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.'"


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (12 à 18 oct) / This Week in Montreal (October 12 to 18)

Musique, danse, théâtre, etarts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Art visuel : Francine Savard (rétrospective de mi-carrière), Montréal, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, du 9 octobre 2009 au 3 janvier 2010. —Julie Beaulieu

Chamber music: Fibonacci at Ten - One of those rare piano trios that interpret contemporary works and traditional repertoire with equal brilliance, the Trio Fibonacci kicks off its 11th season with performances on October 12 and 13 at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. The first concert includes works by Carter, Plamondon and Ives, featuring guest clarinetist and composer François Houle. The second concert offers a mix of old and new, placing Messiaen and Ravel alongside contemporary composers such as Christophe Bertrand and Bruno Mantovani. 514-270-7382, —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz/Classical music: On September 23, eXcentris reopened with two of its three theatres renovated as live performance venues allowing for an environment of innovation and cooperation between genres, styles and media. Renowned pianist Leon Fleischer inaugurated the hall. There this week: Marianne Trudel, Oct. 14. —Wah Keung Chan

Television: Prokoviev: The Unfinished Diary - In 1918, composer Sergei Prokofiev left Russia for the West, spending four years in America and then in Paris before being convinced to return to the new Soviet Union in 1936. During this period Prokofiev kept a detailed yet cryptic diary (he omitted vowels). Yosif Feyginberg’s documentary Prokofiev: The Unfinished Diary brings to life the composer’s daily struggles through his own words. The documentary was shown at the 27th FIFA in March and makes its Canadian TV debut on Bravo! (Oct. 14, 10 PM; Oct. 16, 7 PM). —Wah Keung Chan

Musique baroque : Telemann et quelques français, version Les Boréades - Francis Colpron et son ensemble baroque sur instruments d’époque vous convient, le 15 octobre à 20 h, à une expérience digne de ce répertoire jouissif. Des interprétations diverses, solo, quatuor et concerto, inspirées de l’œuvre de Georg Philipp Telemann : rien de moins pour une exquise soirée, à la Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours. 514-634-1244, —Hélène Boucher

Jazz : Jeu. 15 * François Bourassa (solo piano). La série Les Jeudis Jazz. Maison de la culture Ahuntsic-Cartierville. 872-8749. (20 h) * L’ensemble Rodéoscopique, dir. Antoine Berthiaume. Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. 872-2157. (20 h) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Ven. 16 Alex Côté Quintette, Hommage aux frères Adderley. Jazz bar resto Le dièse onze. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Ven. 16 et sam. 17 Quartette Fr. Alarie, N. Guilbeault, M. Donato et Pierre Tanguay. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Contemporary music: From Flute to Hyper-flute - This year’s composer-in-residence at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Cléo Palacio-Quintin has reinvented the flute with the use of sensory wires and digital technology, creating an astonishing “hyper-flute”. For her first concert of the season October 16, Palacio-Quintin presents an autobiographical concert of her key works. Joining her are flutist Marie-Ève Lauzon and gambist Élin Söderström. 514-872-5338 —Hannah Rahimi

Theatre: A slice of 1940s Canadiana awaits you at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall from October 16-18. Daniel Langlois's Till We Meet Again is a WWII-era musical examining the impact of a CBC radio show on those on the homefront. Set in a time when radio was still the community event, this Panache Theatre production captures the struggles, foibles, and joys of a nation huddled around the family set, hanging on each word broadcast on the airwaves in the hopes of catching some good news. Labelled "one of the 10 Best Productions of 2005" when it first opened, the play's October dates will be followed by a tour ending again in Montreal from November 21 to 22. —Crystal Chan

Danse : Reprise du superbe Çaturn de Naomi Stikeman à l’Usine C du 13 au 17. —Aline Apostolska

Théâtre : Un Tramway nommé Désir - Il y a d’abord la pièce de Tennessee Williams, l’une des plus puissantes du théâtre américain. Puis la rencontre entre un grand rôle féminin, la sensuelle et fragile Blanche Dubois, et une actrice formidable, Sylvie Drapeau. Ajoutez que ce spectacle marque les retrouvailles de la comédienne avec le brillant metteur en scène de Marie Stuart, Alexandre Marine, et vous comprendrez pourquoi il constitue probablement l’un des rendez-vous incontournables de l’automne. Jusqu’au 31 octobre, au Théâtre du Rideau Vert. —Marie Labrecque


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

COC Ensemble Studio Alumni in a Concert of Opera Arias and Duets

(l. to r.) Allyson McHardy, Yannick Muriel Noah, David Pomeroy, James Westman. Seated at piano: Steven Philcox
(Photo: Joseph So)

"Alumni Reunion" Concert
Yannick Muriel Noah, soprano
Allyson McHardy, mezzo
David Pomeroy, tenor
James Westman, baritone
Steven Philcox, piano
"Ai capricci della sorte" from L'Italiana in Algeri - McHardy and Westman
"Vogliatemi bene" from Madama Butterfly - Noah and Pomeroy
"Di Provenza il mar" from La Traviata - Westman
"Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila - McHardy
"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lachens - Pomeroy
"Ebben! Ne andro lontana" from La Wally - Noah
"Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pecheurs de Perles - Pomeroy and Westman

Following an auspicious opening concert given by current COC Ensemble Studio members two weeks ago, the Vocal Series continued today with an "Alumni Reunion" opera concert starring four former members who have gone on to significant careers - soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor David Pomeroy, and baritone James Westman. McHardy and Westman were members in 1997, Pomeroy in 2001, and Noah in 2005. All four are currently starring in the season-opening Madama Butterfly. I've seen both casts and can honestly say they all gave fine performances. This concert was highly anticipated - by the time I arrived 30 minutes before the show, a huge lineup had already formed in front of the opera house, and as usual, it was standing-room only.

