The best country for an opera singer to live?

The best country for an opera singer to live?


norman lebrecht

April 11, 2015

We ran this story over Christmas. Any further thoughts?


Many in the profession choose Germany. That’s where there’s the most work in the greatest number of opera houses.

It’s also convenient for the rest of Europe. (If a little dull, some say).

Russians migrate to Austria.

Switzerland is popular if you’re in the right tax bracket.

Britain is favoured for its centrality and connectivity (though not for its airports).

France for its fees, and its food.

The US has pluses and minuses.  The Met overshadows the rest and you can’t jump in to Europe at 24 hours notice.

So where would you choose to live as an opera singer? And where would you avoid?

What’s the best (and worst) place for an artist to live in 2015?

pianist syrian ruins


  • Paul says:

    It all depends on so many variables. A truly active singer is travelling at least 50% of the year to different countries, so it is important to reside in a centrally located place, with good transportation infrastructure and stable fiscal policy. Switzerland would probably come first on the list, as it is perfectly located to where most opera singers find work, i.e. in Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland. Few would want to be based in the U.S., as apart from archaic and predatory tax laws, if you dare to work outside of their country, or even spend some time outside their country, I now hear regularly from so many artists and civilised people, that with all of the recent racial injustice, generalised violence and political upheaval in the U.S. and the country practicing and having a majority of its citizens (54%) believing that torture and abhorrent acts worthy of the Nazis or other barbaric regimes are justified, that it is not a place that any humane, educated and thinking person would want to base him or herself. So, I guess Switzerland would be best.

    • J says:

      Paul, your comment was so ridiculous I had to chime in. Truth is, US opera companies have to survive on their own and simply don’t pay as well as many others around the world.

    • CARLOS says:

      Paul: you mentioned “racism” in United Staes! Did u live there before?? Had u been there many times to affirm something like that??
      I suggest, that u give us some fundaments to affirm your “racist behaviour” in USA according w/ur comment!! I dont think that u know about it!! Is what we say in music: that u play by ear and nothing else”!! Becareful my fiend!! Becareful!!

    • JJC says:

      Humane I am, educated I certainly am, thinking, well I’m thinking that your intemperance is unfortunate, ill-informed and toxic.

  • Tom says:

    Belgium of course 🙂
    It is central, there are high speed trains to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon etc. The airport offers flights to virtually any other major city in Europe and life is quite cheap.

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    The Netherlands!
    However, if you can stand and survive the all-present ‘overlegcultuur’ (deliberationculture) for this is the national sport of the Dutch. Aim: keeping themselves and others busy, untill flies are dropping dead from the ceiling 🙂

    • John Borstlap says:

      Holland is probably the worst place in Europe for an artist to live – that is, if a non-Dutch artist for some unfathomable reason decides to settle there and ‘becomes’ Dutch. As long as they are famous and will travel back abroad, foreign musicians are welcome in Holland, but the petty bourgeois conformism reigning there is suffocating for any individual talent. Classical music is considered utterly elitist and merely a hobby, that’s why players in the Concertgebouw Orchestra have a salary much lower than any other orchestra in that league. A well-known conductor, will not spoil his name, who had worked for years in Holland, told me once: as long as you are a foreigner you are treated well, but when they get used to you they put a knife in your back (when the ‘being exotic’ has worn-off). Great local talents are driven-out of the country because the better they get, the greater the resistence and the barriers which will be thrown-up to them. A list could be drawn-up but it’s better to be silent on such embarrassing national characteristic.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    I was just about to pack my case and move to Holland when I realised I’d misread ‘overlegcultuur’.

