The international tenor Reinaldo Macias continues to take issue with certain French opera houses that aim to hire young talent on the cheap.
Reinaldo makes several powerful and irrefutable points in this short essay for Slipped Disc:
One of the comments on the FB page of “L’Opéra National de Bordeaux” alluded to a recital by a younger Jonas Kaufmann at that theater. Defending the policy of looking for young talent at cheap prices, the person goes on to say that the theater was deserted to the point that the administration had to urge everyone in the theater to sit at the lower lever in order to give the impression of an audience. The person continues to say that today the Bordeaux public would queue up all night in order to hear him sing, if only “au claire de la lune”.
If we assume the premise that the choice of young/cheap singers is a financial consideration, Bordeaux fails miserably to make its case with this example. A recital where the theater is deserted is not an artistic pursuit worth much in financial terms if the issue is saving money on singers’ fees. I cannot help but to think that the outcome could be far different if Bordeaux had the courage and vision to engage Jonas Kaufmann today. I can imagine the public lining up all night to hear him sing. That same public would be willing to pay higher ticket prices to hear him, they would fill the theater and if administration is judicious and disciplined enough, the theater might actually make a profit. With intelligent marketing they could even go further but let’s stop here.
Administrations have disseminated their gospel so well that even the public now believes that singer fees is the problem. What administrations fail to mention is that mismanagement, excessive executive pay, top heavy administrations, and overly expensive productions are the real culprits they don’t want you to focus on. Administrations are all too aware that singers are easy to pick on. Singers do not speak out because they are afraid of retaliation. However, most are saying privately exactly what few of us are saying publicly and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The financial and personal investment it takes to become an opera singer is not worth the return. Many singers realize this and the young will soon realize the same. It is outrageous to see singers in the 21st century spend six to eight weeks doing a production only to return home with a deficit or a minuscule profit. Most will never see a return on their investment. If the situation continues we will deplete our conservatories and universities of viable talent to ensure the future of opera in its birth continent. We are already making opera singers a foreign import commodity. What respectable young person living in the West would deliberately chose a life of artistic poverty? Is it just to ask such a sacrifice of that young artist when opera directors are earning ever-increasing pay?
The problem in opera is not with singers’ pay. Most of what ails opera can be traced back to those at the top of the administrative food chain! Opera is about great singers and great singing first and foremost. All other experiments and efforts quickly begin to resemble “the emperor’s new clothes”. The more administrations continue to replace great singing with something else, the more audiences will continue to shrink. Masking failed concepts with marketing armies doesn’t seem to be doing the trick either. We need to invest in great singing rather than divest from it.