically scheduled according the Christian calendar. Sacred music especially in the form of orchestral masses and cantatas play an important role in the liturgical and cultural life of many middle to larger cities.

For singers who find themselves in the northern parts of Germany, the emphasis is strongly directed towards the great Protestant composers such as J. S. Bach, H. Schütz, G. F. Telemann and Brahms to mention only a few. In the southern areas both the "Süddeutsche Meister" are performed i.e., Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven (Die Wiener Klassik) and Schubert, along with the Protestant composers already mentioned. As a result of the huge displacement of people caused by the effects of World War II, the traditional religious borders have changed considerably.

Kollegien Kirche Salzburg
a major oratorio and concert venue especially for the Salzburg Cathedral Choir and Orchestra

Suggested introduction to ensemble singing through oratorio and related styles

The orchestral masses and other liturgical settings i.e., litanies and vespers of Haydn, Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven, are also regularly performed in a professional context within the liturgy on Sundays and major feast days and also in concert; both in churches and concert halls of many medium to large cities in Southern Germany and Austria. It also is interesting to note that a church musician as either conductor or organist is a full-time career in the German speaking nations.

These masses and related works have very beautiful solos for all voice categories. The solo ensembles in these works e.g., Benedictus and Et Incarnatus est present the opportunity for young singers to learn how to sing in ensemble concentrating solely on pure, noble and well balanced vocalisation. I am convinced this is a better way to begin learning how to sing in the various styles: baroque, classical and romantic, than first attempting ensembles from operas of these periods. The majority of solos from masses are challenging but never too long or overtaxing (there are some exceptions) for a young singer.

The use of orchestrated masses and other liturgical works of the classical and romantic periods to gain the essential orchestral experience and routine necessary as a soloist and ensemble singer.

The mass and liturgical repertoire of W.A. Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert, is an ideal way to give young singers the essential experience of singing with an orchestra as a soloist and in ensemble. All that is needed to perform this repertoire is readily at hand in a conservatory. This could also be a solution in gaining orchestral experience should it not be possible to stage a Mozart opera or main-stream oratorio as well.

The average young German singer upon graduation usually has most of the repertoire of oratorio, masses (particularly in Bavaria and Austria), cantatas and related styles learned and performed on a professional basis. It is also in this field that young singers learn routine, sight singing, ensemble singing: basically everything they need for a well-rounded musical formation as they enter the profession.

This repertoire is also part and parcel for orchestral musicians in Germany and Austria. The majority of players in the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, all have their positions in the ensembles of the bigger churches in Munich and Salzburg. Maestro Zubin Mehta told me that he played in orchestras on Sundays in Vienna for years as a student and learned all the repertoire needed for this field which he regularly conducts today. Many players also form their own private ensembles (e.g. Ensemble Lodron from the BSO), which provide the opportunity for the large number of excellent amateur choirs to perform big oratorio concerts on a professional basis.

The majority of young singers in Australia tend to have a very limited number of works in their repertoire apart from compositions such as Händel's Messiah and the St John Passion. I believe that we can learn from the German tradition in this regard which would enable us to develop a rounder and more elegant art of vocalisation before we plunge into the study of opera. It is also essential repertoire of great depth and beauty that will enrich us as artists.

I would suggest that a conservatory perform this repertoire (including the masses and other liturgical works at least twice a year) in conjunction with the Christian calendar i.e., a passion during Lent, a Christmas Oratorio at Christmas and a requiem during November etc. This will benefit the orchestral players at an institution as well and equip them with essential repertoire should they plan on going to Europe.

It is a good idea to familiarise oneself with the standard repertoire in the original language according to one's voice type during formal studies in Australia. There are many pieces that can be shared by basses, bass-baritones and baritones, so one should not be disturbed that the word bass is always used in the voice-part descriptions of many works. Pieces such as Ein deutsches Requiem of J. Brahms and Fauré's Requiem explicitly call for a baritone voice. The works of Bach when performed at A440 pitch tend to sit quite high for a bass and often require a baritone even though the word bass appears in the vocal score.