    That said, the land of fees and food is not a bad place to be…

    • John Borstlap says:

      The idea of an ‘egalitarian society’ has nowhere rooted so deeply in the ‘Volkskarakter’ as in Holland. As long as people don’t pretend to do something ‘artistic’, and sympathize with the lowest denominator, and make sure they measure everything in life according to money value, they will have a good time.Sinning against the unspoken but strong taboo that everybody should be as equal as anybody else, means being confronted with a frightening Soviet-Union mentality. In due course foreigners find-out, to their perplexity, that Dutch people don’t have manners ( = elitist), don’t teach their children social skills ( = authoritarian), don’t challenge them ( = unfair), and the most perplexing of all, that reality is based upon consensus, not upon observation, experience and argument because only in this way, nobody is seen inferior or superior. In fact, Holland is an almost entirely proletarian country and for that reason, not really European in character.

      So, to great amusement of lots of visitors, 2 + 2 = only 4 as long as a majority agrees upon it. This is called ‘polderoverleg’: the national sport which cultivates the way in which problems are solved: everybody gathers around a table and brings-in his or her point of view, after which all the opinions, without any distinction as to content and meaning, are mixed in a big pan so that the outcome is inefficient, unworkable, and – most important – for which nobody is then responsible. The resulting disasters are unpleasant but entirely fair to all parties. So, Holland is great for two types of people: 1) those who sincerely enjoy living in Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, and 2) cultural anthropoloigists who will have the best time of their lives. For artists, it is a mixed pleasure… according to their ambitions.

  • Will Moseng says:

    Germany had many satisfactions while working in a major theater, but the downside was financial: pay was Lower middle class in a fest contract, and the ability of new management ability to fire almost all of the ensemble when coming in, rather than evaluating individuals for a year was disturbing.

  • Will Moseng says:

    The Parallels between the (unjustified and appalling as they were) recent torture of captured terrorists, where to our knowledge, one died, and the mass slaughter of millions by the Third Reich is an insult to common sense. And has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Is your belief actually the 100% of modern Germans are social liberals? And your quoting of a ” poll” to reflect what Americans ” think” is meretricious, to say the least.

    • Max Grimm says:

      While drawing a parallel between the USA and the Third Reich might be an insult to common sense, there is a parallel to be drawn regarding the justifications used by those who employ torture. Those justifications have largely remained the same (regardless of nationality, year, religion, region, or conflict).

    • MWnyc says:

      “The Parallels between the (unjustified and appalling as they were) recent torture of captured terrorists …

      Unfortunately, Will, the people who tortured, and who ordered the torture of,those “captured terrorists” – claiming to do so in the name of my fellow citizens and supposedly for our safety – didn’t generally take care to prove that the people they captured were actually terrorists before torturing them.

      Folks, this is the answer to use with people who say they don’t mind – or even want – “the terrorists” to be tortured: What if they have the wrong guy?

  • Glenn Hardy says:

    Well, this may be true if you are taking in and swallowing all the soundbites and media garbage being propagated. You’ll just believe the polls, because after all, you read it in the press! In fact, 54% of Americans don’t agree on anything, let alone the justification of torture.

    The USA was a grand experiment in the attempt to level the playing field, so to speak. It was an attempt, and it has failed. We cannot overcome the stupidity inherent in each little (or large) racial/cultural group (much of which was inherited from Europe.) But, at least it was an attempt to overcome the tribal nonsense that has consumed Europe and continues to consume it to this day.

    The USA could learn much from modern European governments, but of course, it is too proud to do so. The truth is, we make all the same mistakes everyone else makes, but we like to pretend we’re number one. We believe our own PR. (Bet that’s never happened before.) And we get flak because we were stupid enough to put all the idealistic stuff into a grand public document that we have never been able to live up to. So of course, NEWSFLASH: we’re hypocrites!

    We are also a bellwether for cultural degeneration. If you want to see Switzerland, France, Germany, et al in the future, look at the USA now: anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-art, racist (oh wait, didn’t some other folks get a little head start on us there…hmmm I’m thinking Dutch…or was it Deutsch?…and somehow, I keep hearing the word, “pen” or “penne”…no, wait, it’s “Le Pen!”); de-funding “classical” music education; disbanding orchestras; closing opera houses; etc. etc.

