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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Opera singers' income

    From two issues of French newspaper Le Figaro, a blog, and various answers by opera singers themselves to this question asked on pages like Yahoo Answers, I've learned that:

    Major singers such as Anna Netrebko, Karita Mattila, Roberto Alagna in one source, and Renée Fleming in another source, make about $15,000 - sometimes $20,000 - per performance in American houses, and euro 15,000 in European houses. This goes for the Met and the major European houses which actually pay a bit more, with Bilbao being the best payer at euro 20,000 (at the time of the article - I'm not sure that this remains true in the current economic crisis). That is, for each performance of a run. Other big starts that nevertheless are not in the same bracket - an example used was Diana Damrau, but this was from 4 years ago, maybe by now she has made it into this kind of bracket - make between euro 5,000 and 12,000. Another example was Sophie Koch. Regular singers however make about euro 1,000 per performance.

    Met Chorus singers make about $75,000 per year - but this is an exception, given the high quality of Met Chorus singers who are often very seasoned and well-trained singers. Other choruses make peanuts.

    Beginning singers in the German system where they're hired for the year make about Euro 1,500 per month.

    In the United States, all the wannabes that populate regional opera houses can be paid as little as $1,000 - $2,000 *for the entire run* including rehearsals, or $300 to $1,000 per performance if it's a decent role. By the way even the big stars like Anna apparently are not paid for rehearsals, and have to buy their own air tickets and rent their own apartments.

    Natalie Dessay bought an apartment in New York City, and Renée Fleming bought an apartment in Paris. Renée lends her apartment to other singers when she is not there.

    Solo album CDs pay the singer some royalties but apparently this is not going so well these days, with all the illegal downloads.

    Apparently the biggest money-making for operatic singers are recitals, concerts, and tours. These can pay between euro 30,000 and euro 200,000 per city. The top figure is supposedly what one of the biggest earners in the business makes, Angela Gheorghiu.

    Even though these tours are the top prize, singers need the operatic stage to *become* famous and in-demand enough to command good fees in the recital/concert circuit. According to Peter Gelb, if singers start to focus too much on recitals and concerts and neglect the operatic stage, the public tires of them and the fees drop.

    Another interesting fact according to Mr. Gelb is that managers of the main opera houses in the world - Met, Opéra National de Paris, Covent Garden, etc., talk to each other at least twice a year and share with each other how much they're paying their singers. The Met plans its seasons and negotiates contracts with singers 5 years in advance (at the article's press time in September 2009, Mr. Gelb was negotiating with artists the 2014-2015 season).

    DVDs and Blu-rays don't add much income to singers, except that sometimes opera houses get a lump sum from the recording companies and shares some of this with the singers, as a way to increase their performance fees. So they may see some money upfront, but once the show is over and the DVD/blu-ray is released, they don't participate in the profits.

    The overwhelming majority of opera singers can't live of opera, and either have a totally different day job (real state agent, for example, is something an opera singer shared with me in one of our interviews, but asked me not to divulge it), or teach. This is why it is very important for them to earn a college degree during their training, so that in the future they'll be eligible for teaching positions in universities.

    To put even the operatic top earners' fees in perspective, pop singer who pretends to be an opera singer Katherine Jenkins has signed an annual contract for $10,000,000 in 2008 (the article doesn't say what company signed this with her - likely a recording company).

    When he died, Pavarotti's estate was worth $125,000,000.

    A sign of the times is that the members of the guild of professional singers in America have agreed to wave any fees for cinematic broadcasts like Met in HD.

    A practice that the Met uses to beef up the fees of their main artists without making lesser artists too jealous, is to give to the main artists pretend cover fees in other productions that they know very well won't need that artist's services, so that they can make something less shiny in one production, but will also get these behind-the-doors sweetheart deals where on paper they'll figure as covering for someone else in another production, although if that someone gets sick, it will be another artist that will actually step in.

    While most of the above is old news, I thought it would be interesting to gather these bits and pieces of information in one post.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Another interesting fact according to Mr. Gelb is that managers of the main opera houses in the world - Met, Opéra National de Paris, Covent Garden, etc., talk to each other at least twice a year and share with each other how much they're paying their singers.
    Interesting. Sounds a bit like collusion. The singers never balk at this?