The Abbey Church of Fürstenfeldbruck
taken during a performance of Haydn's
The Creation in 1991

Suggested basic repertoire

Composer and Work
J.S. Bach Christmas Oratorio
St John Passion
St Matthew Passion
B Minor Mass
Magnificat in D major (Also the major solo cantatas for solo SATB)
Composer Work

C. P. E. Bach Magnificat

G. F. Händel The Messiah (German and English)
Dettingen Te Deum

W. A. Mozart Requiem
C Minor Mass
Exutate Jubilate
All masses in particular the Coronation Mass and Missa in C KV 337

J. Haydn The Creation
The Seasons
All orchestral masses

F. Mendelssohn Elijah
St Paul

A. Dvorak Stabat Mater

G. Fauré Requiem

M. Duruflé Requiem

J. Brahms A German Requiem

C. Orff Carmina Burana: a major secular concert repertoire work
(in classical Latin not church Latin)


Cuvilliés-Theatre Munich
Mozart's opera Idomeneo received its world premier in this theatre

Which singers stand a better chance of making a career?

Specialist careers in certain repertoire and roles such as a coloratura Sop and Mezzo Sop if you have an outstanding talent. Dramatic voices in all categories. A real schwarzer Bass -black dramatic bass and Helden/dramatic tenors. All these voice types are very rare.

How old should you be to start auditioning for an operatic career?

This depends upon when one finishes one's studies. I would suggest starting immediately after a completed course of study. For lyric voices one should do their best to find an engagement before the age of thirty. For the rare dramatic voices the age limit is far more flexible.

Stadttheater Augsburg - Augsburg City Theatre

What is the usual vocal-career life span for all the voice categories especially female voices and lyric voices?

Once again this is varied. The very light voices need to find an engagement well under thirty and generally speaking can look forward to a career of up to fifteen years. This does not mean their voices are finished. It is much cheaper for the management to get a relatively inexpensive graduate than an experienced artist who is ten years older. It gets tough for light lyric/soubrette sopranos and mezzos after the age of thirty to thirty five.

Tenors who remain lyric can expect to make it through till they are forty-five. It is hard to really define things in this regard one can only speak generally. If a tenor has a lyrico-spinto or dramatic voice or is a German heroic tenor then he has much better chances of finding engagements and having a singing career into his early sixties. The same goes for the big bass voices. Baritones who can sing Verdi and Wagner also stand a good chance at having a long career. The lighter voices in these categories also can have difficulties finding permanent engagements after thirty-five. It is sad to experience singers who are looking for engagements around the forty mark who don't really have a chance of finding something permanent again, especially if they have family commitments.

The dramatic voices are simply a very different kettle of fish. The career of the distinguished Australian soprano Elizabeth Whitehouse started quite late. There is no age limit for such voices as they are so rare managements are delighted to have you on their books generally speaking. Everybody's fate is different; one has to trust one's instinct and judgement in these matters. I know of singers who started a successful solo career after fifty.

What does a singer need to maintain a major international "A" house guesting career singing Verdi, Wagner, Puccini and Strauss etc., or a good "A-B" house career in major roles in major repertoire?

The appropriate big, resonant and solid voice required for this repertoire. Rock solid reliability as a musician. A healthy and a robust constitution. To have a high level of consistency in performance no matter what obstacles present themselves. One must be able to really stand up and deliver at least three times per week in the major houses of the world.

For example, the famous Austrian bass Kurt Rydl sang the role of Pope Pius IV in Pfizner's Palestrina at Covent Garden. He caught the first flight to Hamburg the next morning to be in time for the 10am general rehearsal of Boris Godunov at the Staatsoper. He then flew to Munich late that afternoon to sing Ramphis in Aida that evening at the Bavarian State Opera! The next morning he flew back to Hamburg for the premier. "Kurty" apart from being a delightful colleague and a total character, is an absolutely amazing artist.

Another invincible and impervious artist is the Italian baritone Paolo Gavanelli. He can sing Rigoletto on Monday in Vienna, fly to Munich the next day for Macbeth, then off to Berlin for Germont etc., all without blinking. In a recent conversation Paolo related to me what the outsatnding baritone Giuseppe Taddei said to him some years ago. "For a major career you need a good technique, good nerves and good health!" These are two true stories without exaggeration. I have witnessed such feats with these two fine artists on stage and in rehearsal regularly.

The ability to work amiably with producers, conductors and colleagues in an ensemble is also necessary. The virtue of composure that is required during the long rehearsal phase of a new production and all the stress caused by travelling and living in hotels.



Das Festspielhaus Bayreuth - Bavaria


Types of career possibilities in Europe


Major "A" house international career any where from 5-15 years singing major roles in big repertoire:

Verdi, Wagner, Strauss and Puccini.

Respectable international circuit career in "A" houses singing lighter repertoire:

E.g. Baroque, Classical and Early Romantic composers also contemporary music.