    So, great, live in Switzerland and sing your hearts out for a few more years. Enjoy your rich cultural heritage until it’s overcome by throbbing drum and bass and the music of moronic mesmerization. Live in the bubble. It’s beautiful until it pops. I really hope I’m wrong about all this. As Billy Joel said, “We didn’t start the fire.”

    • Edwina says:

      I totally agree with your comments above. You are certainly right about the future of things in much of Europe, but I don’t believe that it will ever reach the levels seen today in the U.S. Police shooting dead 12 year old unarmed children playing in a park, as happened recently in Cleveland. As long as Europe doesn’t catch the American “gun fetish” things will never get to the low and depraved levels of U.S. society. There is also a greater awareness in most European countries of democratic representation, something that has long disappeared in the U.S., where legislators and supposedly elected representatives are bought and sold by big corporations and the citizen and his needs hardly enter into the equation at all. So, the U.S. has a population that knows and feels that they are not considered, not represented and then couple that with an out of control militarised police force and a government that uses its various branches of government to suppress and silence any opposition, i.e. total surveillance and the IRS targeting supposed political opponents (in a supposed democracy!) and you have a quasi Stalinist proto-fascist state, where any dissent is met with draconian brutality. I really don’t think that that world will come to Europe so soon, as the people wouldn’t tolerate it and guns and senseless violence are not part of European cultures to the extent that they are in the U.S.

  • Will Moseng says:

    One must point out the number of bombings of Turkish homes and businesses and open assaults upon foreigners in Germany in the last decade is why I left Germany, despite the excellent contract I had. Auslaenderfeindlichkeit was the word of the decade.

  • Will Moseng says:

    Glenn: agree With much of what you say, but to imply that America is in the past tense is wrong. There has been tremendous ebb and flow during the political and social history, and I think the country is in a terribly complicated situation since 2001, but I don’t think we’ve reached the decline of empire status, yet. The barbarians aren’t quite at the gate, we’ve simply regressed politically because of powerful influences. But the gilded age ended, so will this one. Where we go next is the question.

    England’s laws on foreigners working there are much tighter, the dominance of Brits in America is reflective of generous laws, although not disputing that they have a very high level of experience. Correct me if I’m wrong about restrictions.

  • Will Moseng says:

    Hmmm, Edwina, neo nazi and proto Stalinist. Weren’t those European movements, and won’t both world wars generated on the European continent?

    The cliched descriptions of ” America” here are about what I’d expect. Just as dogmatic and ideology driven as one would expect from someone who clearly don’t understand the structure of the country and reads headlines.

    • Edwina says:

      Having lived for eight years in the U.S. and having many friends there and visiting at least once a year, I don’t think that my comments can be called “dogmatic and ideology driven” (!)
      If you don’t agree with what I wrote, then use facts to counter it.
      Please check and respond whether these fact are true or false, as per my message above:
      1. A 12 year old unarmed child playing with a plastic pellet gun in a park in Cleveland was shot dead by police 1,5 seconds after they arrived on the scene. True or false? Do incidents like this happen in European cities?
      2. Do U.S. citizens own and carry more firearms around in public than any other nation in the world? True or false?
      3. Does the U.S. have the highest rate of gun violence and homicide in the entire world? True or false?
      4. Are corporations entitled to unlimited financial contributions to political campaigns in the U.S. (Citizens United)?
      5. Have there not been relentless and daily demonstrations against police militarisation throughout the U.S.? True or false?
      6. Has there not been any revelations about near total surveillance of U.S. citizen’s e-mail, phone and other communications? True or false?
      7. Has the U.S. tax authority, the IRS, not been found to have used their administration to block, fine and abuse political opposition? True or false?
      8. And we won’t even talk about torture, of chaining humans in cages and having them freeze to death while suspended from a dungeon’s ceiling, or “rectally feeding” them.

