Opera house goes looking for unpaid performers

Opera house goes looking for unpaid performers


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2014

The house on the harbour has put out a call (below) for students to join the stage cast of its outdoor Aida.

The deal? No pay, no expenses:

The requirements:

– Commit to performances from 25 March to 26 April 2015, with no shows on Mondays or on Good Friday.
– Demonstrate a high level of self-organisation and reliability.
– Follow internal Opera Australia policies, including WHS, Codes of Conduct etc.
– Cover all their own expenses, including travel and food expenses. We unfortunately cannot provide any reimbursements or allowances to secondment positions.
Secondment role
– Secondment cast members will make up an integral part of the Aida cast in the role of Supernumeries. Supernumeries will have significant on stage time and play an important part of the production.

Let’s get this crystal-clear: An opera house that employs performers on amateur terms is an amateur opera house.

Stand by for a downgrade, Opera Australia.

Madama Butterfly Sydney Harbour Platinum Lounge Wedding Service at sunset

Thanks to Bel Canto for posting the call-out and to Aaron Kernaghan for the tip-off.


  • herself says:

    This is not the first incident of its kind in recent memory. Earlier this year, Opera Australia produced Opera on the Beach performances of Magic Flute in Coolangatta, Queensland, a comparable spin-off of Sydney’s Opera on the Harbour (which is what I believe the above mentioned production of Aida is). A number of professional agencies and groups quoted for the gig but were severely undercut by a quote from a conservatorium staff member who proposed a student orchestra with principal positions filled by professionals. The students were offered course accreditation and mentoring by their professional section leaders. They were also offered transport, but it must be noted the selected beach was 100km out of town. This is a shocking precedent to have been set and particularly shocking that a conservatorium staff member could devalue the art form in such a gross way. Also shocking that our national opera company would devalue professional musicians in this way.

    • Other Herself says:

      Opera on the Beach is in no way comparable to Opera on the Harbour. Magic Flute was a co-production with the local arts festival (Bleach – that’s why it was on the gold coast) with a tiny budget, and quite apart from the student orchestra, also featured volunteer lifeguards, volunteer crew and volunteer chorus. The show formed part of the touring outreach program oz opera, which features volunteer chorus in every regional town as a way of sharing opera. Both producing partners were pretty proud of the achievement of even getting the show up on the night, it involved unpaid hours at every level to make it happen.

      And Brian is correct. Supernumeraries is all they are requesting people for, and they’ve been around forever. Don’t volunteer to stand on stage if you don’t want to.

  • Brian says:

    Nonsense. Spear carriers, other supers, and even choruses are and have been amateurs (in the core meaning) for decades, nay centuries.

    • Lucien Sanchez says:

      EXACTLY. This is the industry standard that superNUMERARIES (not supernumeries as our author has written), non-singing extras on-stage, are complete amateurs who are either unpaid, or are paid minimally at $20-$40 per performance. Casting calls like this exist at opera companies across the world (I’ve also seen it for ballet companies), and all the people I know who have been and continue to be supernumeraries for my local opera company absolutely love it. For them it is a priceless opportunity to be on-stage, either as opera enthusiasts or students hoping to gain an insight into the workings of an opera production.

  • Roy Lisker says:

    Bravo, Norman!

  • V.Lind says:

    I was a super at the Canadian Opera Company. I was paid — not a great deal, but we were all paid.

    Union rules, I suspect. A friend of mine was a spear-carrier at the National Arts Centre. He is a dancer. He was paid by the National Ballet of Canada but not by American Ballet Theatre. Surprising that they got away with that in a Canadian house that is unionised to the hilt, whatever they do in the US.

  • Angela Giblin says:

    Well, O.A. are desperate. This scenario is consistent with nearly everything else in Australia at the moment. Perhaps some shirtfronting could help?!

  • Dennis Marks says:

    There’s a long history of amateurs stiffening the crowds on stage in opera – in Italy, Germany and many other countries including the UK. When the composer Michael Tippett was a student in the 1920s he was an extra in Wagner’s Meistersinger at Covent Garden. Far from being amateur, he recalls the production featuring Lotte Lehman and Friedrich Schorr.