German 'B' house guest contract career in major repertoire anywhere from 5 -10 years:

Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Strauss.

German 'B, C & D' house career on a two year contract that may extend indefinitely culminating after 15 years into a tenured contract as resident soloist in either major or minor repertoire:

A tenured contract is something very rare and almost impossible to receive in this day and age. For example Susanne McCleod in Münster. Susanne, a fine mezzo-soprano, who is a graduate of Sydney Conservatorium, deserves to have her name registered in the Guinness Book of Records under the chapter "Unbelievable feats in the world of opera!" She has survived something like four to five Intendants in the one house. Her case is a rarity: legally a singer has to be informed by the 31st of October in the thirteenth season that the contract will not be tenured.

German B, C & D house 2-year contract which then can be terminated or extended:

With a two year contract that will not be extended, a singer has to be officially informed before the end of the first season. Then a singer can begin to look for a position for the season after his second year. This is the most common form of contract and a most stressful form of occupation: particularly for those singers with family and marital commitments.

A two year contract in such a house is better suited for single artists and generally one can hope for a career life span from two to four years. If you haven't progressed into bigger houses or had the good fortune to be discovered you are normally in the situation of being unemployed after the first two to four years.


Opera Studio of the Bavarian State Opera


photo courtesy W.Hoesl Staatsoper

Opera Studio of the Bavarian State Opera


In the season the Bavarian State Opera founded a new young artists program on the initiative of music director Kent Nagano - the Opera Studio. This program supports highly talented young artists and prepares them for an international career in step with actual practice. Now under the new general manager Nikolaus Bachler this promotion of young artists continues to play an important role in the success of the Bavarian State Opera.

The Opera Studio program runs one to two seasons and consists of role studies, vocal lessons, acting and movement classes as well as language training. The young artists are cast for small roles in productions on the main stage and take part in several concert projects. They also work together with professional singers and conductors and have the opportunity to attend main stage rehearsals and performances. Workshops with staff members from different departments of the Staatsoper on subjects like career development complete the training program.

In addition, the Opernstudio members study and perform one complete opera each season. The past two seasons, Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola were premièred at the Cuvilliés Theatre.

The members of the Opera Studio are employed through the German union contract (NV Bühne) and are paid the corresponding entrance salary. For performances in productions on the main stage, members receive an additional flat-rate fee depending on the size of the role. The Bavarian State Opera reserves an option for future engagement of the young artists into the ensemble of the Bavarian State Opera.

The Opera Studio is supported by
Erika Kaufmann and Rolf and Caroli Dienst, Vera and Volker Doppelfeld-Stiftung, Freunde des Nationaltheaters e.V., Dr. Joachim Feldges, Dirk and Marlene Ippen, Marco Janezic, Hildegard Manchot, Nachmann Rechtsanwälte, Eugénie Rohde, Stadtsparkasse München, Dr. Kurt and Chiona Schwarz, Dr. Martin and Eva Steinmeyer


Singers of all nationalities at the beginning of their career can apply for the Opernstudio. The age limit at the time of the application is 28 years for female and 30 years for male applicants.

As application materials the artists need to send in:

- a CV (including the date of birth)
- a photo
- a recording of 3 arias or songs, one of which should be by Mozart and if possible one in German

Closing date for applications for the 2011/2012 season is November 30, 2010. The audition for selected candidates will take place presumably in January 2011.

Please send your application to:

Opern Studio
Bayerische Staatsoper

Tobias Truniger
Künstlerische Leitung
Pina-Teresa Killer

Organisatorische Leitung:

Max-Joseph Platz 2
80539 München
Tel 089 / 2185 - 1046
Fax 089 / 2185 - 1003

please cut and paste links (Anita Kyle gratefully acknowledged for providing us with these helpful links)

• Staastoper unter den Linden, Berlin
• Internationales Opernstudio, Zurich
• Internationales Opernstudio Nuernberg
• Opernstudio Graz
• Das Internationale Opernstudio der Hamburgischen Staatsoper
• Internationales Opernstudio Koeln
• Opernstudio, Oper Frankfurt
• Junges Ensemble Rheinoper, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Duisburg
• Flanders Opera Studio, Genf, Belgium
• Internationales Opernstudio, Theater Bremen
• Accademia di perfezionamento per cantanti lirici del Teatro alla Scala di Milano
• Atelier Lyrique, Opéra national du Paris
• Opera Studio Nederland, Amsterdam
• Jette Parker Young Artists Programme
• L’Opéra Studio National du Rhin, Strasbourg, France

Career as a chorister in a major "A" international house

Photo with kind permission of Wilfried Hösl

The Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera

Many good soloists especially those whose family commitments take priority, look for "A" house chorus positions when they realise their solo career for whatever reason has plateaued. Moving constantly every two years and living with the permanent worry of the possibility of becoming unemployed is not to be recommended. In this case one should try and find a good "A" house chorus before one reaches 40. There have been cases when people over forty have been hired but this is extremely rare.