      I could go on, but these questions relate to exactly what I wrote, which you dismissed as “dogma and ideology”. Perhaps you have been drinking from the same punchbowl as Dick Cheney.

      Instead of writing what you have, you should express shame for what has been perpetrated by your country!

      • NYMike says:

        I won’t comment on your other points, but #7 has been proven to be false.

      • Kathleen McCarthy says:

        You might want to consider staying away from the US for a while, at least until you’ve recovered.

        • Anselm says:

          As one of our chief editorial writers in Denmark wrote in last week’s article’s headline, “America – A Nation in Denial of its Actions”

          Many on this blog, apparently from over there, seem to suffer from this condition. Don’t expect much sympathy and understanding however.

      • Roberto says:

        #2 I think is false. What about Switzerland?

        I live in the US and work very close to Europe. I also travel to Europe every once in a while for business. The truth is that there are many more Europeans that want to live in the US than Americans that want to live in Europe.

        Politically speaking, Europeans politicians are delusion. The economy is stagnant, economy policies are dictated from non-elected officials in Brussels, elections turnout are extremely low, large and growing Islam communities that are not being assimilated and so on. I don’t see a lot that should be inspired by the US.

        One thing for sure: Europe, except for Britain, has better food! 🙂

    • Pirkko says:

      Will, the WW2 wasn’t generated on European continent, to be precise. The continuous warfare started in July -37 when Japan invaded China, and went on until Sept -45.

      But this has nothing to do with which country is the best place for opera singers.

  • DidTrumpet says:

    Quite a rant but I have time to dispute one statement. Your statement: “…quasi Stalinist proto-fascist state, where any dissent is met with draconian brutality.” is a bit of an exaggeration since estimates of the number of deaths at the hands of Stalin are 20 million.

  • Edwina says:

    Of course you won’t comment on the other points, as if to imply that they are false. Sorry, but that trick, from the other side of the pond, doesn’t work anymore. Concerning point #7, which you say, “has been proven to be false”, I will only attach the links below, from major news sources, i.e. Reuters, Time Magazine, etc. and leave to you and others to draw their own conclusions:

  • Will Moseng says:

    I find no point in addressing a hate filled monologue based on little comprehension of reality. Simply amused that an American liberal Democrat is accused of being Dick Cheney. I lived in Germany longer than you resided in the States, yet do profess to be an expert on the country.

    Tiresome to see the tiny island criticizing a country of such vastness that it is difficult to describe any aspect as a monolithic block. Fine, we’ve established you hate the United States. And will grab a series of headlines and proclaim a new world order. Cherry picking isolated incidents to falsely portray an entire country. As to gun mass murders? Hardly a country in Europe where it hasn’t happened.

    • Bill says:

      If I could just say that I don’t think that stating well-known facts amounts to “hating the United States”. Saying that this litany of horrors has no connection to the real country, this “monolithic block” as you call it is as foolish and misplaced as saying that Nazi Germany had no connection whatsoever with Germany of the time and anyone who would have said such a thing would have had “little comprehension of reality”. If I understand your logic, a big country can be excused for such atrocities simply because it is big and monolithic, yet a “tiny island” nation, as you call it could be condemned for its wrongdoings, simply because it isn’t vast and complicated.

      As an American, I am ashamed by these attitudes and it doesn’t bode well for the future if they prevail.

  • Will Moseng says:

    You are aware that the CIA torture program ended in 2009? Or as it appears, you only read headlines with going any deeper than facts? Or is fact based reporting too much effort when jingoism is easier?