  3. #3
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    It must be difficult for a young singer without any other form of income. I remember reading an interview with Simon Keenlyside in which he said that when he first started working in Germany, he used to buy day-old bread as it was cheaper.
    "Every theatre is an insane asylum, but an opera theatre is the ward for the incurables."

    FRANZ SCHALK, attributed, Losing the Plot in Opera: Myths and Secrets of the World's Great Operas

  4. #4
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    Interesting. Sounds a bit like collusion. The singers never balk at this?
    Well, some do, we've heard of Angela and Roberto's fights with Volpe. But not every singer is powerful enough to fight off houses like the Met and Garnier/Bastille and Covent Garden, etc. Think of Battle - a great career went down the drains when she picked a fight with the Met, and then nobody wanted to hire her any longer. Remember, these houses are their employers. Picking a fight with the boss is not always wise. There are only a few of these prestigious houses while there are hundreds of singers (actually, thousands). Some singers may be big today, but there are always hundreds of youngsters waiting for a faux pas to take over and be the next revelation, and the prestigious houses know that the singers depend on them for the big breaks and endorsements that make their careers move. The power is almost all on the side of the houses. So, yes, the houses need the star singers too, but the problem is that the houses can *make* a new star singer by "discovering" someone and throwing heavy promotion on the person. So the difference in power is considerable and favors the prestigious houses. Singers come and go. The houses stay.

    Can you imagine how nerve-wrecking it is to have your contract to sing at a prestigious house, but knowing that a simple common cold can knock you out, meanwhile there is a younger, often prettier, full-of-energy singer who is your cover and will be willing to jump in and try hard to make the public forget you?

    Callas popped up by stepping up for the singer she was covering... same with Juan Diego Flórez... and countless others. We've seen young (or less known) singers getting big breaks lately, like Bryan Hymel, Jay Hunter Morris...

    So, a singer goes and picks a tantrum... the general manager says, "OK, fine, you don't want what we're offering, huh? We happen to have this really promising youngster covering you, just waiting for an opportunity to shine on our prestigious stage... so maybe we should just take our chances and promote that person, I can feel a new star in the making..."

    Likely answer from the singer: "Huh, wait a moment, sir, as a matter of fact, I think what you're offering is just right, pardon my outburst."
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); September 3rd, 2012 at 04:50 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  5. #5
    Schigolch
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    Since many years most Opera singers (those in the top tier of the business, of course), have been making more money out of recitals than singing opera in this or that House.

    Rosa Ponselle mentioned that she was doing as much as four times more singing recitals, all across the US, than singing at the MET.

    And this is true in our days, as well.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Major singers such as Anna Netrebko, Karita Mattila, Roberto Alagna in one source, and Renée Fleming in another source, make about $15,000 - sometimes $20,000 - per performance in American houses, and euro 15,000 in European houses...
    How many performances would you estimate these singers might give a year? Of course, the numbers vary but let's assume the singers are at their peak.

  7. #7
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
    How many performances would you estimate these singers might give a year? Of course, the numbers vary but let's assume the singers are at their peak.
    I've consulted Anna Netrebko's schedule. She has 23 appearances on the operatic stage (a lot less than I expected... because obviously she knows what we've been saying above, and her schedule for 2012-13 is heavy in concerts and recitals - 12 of them).

    So, based on this, if she earns, like Gheorghiu, $200,000 per city for the concerts, that's 2.4 Million, and with $15,000 per performance in America and euro 15,000 in Europe which would be almost $20,000, therefore an average of $17,500, times 23, it's another $400,000.

    So Anna is likely to earn about $2.8 Million per year for her performances. She does have an extensive discography that sells well, and I don't know how much more she makes from these. Plus, she has advertising contracts with fashion houses and watch makers, etc. These are probably another good chunk. All things considered, I estimate that she makes at least around $ 4 Million per year.

    I looked up Vivica Genaux - I remember from her interview how busy she was. 27 appearances on the operatic stage, 13 concerts. Probably she makes less per performance and per concert than Anna, but she is likely to also make a good chunk of money.