Munich, Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Stuttgart, Zürich and Vienna are examples of major houses in German speaking countries. These positions are extremely difficult to obtain. Vacancies mainly occur as members of the chorus retire, die or resign - which is rare. A sideline solo career is possible in concert and oratorio as negotiated with the choirmaster. Normally 35 is the age limit for permanent contracts in choruses, however this can be flexible if the singer has his choral repertoire down or is doing an interchange e.g., moving from say Wiesbaden to Munich. If a singer over 35 displays a high standard of singing and musicianship skills there can be a concession made. Accent free command of the German language required when sung. Three arias should be sung from your operatic voice category in German and the main operatic languages; aural and sight-reading tests take place as well.

Career as a chorister in a B, C & D house

For example, Bremen, Wiesbaden, Augsburg and Regensburg. These positions are, relatively speaking, easier to obtain however not to be underestimated as the requirements are the same, the competition is fierce and to obtain a contract anywhere these days is extremely difficult.

Career as a chorister in a Rundfunk Chor (Radio Choir)


Chor des Bayerischen Runfunks- Bavarian Radio Choir



Such as the Bayerischer Rundfunk Chor: the best in Germany. These positions are extremely difficult to obtain. The age limits as advertised for vacant positions in various music magazines are fixed and inflexible. Rundfunk choirs may alter their rules from time to time depending on the actual needs of the individual choir. Currently the age limits for the Bayerischer Rundfunk Chor are: sopranos 32, mezzos 32, tenors 30, basses and baritones 35.

The audition process is difficult: you have to obtain a simple majority i.e., 50% of the votes of the entire choir. Each member is entitled to vote and candidates are required to audition in front of the choir director and the entire choir. Great emphasis is placed on the sight-reading test and aural test. Rundfunk choirs have set audition pieces, a list of which can be obtained upon application. Accent free command of the German language when sung is also a major requirement. There are six major Rundfunk choirs in Germany: these positions are regarded as prestigious and the competition is fierce.


Preparation for life in an international opera house


Virtual Tour of the Bavarian State Opera


Bavarian State Opera Munich

Many young singers coming to Germany have been unprepared for what awaits them in Europe, especially the demanding routine of singing in an opera house six days per week: not to mention the difficult climate and stressful lifestyle living in a geographically small country of 85 million people. This is of course understandable, however such topics as the daily routine in a major house could be included during the course of studies. The points below are a suggestion.

a. Working and relating harmoniously with colleagues and staff in the dressing room and onstage.
b. How to work with conductors and the music staff.
c. How to work with a production team during blocking rehearsals.
d. The routine necessary at the final phase of production calls, stage orchestral rehearsals, piano dress rehearsal- final rehearsal (Schlußprobe), the Sitzprobe, main rehearsal (Hauptprobe) and general rehearsal (Generalprobe).

Photo with kind permission of Wilfried Hösl

A: Working and relating harmoniously with colleagues and staff in the dressing room and onstage

Fitting into the daily routine of the workplace in all careers is not always an easy task especially in the theatre which seems to attract people with very artistic, emotional, strong and at times unpredictable personalities. There will never be perfect harmony and co-operation in any career where individuals a gathered together; this is just part of the human condition.

Respect, acceptance and courtesy are three words which could help the young artist adjust to working with so many people from different backgrounds and nationalities and assimilate into the daily routine of an opera house. If one concentrates on developing these virtues one should be able to fit into a company without great difficulty.

An opera house is made up of many parts and no part is greater than the whole. The opera house is not purely the singers, orchestra and conductors. For the house to function many people of varied talents are required. This starts with the porter at the stage door and continues to the management staff, wardrobe mistress/master, the staff in the costume department, the stage manager, the evening producer, the props master/mistress, the stage crew, the cleaning staff and many more.

photo with kind permission of Wilfried Hösl

Rupert Meyer one of the stage managers at the Bavarian State Opera

All these people are the heart and soul of an opera house, some of whom have spent their entire working lives in devoted service to the company. It is important to get to know as many colleagues as possible and greet them by name and show them gratitude when they are able to assist you in any way. For example when you are about to enter the stage and you remember you have forgotten part of your costume and you don't have time to race back to the dressing room to get your gloves, hat or whatever. The stage manager will always put a call through to the dressing room and your dressing room assistant will race to the stage with the forgotten prop or article of clothing. These types of incidents occur daily in the house.