    • Anselm says:

      The fact that it supposedly ended in 2009 is not the issue. The fact that those responsible have not been held accountable, prosecuted and brought to justice by the guilty country itself is the issue. Fortunately, this week papers were filed in Berlin to begin prosecution and apparently many more cases will be coming in the next weeks.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I assume your post was meant as a reply to my earlier post.
      I am well aware that the CIA torture program ended. But the fact that there was such a program to be done away with, especially in this day and age, is a sad statement (quite frankly, a sad statement as to human nature, regardless of nationality…It was ‘country X’ 50 years ago, then it was ‘country Y’ 5 years ago and it’ll be ‘country Z’ doing it 50 years from now).

  • Will Moseng says:

    Bill: work on reading comprehension. Virtually everything you write is literally a complete inversion of what I actually wrote.

  • william osborne says:

    To bad Norman’s question led to World War III. Anyway, if we were to take opera performances per capita as a measure, the following countries would be the places to live. The table shows the number of performances per million people, then total number of performances followed by the total population. Interesting questions are raised. Why does France, which spends more per capita on the arts than almost any other country in the world only rank 19th? Why does Italy with its rich operatic traditions only rank 20th? Why does Finland, which has the highest number of orchestras per capita rank much lower for opera at 16th? We also see that concepts of social order also provide contradictions. Twenty years ago Europeans were committing mass rape as a method of ethnic cleansing in Croatia, but it ranks 13th in the world for opera performances per capita. The USA, the richest and most powerful country in human history, comes in at 39th, mostly in a category with Third World countries. The stats are from Operbase and compiled by Mike Gibbs.

    1 at Austria 149.8 (1252 /8.356m)
    2 ch Switzerland 102.1 (795 /7.786m)
    3 ee Estonia 95.5 (128 /1.340m)
    4 de Germany 88.4 (7230 /81.758m)
    5 cz Czech Republic 80.8 (863 /10.675m)
    6 hu Hungary 61.2 (608 /9.942m)
    7 lt Lithuania 52.1 (169 /3.244m)
    8 si Slovenia 51.2 (105 /2.049m)
    9 sk Slovakia 47.1 (256 /5.430m)
    10 se Sweden 43.3 (405 /9.354m)
    11 lu Luxembourg 41.8 (21 / 0.502m)
    12 no Norway 38.9 (192 /4.938m)
    13 hr Croatia 37.4 (168 /4.486m)
    14 bg Bulgaria 34.8 (264 /7.577m)
    15 dk Denmark 34.2 (190 /5.558m)
    16 fi Finland 30.5 (164 /5.375m)
    17 lv Latvia 24.3 (54 / 2.218m)
    18 be Belgium 24.0 (260 /10.828m)
    19 fr France 19.6 (1288 /65.822m)
    20 it Italy 19.2 (1162 /60.419m)

    • william osborne says:

      One other observation. Austria has 26 times more opera performances per capita than the USA. Switzerland 20 times, Germany 15 times, etc.

      • Mark Henriksen says:

        If you want to use this data to address “best place for an opera singer to live”, total number of productions or performances is relevant, not “per capita” is best. For example, Luxemburg hovers near the top 10 with a paltry 21 performances in your analysis.

        What are the total number of performances in the US? I suspect it is high but the ranking in your per capita data is low because the population is quite large.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Any time any city in the US wants its own full-time, publically-funded opera company it’s perfectly free to set one up. All we need is a single successful example to serve as a model of how to do so.

    • Hilary says:

      “Too bad Norman’s question lead to WW3” Lol.
      I was quite taken by surprise at how quickly the comments slipped beyond the remit of the question. In real life it would have been a more prosaic discussion I suspect.

  • Kathleen McCarthy says:

    Anselm, are you insinuating that I am from “over there”? How dare you!

  • J says:

    Whoops! And then I read the rest of the comments. Paul’s was mild by comparison. Having enjoyed many trips to Europe and even having been married to a European, I’d say you Euros are a bunch of harsh, dishonest, cowardly, repressed, arrogant, snooty, overtaxed, welfare freaks. Opera is not America’s tradition, it is an import and we’re simply not that interested in it as a nation. I won’t comment on the other unrelated points except to say that guns are dumb and there are too many accidents with them.