    Let's look up an up-and-coming singer who is not at the peak yet - Bryan Hymel. 2 concerts, 25 appearances on the operatic stage.

    Jonas Kaufmann: 8 concerts, 19 stage performances... not so many, surprisingly. May have to do with his latest health booboos, maybe he's trying to take it easy.

    Angela Gheorghiu's web site only has half of the season, this current semester. She got 10 stage performances, and 4 concerts. Since this chunk doesn't include the summer when they do more concerts, she probably does get the same average like her peers above.

    I'm starting to conclude that around 20 stage performances and 10 concerts is the typical average. This for me is kind of surprising... I expected more stage performances. Anyway probably the up and coming artists have more frequent stage performances and are less in demand for concerts than it slowly shifts as their careers progress.

    Given that stage performances often mean learning a new role and rehearsing for three weeks - and it pays less, it is understandable that the more famous singers start to slow down in terms of operatic roles. But like Peter Gelb said, they need to do it to some degree otherwise they won't be as hot for the concert circuit.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); September 9th, 2012 at 10:39 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  8. #8
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    I gather from some remarks Siegfried Jerusalem once made that singers performing leading Wagner roles earn more than they would if they were singing, for example, major Mozart roles. I'm guessing this has something to do with the length of Wagner's operas, or the sheer physical demands of many of his major roles.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MAuer View Post
    I gather from some remarks Siegfried Jerusalem once made that singers performing leading Wagner roles earn more than they would if they were singing, for example, major Mozart roles. I'm guessing this has something to do with the length of Wagner's operas, or the sheer physical demands of many of his major roles.
    Also, there are a lot more Mozart singers than Wagner singer.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    That's decent money for a relatively small music industry (i.e. opera/classical). But it has been no different to when the castrati and sopranos were the top singers from Handel's day. They were paid vast sums of money per operatic season, even way more than the composers.

  11. #11
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
    That's decent money for a relatively small music industry (i.e. opera/classical). But it has been no different to when the castrati and sopranos were the top singers from Handel's day. They were paid vast sums of money per operatic season, even way more than the composers.
    Well, I've estimated Anna Netrebko's earnings. She is a member of tiny elite. Most opera singers make a lot less than that. Like Marilyn Taylor told us in her interview, most opera singers can't survive on opera alone, and need day jobs.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  12. #12
    Senior Member Involved Member Tardis's Avatar
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    Dmitri Hvorostovsky supposedly makes around 2 million a year.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/ju...ivorce-payment

  13. #13
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tardis View Post
    Dmitri Hvorostovsky supposedly makes around 2 million a year.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/ju...ivorce-payment
    Interesting. I wonder what Pavarotti had to pay Adua when he split with her to marry wife #2.

  14. #14
    Junior Member Newcomer Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    Nilsson had a rich husband who let her do as she liked with her money and he supported her financially. She saved it and founded the Birgit Nilsson Foundation with a $40,000,000 endowment. She was the highest paid singer in her day, rivaled only by Corelli. Renee Fleming just bought a $6 million dollar pad in NYC. In my opera singer sister's day it was hard in the 60's and 70's to make money in opera in the US and she went to Germany to have her career. She is now drawing her pension as a state employee.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Involved Member Tardis's Avatar
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    Flicka is actually the subject of a famous law school case study in Dukeminier's Property's, Elkus vs. Elkus.
    clicky, 2nd paragraph to get a rough estimate of income for a top singer in the late 80s.

    Ann Ziff, the chair of the Met Opera Board, had a famous soprano mother, Harriet Henders(on) Kojis.
    Ms. Harriet Henders married a doctor and gave up her career.


    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    Nilsson had a rich husband who let her do as she liked with her money and he supported her financially. She saved it and founded the Birgit Nilsson Foundation with a $40,000,000 endowment. She was the highest paid singer in her day, rivaled only by Corelli. Renee Fleming just bought a $6 million dollar pad in NYC. In my opera singer sister's day it was hard in the 60's and 70's to make money in opera in the US and she went to Germany to have her career. She is now drawing her pension as a state employee.

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