Please, may I, and thank you help enormously in making a happy work atmosphere in an opera company.

photo by Wilfried Hösl

The Bavarian State Opera

© Terry Linke / DG Dirigent Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta
General Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera

B: How to work with conductors and the music staff

The best way to get on with conductors, coaches and members of the music staff is to always be 100% prepared for coachings, rehearsals and performances. This means having your work thoroughly memorised.

Go with your ideas but with an open mind in matters of interpretation and be prepared to try something different. If you then find you can't do something that the conductor wants then inform him/her of your difficulty in a courteous but definite manner.

Unless a singer is genuinely sick, one should always sing out at the important "musical calls" with the conductor, especially the stage orchestral rehearsals and the main and general rehearsals with the orchestra. It never goes down well with the colleagues when someone is not pulling their weight in these rehearsals and it causes a very negative atmosphere for all concerned.

photo Wilfried Hösl

Götterdämmerung 2012-2013

Anna Gabler (Gutrune), Stephen Gould (Siegfried), Iain Paterson (Gunther), Chorus und Supernumeraries

Generalprobe - General Rehearsal of Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore
Dezember 2009 in the Nationaltheater

photos by courtesy of Wilfried Hösl

C: How to work with a production team during blocking rehearsals

A constructive and harmonious relationship with the producer/director and his/her team over the long rehearsal period is absolutely essential. Basically the points in the previous section apply here as well.

If a singer comes totally prepared and the role thoroughly memorised one can then concentrate on the demands of the producer and get the staging set without over singing and straining the voice.

It is advisable that singers note all movements and gestures in the score during the breaks or after rehearsals. Stage rehearsals are totally exhausting and concentration and calmness are the key words in surviving this long period. Learning staging and movements quickly is a big advantage as it means precious time is not wasted and unnecessary repetition will be avoided which is very irritating for all the colleagues on stage.

The aim of a rehearsal period which can last anywhere from three to six weeks, is to build up and be fresh for the climax that should be the night of the premier. Unfortunately today this is not always the case where quite often the leading soloists are over tired and stressed out.

In the major houses most international producers never insist that a singer "sing out" in every stage rehearsal especially in the "blocking" phase.


D: The routine necessary during the blocking period and for the final phase of production calls, stage orchestral rehearsals, piano dress rehearsal- final rehearsal (Schlußprobe) the Sitzprobe, main rehearsal (Hauptprobe) and general rehearsal (Generalprobe)

(a) Come to the first rehearsal with the role totally memorised, a positive attitude and open mind regarding interpretation.

(b) When a scene is finally "blocked" you can then sing the act, scene or number in full voice and with movement.

(c) When the stage rehearsals are really rolling and big sections of the opera are set, you should "sing the role in": particularly if the role is new. This will also make the production crew feel at ease as they will realise that "you can do it!". If the production team still needs to repeat a scene or act continually, then it is time to "mark" or not sing out.

(d) In the "Schlussprobe" also called the "Klavierhauptprobe" or as we would say then final piano dress rehearsal it is advisable not to sing out as this rehearsal is more a technical rehearsal for lighting, costumes and sets etc.

(e) Unless one is indisposed you should sing out in the "Sitzprobe" i.e., the seated rehearsal with orchestra and also for the "Hauptprobe" or the main fully staged rehearsal with orchestra and the "Generalprobe" or dress rehearsal.


It is important to have sufficient rest during the rehearsal period. Sleep and no singing is essential especially in the period between the morning and evening rehearsal. After a season in the theatre one will find that the period between 1pm and 4pm is the wind down time for singers. A good sleeping pattern is the best cure for a tired voice and body.

Finally, common-sense, good judgement and the advice of a trusted mentor are the essential factors should a singer have problems or an illness during this phase of the production.


The purpose of this article has been to be of assistance and interest to a young singer at the threshold of a career.

My hope is that the thoughts and suggestions contained within this article will enable a young singer to develop a positive and constructive attitude at the beginning of their quest.

Copyright. Updated: Martin Cooke. Munich, 26.06.2024