    • DeLuca Wannabe says:

      Wow… Over-generalize much? I can just imagine how many close European friends you have.
      Opera (and classical music in general) WAS a tradition here in America… then musical tastes and culture evolved (or, more accurately, de-volved) away from it. If there was NO interest in opera in America there would be few or no American opera companies (like there are few or no American kabuki & Noh theater companies)… and there would also be few or no American operas being written here, produced here and exported to other nations around the world…. but whaddya know… there ARE!
      If one only judged by what huge numbers of Americans are “interested” in, you would think our nation only cared about guns, major league sports teams, talent-free celebrities, and large automobiles.

      • Anonne says:

        “If one only judged by what huge numbers of Americans are “interested” in, you would think our nation only cared about guns, major league sports teams, talent-free celebrities, and large automobiles.”

        Oh, please — let’s not forget fast food — and this from a nation where people with no palates and obviously no experience criticise British food. Eaten in London, Glasgow, or country inns up and down the nation lately, have you, in your quest for the tasteless McBurger?

  • Dabney says:

    So after reading these comments, it seems there is nomIdeal country for an opera singer to live in and the best place is to just stay home and sing I the living room so you won’t get taxed, shot at or bombed. Right? Can we get back to the topic at hand?jees!

    • Stefan says:

      Thank you Dabney. Comments on the original question please.

      We all come from different places, different backgrounds, and have different opinions. We will agree with some of those opinions and disagree with others, but we should all respect the right others to have those opinions and quite lambasting them.

      Now, which country is the best for a singer? 🙂

  • Anne says:

    I thought I’d been redirected to a YouTube comments section by mistake.

    Some VERY thin skinned people around here.

    Good grief!

  • Jan de Jong says:

    Germany x Austria would equal Salzburg….

    but the right answer is the capital of Freistaat Bayern:

    Munich, which is a wonderful city to live in and well situated between Berlin and Milan, Vienna and Zürich, Bayreuth and Verona, and Bregenz and Salzburg, et cetera.

  • Alexander says:


  • Bein'-Swiss envy says:

    How does one go about becoming a Swiss citizen? After one scrapes together the 100 million SFr. entry fee, I mean….

  • Crispin Ward says:

    Moldova of course, lovely opera house, great musicians, lovely people, cheap plentiful wine beer and food and the prettiest girls in the World.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The Sinfonia Moldava however, had to settle in Iasi (Rumania) because of living conditions in their home country, and the musicians play on period instruments of 1900 because of lack of funds.

  • Lynne says:

    Italy is the best place for opera singers to live. Northern Italy to be specific. The weather is warm and humid and the voice feels good all year round even in the winter months. Milano is served by two airports and regular efficient train service. Housing has high ceilings and thick walls, great for vocalizing. Amazing availability of knowledgeable coaches. All the greatest opera singers sing in Milano and a ticket is easy to come by. Great food. But the best is the daily admiration and adoration of the people you come in contact with. Even neighbors! In the States, my neighbors complained. In Italy I got requests! Italy loves opera singers and treats them like rock stars!

  • Diana Higbee says:

    France is an amazing place to live for an opera singer. It’s easy to get to different countries and if you manage to get a sufficient amount of hours in your field you get unemployment insurance between gigs. It’s better than temping.
    I have a website about becoming an opera singer it’s in French for now but there may be an english version one day.
    Keep an eye out for my upcoming e-book about the subject.

  • Philip Lingard says:

    I would go for specific cities rather than countries for balance of ease of travel access, quality and cost of living and access to operatic opportunities- opera houses, agents, festivals, oratorio performances, recital halls and so on. Then it is a matter of living in a cultural environment which is energetic and encouraging without being oppressive and speaking a language you are comfortable with.

    On that basis, New York, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Bologna, Hong Kong in the East. Only the last two might be controversial. Would love to add Barcelona but not really…