McHardy and Westman kicked off the proceedings with a scintillating Isabella-Taddeo duet from L'Italiana in Algeri. This show was last staged by the COC in 2003. Judging by the performance of McHardy and Westman, it is time for a revival with these two artists! McHardy's rich, dark mezzo is perfect as Isabella, and Westman, with his warm, robust baritone and irrepressible stage persona, is a marvelous Taddeo. Given their razor-sharp comic timing and excellent chemistry, even I, a non-Rossinian, enjoyed it. They were followed by Noah and Pomeroy in the love duet from Act One Madama Butterfly. Being in different casts in the current run of the Puccini, the two have not sung together until now. Noah has a huge, dark-hued soprano which she is able to scale it down to a lovely pianissimo, an absolute requisite for Butterfly. Pomeroy has an ardent quality that makes him an engaging Pinkerton. The two big voices rang out excitingly in the hall, and they capped the duet with a powerful high C - it lasted a good four seconds, but who's counting...

Westman returns for Germont's aria from La Traviata. "Di Provenza" has become his calling card the last few years. I heard his Germont at the ENO three years ago, and Westman was easily the best singer on stage. This afternoon, his warm, rich baritone with its totally secure high register was a pleasure. McHardy may look a little too youthful as the dangerous Dalila, but vocally, "Mon coeur" fits her like a glove. Even with the leisurely tempo adopted by pianist Steven Philcox, McHardy sustained the long lines beautifully, capping the end with a lovely mezza voce. Pomeroy's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" is a party piece, which he delivered with gusto. Noah's solo piece was "Ebben, ne andro lontana" from the rarely staged La Wally. Following her win at the Hans Gabor (Belvedere) Vocal Competition, Noah was offered a chance to sing this role at Klagenfurt, which she did to excellent notices. This aria, made famous by Wilhelmina Fernandez in the movie Diva many years ago, requires a voice of spinto weight and strong high notes. Noah, with her opulent tone and lively vibrato, fit the bill perfectly. Her climactic high B was particularly exciting. The last piece on the program - there was no encores - was the Pearl Fishers' Duet, an audience favourite if there ever was one. Pomeroy and Westman gave their all, and their voices, even with very different timbres, blended well. The audience rewarded them with a rousing ovation. The whole cast then came back to vociferous applause from the enthusiastic crowd.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 5 - 11)

left: Frederica von Stade

right: Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company (Photo: Michael Cooper)

In addition to the continuation of COC's long run of Madama Butterfly at the Four Seasons Centre (Oct. 8 and 10, 7:30 pm), there are a number of very interesting vocal and opera-related events this week. On the top of the list is American mezzo Frederica von Stade's likely final appearance in Toronto. She will be at the newly minted Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music, in a program of Mahler, Massenet, Mozart, Berlioz, Heggie, and Bernstein. Joining her will be Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, herself a graduate of the RCM Glenn Gould School. von Stade has been in front of the public for some forty years - I remember seeing her in a Met performance of La fanciulla del West in 1970. No, she wasn't Minnie - that was my favourite soprano at the time, Renata Tebaldi. Flicka sang the Indian squaw Wowkle, believe it or not! If I remember correctly, she only had one or two lines that go something like "Neve, neve...Ugh, ugh..."! From that tiny comprimaria, von Stade went on to become a wonderful mezzo soprano, with many memorable performances from Massenet to Strauss. She was my favourite Octavian in the early 1980s. This is our last chance to see Flicka onstage and this concert is not to be missed!

If Flicka is at the end of her career, four Canadians at the bloom of youth are giving a recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (Four Seasons Centre) at 12 noon, Tuesday. Soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor David Pomeroy and baritone James Westman will sing arias and duets. Subject to change, I believe among the selections will be the ever-popular Pearl Fishers Duet with Pomeroy and Westman, love duet from Act One Madama Butterfly with Noah and Pomeroy, and Germont's aria from La Traviata. The concert is free, and as usual this will be totally jammed, so you must be in the line-up at least 30 minutes before for a chance to get in.

On Thursday Oct. 8, 7:30 pm at Walter Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, COC General Director Alexander Neef gives the inaugural Herman Geiger-Torel Lecture. Given that the late Geiger-Torel was a COC intendant back in the 60s and 70s, it is fitting that Neef has been invited to give the lecture. I interviewed Neef in October of last year for an article in The Music Scene. Youthful, energetic, articulate, and extremely bright, you will enjoy his talk on Thursday. The event is free, but as usual, it is best to arrive early.

Also of interest is a concert the following evening 7:30 pm at the MacMillan Theatre. David Briskin conducts the U of T Symphony Orchestra in a program of Webern, Mahler and Beethoven. This is not free, but at a modest tariff of $18 ($10 for seniors/students) this is a bargain. Of particular interest is Mahler's Ruckert Lieder with baritone Vasil Garvanliev

Saturday Oct. 10 marks the start of the Met in HD series in your local theatres. It is the blockbuster Tosca starring Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as the Roman diva. Marcelo Alvarez is Cavaradossi. This production was booed on opening night by a few fanatics, and critical opinions are divided. From what I have read, the Luc Bondy "updating" appears to be quite tame - if the Met audiences think this is crazy, well, they should avoid European houses! See for yourself by going to the box office or online to purchase a ticket. Almost all the theatres have reserved seating this season. This is all to the good as you won't need to line up way early to get a decent seat. If you cannot attend, an encore presentation will be on Oct. 30.

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