La Scena Musicale

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Opera Singer Fees Revealed

by Frank Cadenhead

In an remarkably candid interview yesterday, October 9, in the French newspaper, Le Figaro, Roberto Alagna talks about two subjects of particular interest. He confirms his separation from Angela Gheorgiu and speaks candidly about the money he earns and spends. The French daily takes the occasion to make separate report about singers fees in general. Below is a rough translation of the latter article. The report on artists fees is at

Fees for Opera's Stars

"Tonight (October 10), Anna Netrebko opens a revival of L'Elisir d'Amore at Paris' Opéra Bastille. Like Alagna's recent triumph in Carmen at Covent Garden and Karita Mattila's Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera, all of these will receive the same top fee: 15,000 Euros (or the equilivant in dollars). Not a centime more" says the article. Travel and living expenses are paid by the artist. Netrebko arrived in Paris with her husband, the baritone Erwin Schrott, their one-year-old son, Tiago, and the nanny, on commercial transportation. "There is no question of a private plane like those Sharon Stone or Mick Jagger might use."

"'Singers have a great sense of responsibility,' explains Thérèse Cedelle, agent for Natalie Dessay. 'In the spotlight, they cannot improvise. Their absolute existence is on their own shoulders and that gives a sense of the real life found in their contracts.' Natalie Dessay has brought an apartment in Manhattan. Renée Fleming has done the same in the Marais district in Paris. Sometimes Fleming makes this available to artist friends who could, in turn, welcome her to their lodgings in another city." 

The article continues by reminding the reader that the economics of opera is always in the red, "every evening." "The budget, whether supported by the state or financed by donations, has a ceiling. Unique in the world of the performing arts, the major house directors find an accord on these fees together and they are the same in London, Paris and New York."

"This fee, 15,000 Euros per evening, net, is reserved for the great voices. Stars like Diana Damrau or Sophie Koch receive in the range of 5,000 to 12,000 euros with smaller roles at least 1,000 Euros.  Gelb was quoted as saying 'Between the directors, we are on the telephone all the time.' 'We also share, two times a year, an accounting summarizing the fees, artist by artist.' explained Elisabeth Pezzino, director of programming at the Paris Opera." 

There are exceptions according to this article. With important government support, Bilbao in Spain pays 20,000 Euros a night in their Zarzuela theater. "'Before that, it was the Italians with their payments under the table,' complained Pierre Médecin, President of the Association of European Opera Directors."

"'The only angle for the singer to improve the ordinary fees is to issue a CD and link that to a recital series,' explains Jean-Pierre Le Pavec, who produces the recital series "Grandes Voix" in Paris, featuring this year Anne-Sofie von Otter and Jonas Kaufmann among others. Because the financing is private the law of supply and demand applies. According to the fame of the singer, the fee could vary between 30,000 and 200,000 Euros. Angela Gheorgiu and the other members of the "top fee" club balance their schedules. Only Cecilia Bartoli has abandoned the stage and only does "galas." 'It is likely the prestige of opera which helps secure the other contracts. In the long term, the public gets fed up with this,' says Gelb."

"Negotiations are now under way for the 2014-15 season. Their goal? To have a star on the posters and a homogenous cast. For the artists, it is difficult to anticipate where the voice will be in five years. They are also dealing with the crisis which hit American opera. Because of the decline in donations, some companies cancelled part of their season and others declared bankruptcy. The Met cannot offer work to everyone. Because the change of wind, the American Guild of Musical Artists has agreed that their members will not receive remuneration for the operas shown in cinemas. In her sunny office on the eighth floor of the Opéra Bastille, Élisabeth Pezzino is overloaded with calls from the other side of the Atlantic. 'The Americans have holes in their schedules. With Europe favored with a exchange rate, the exodus is under way.'"



  • You are misinformed: Cecilia Bartoli has *not* abandonned the stage. She will be singing Cenerentola on 31 dec and 12 jan 2010 in Zurich, Cleooatra in Giullio Cesare in Paris (feb 2010) and Semele in Theater an der Wien, Vienna in september 2010...

    For a musically interested audience it can be much more rewarding to hear a singer of Bartoli´s caliber in a concert singing 12 arias plus 3-4- encores without being bothered by the creative outbursts of your regular egotripper (aka stage directors)- the more if it´s a singer who has the courage to dig up her own repertoire and sing it gloriously.

    By Anonymous alexander, At October 12, 2009 9:48 AM  

  • I cannot agree more with Alexander... How can you have directors to muddle with opera when most of them are not even musically sensitive...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 16, 2009 7:58 PM  

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