NOW WHAT? PART ONE (stories from the trenches)



It seems to be the looming question that rears itself up, troubling the minds and souls of young musicians transitioning from Academia to the Business of the Arts: Now, what?

Now, what? More auditions? More part-time teaching jobs? More competitions? More regional work? Europe? America?

Now what?

We contacted several friends who are just on the brink or already embarked on a professional career.

They all received the same questionnaire.

Most of them responded. Their responses were by and large candid, positive. All were hopeful.

Some, a few, not many – have opted out of the hassles of “the business”

They have traded their make-up kits, fiddles and songs for careers in non-profit management.

Or they now work as agents, producers, in the business of the arts…

A few who should not be perceived as deserters are happily pursuing dissimilar interests.

But somehow all are still finding ways to sing or play or act a gig here and there.

Here are some of their stories, faithfully using their own words.

After graduate school at CCM, I was finally able to throw myself into the community and expand my connections in Cincinnati beyond the walls of UC.  Luckily, everyone needs a pianist, so finding work wasn’t terribly hard.  I’m very glad for this year of transition in Cincinnati, which afforded me new professional contacts and personal relationships, and gave me an outlet to begin a new concert series, the Cincinnati Song Initiative.  CSI has helped bring together myriad artists (both local and from across the country) in a shared love for poetry set to music, in an effort to connect diverse communities throughout the Queen City.


Samuel Martin, pianist


In the past three years since graduating from CCM, I have done a fair share of Young Artist programs, all of which took me up and down the east coast of the United States.

 I had most of my belongings in my car for the first two years, and was lucky enough to have housing provided for me at programs like Sarasota, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Virginia Opera, and PORTopera (now Opera Maine).

 I often traveled to New York City and still do for many auditions, and competitions. Competitions can be good for winning some extra cash and making some connections, but I am interested more in singing roles onstage.

Yes, I have covered*, but am now moving into being onstage more often than not, which I of course prefer! I am currently a Resident Artist at Pittsburgh Opera. It is a rare program in that it uses its young artists on stage a great deal, and we are given an extra AGMA fee on top of our weekly stipend for each show (however, we still have to find our own housing).

  • understudied

 I have one more year to go, even though I am in talks with a few managers, but I have been given another role there next year and rather enjoy staying put for the moment. I still drive or fly to NYC often for auditions. Once again, I have many friends in the city willing to put me up for a few nights, so the cost of travel is lower (for now). I will be subletting a room from another mezzo-soprano for six weeks while I perform in the city, but I have been able to save up for it from the lower cost of living in Pittsburgh.

 Throughout these three years, I have supplemented my singing work with teaching work, first teaching young students beginning piano and voice at a music store (which paid well, surprisingly). I enjoy teaching and learn a lot about myself in the process. This past year, while employed at Pittsburgh Opera, I made one trip a week to a liberal arts college in West Virginia to teach voice lessons as adjunct faculty. It was wearing to work 7 days a week, but worth it to have on my resume. I also learned more about my own singing in the process, and as I said, I do love teaching. 

 I have done a couple of musical theater auditions, and it has been suggested to me that I move to Europe where I will have more opportunity to grow into my repertoire (higher Verdi roles such as Eboli and Amneris). This has been suggested to me by management. I am often cast in Young Artist programs as an older woman, more contralto than mezzo, because I can sing low, and my physicality fits the bill (look is a BIG part of this business-those hiring you want you to “look the part” as well). I haven’t done as much concert and oratorio work as I would like, but that is partly because of my young artist engagements.

After next year, I am no longer a “young artist”. 

Leah Marie de Gruyl

Leah de Gruyl, mezzo-soprano’orror delle procelle from Handel’s Riccardo Primo


Knowing that graduation from CCM was just around the corner, this audition season was the most intense I have ever experienced. I was determined to walk away with a job, no matter how many auditions it took.

After many auditions and a few offers, I chose to accept an offer to be a Resident Artist at Pittsburgh Opera for the 2017-2018 Season. I will get to sing Barbarina (Le Nozze di Figaro), Shepherd Boy (Tosca), and a performance of Adina (L’elisir d’amore).

Another perk of being in this program is the cover opportunities I receive, like Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro). After singing 1st Spirit in Cincinnati Opera’s production of The Magic Flute this summer, I will relocate to Pittsburgh.

I think for the majority of young American sopranos, there is the ever-present ticking time bomb that comes with Young Artist Programs. They are wonderful opportunities that get you noticed, on your feet, and able to pay off some acquired student loans, but they aren’t something you can count on for very long.

Most of these programs have an age limit of about 30. These programs, along with hard work can often lead to other next-level opportunities. There are so many sopranos for a very limited amount of jobs every season, so we must find ways to stand out.

Getting hired is just the beginning – we have to keep the job and get hired again! My goal going into every job is to make more connections and to be the most professional, consistent singer that I can possibly be.

Resident Artist Programs aren’t the only way to go about achieving a singing career, however. I’ve seen a lot of new music specialists spring up with all of the incredible living composers we have access to in the States. I recently worked with new composers at the Virginia Arts Festival, and know that this is a fruitful path for many singers. Most companies do at least one new(er) show every season.

I have also seen very successful singers establish themselves through regional company work and concert work. Others make their careers in Europe, after polishing up their languages. Balancing other jobs and families can be difficult, although not impossible as a young singer. I have spent a lot of time as a teacher, and I found it to be challenging to give my students a fair amount of time and attention while constantly travelling and focusing on my own career. I think it’s possible, just not ideal.

Also, I think it is very important for young singers to be flexible in all areas, including concert works, opera of all types, and musical theater. More and more opera companies are receiving donations by people who request more musical theater. Because of this, we singers have to be able to successfully perform whatever we are given. I usually have to include a musical theater song with the aria package I present for auditions, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have experience in this field. In my opinion, the most successful performers of my generation are extremely flexible and able to excel in all types of music. As a soprano, I am always asked to sing challenging new music (such as the new opera I recently sang that included semi-tones!), musical theater numbers, oratorio arias, art songs, and operatic favorites. As a result, I’m constantly learning music, and loving every minute!


Ashley Fabian, soprano

Rigoletto – Verdi


Postlude with Facts

Opera America’ membership lists 8 major regional opera companies whose budget, programs and season allows them to have in place an ongoing Young Artists program. Outside of the “majors” – Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, the MET – there is a second tier of companies with smaller budgets and shorter seasons that employ early-career artists on a short-term basis, often for summer seasons that last a few weeks.

The Metropolitan Opera Company holds annual auditions throughout the year in 42 districts, part of 12 regions. Out of the hundreds of contestants that audition for the MET every year, a few make the cut and go to NYC for the National Finals.

Getting to the finals is no guarantee of anything remotely resembling a contract. Often the rewards for the handful of winners are cash awards.

With more than sixty opera companies that operate year-round, Germany continues to be the go-to destination for young singers in search of an opera career.

NOW WHAT? will continue in later postings with more stories from the trenches.

Rafael de Acha








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