Do Aussie singers face prejudice in European opera houses?

David Barnard asked Myriam Mazouzi, Director of the Academy of the Paris Opera, what chance an Australian has of gaining a place at the prestigious academy.  Her reply:

‘None – there are so few places and the standard is so high across Europe, why would we even consider looking to Australia? In Europe, Australia is not regarded as a country for opera and we would most likely spend the whole time bringing the Australian artist up to standard in the basics of style and language first – we don’t have time for this.’

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joan sutherland norma

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    • I know of several Aussie and NZ opera singers who have had successful UK careers.

  • Nonsense. The ROH Young Artists Programme is always stuffed full of Australian singers. It’s the Brits that can’t get a gig these days.

    • Which rather suggests Australia SHOULD be “regarded as a country for music” and to do otherwise is ignorant. Rather like Canada (though perhaps not with quite the quantity of internationally-acclaimed artists on the current scene) Australia punches well above its weight in the world of music.

      Never mind Paris, mates. The Poms and the Canucks will welcome you — and probably some of the less oblivious Europeans, too. (Though I would advise you to avoid Romania these days…)

  • New Zealand and Australian artists who come here usually do well; both countries have strong historical ties with the UK. However there are no cultural links between them and France, and its much easier for those with British ancestry to continue their studies here in the UK where there’s a common language and possibly ancestral connections. Performances of foreign language opera in New Zealand or Australia however often lack the linguistic and stylistic finesse of their European counterparts for exactly the reason Mme Mazouzi expresses; there just aren’t enough teachers down there of international repute.

  • Australian singers do very well in German / Austrian opera houses and have an excellent reputation for musicianship and professionalism.

  • I think when Norman refers to ‘Europe’, he might just mean Continental Europe, not Britain where the predominant language is English, and there have been some even at English National Opera because of this. Americans, Australians and the Brits – and probably in that order and not meaning to offend – are not the greatest at speaking German fluently as a language (or any other language, as say the Dutch or Sweden etc are at English), so that’s where the prejudice might just come in. Goodness me, I studied four foreign languages in my time fo years but can hardly say I’m fluent as I never hear them on a daily basis, but certainly no one can complain about Australian and NZ musicianship and professionalism and vocal ability. Didn’t put Joan Sutherland off!!

    • The thing about Joan Sutherland was that it didn’t matter what language she was singing, nobody could understand a word she sang anyway.

      • Absolutely true!
        I heard Sutherland in Esclarmonde at the SF Opera, and I had excellent seats.
        Although the sound of her voice was lovely and her intonation true, and her stage presence quite impressive, there were no consonants to be heard from her.
        Can’t have everything, I suppose….

  • If Mazouzi needs proof that an Antipodean upbringing doesn’t preclude grasp of language, a good place to start would be Nicole Car’s debut album: French, Italian, Russian and Czech all despatched with astonishing stylistic ease and accuracy.

  • As the author of the report in the limelight, all I can say is, please read the full report when it’s published. This is snap shot journalism and not representative of what I wrote. I myself have had a very successful career in the UK and parts of Europe and never felt any predudice but had to work my socks off to keep up with changing expectation – as in any industry.

  • Peculiar.

    A bit of research suggests David Barnard has not been employed by any of Australia’s opera houses, except for his tenure at State Opera of South Australia as Head of Music which was very short lived, (for reasons unknown). These strange comments in this article, disparaging other artists and directors sideways, smack a little bit of a grudge or vendetta, whether there is truth in the innuendos or not.

    The comments from Myriam Mazouzi at the Paris opera academy might well apply to her own personal prejudices, but make little sense in the context of the reality that there are quite a few Australian singers having perfectly successful careers throughout Europe, some very successfully indeed; not to mention here in the UK which is a natural magnet for Australian talent. And I would wager that, like any opera academy, if an Australian auditioned in Paris who had a remarkable instrument, they would accept them, like any sensible academy would, as talent is talent and voices are voices. If not, I expect that’s a problem for Paris.

    It’s certainly true that opera training in Australia isn’t particularly great, primarily I suspect because of the general lack of music and singing in schools and culture, meaning everybody is on the backfoot from day one, and the lack of training in languages. (Here in the UK we at least have some choral tradition); that’s not to say that there aren’t at least some very good teachers and coaches that I’m aware of in Australia. In my experience, if the voice is good and the talent and ear is there, then almost anything can be taught. That’s what opera academies look for, (indeed, what they ARE for), and loads of academies and companies in Europe have taken on plenty of good Australian talent.

    It is also true there are very few opportunities for opera performance in Australia, because there just aren’t many companies. Although the state companies seem to struggle to present work of a truly professional standard (at least the bit I’ve seen), from everything I have seen recently of the major company, Opera Australia, they regularly present work of a remarkably high standard on the international stage, with some visiting artists of high caliber and a roster of local artists who have always impressed with their abilities and versatility, and productions of a technical quality that rivals any major house, even with the space limitations that the opera house is also internationally famous for! Not to mention reliably excellent orchestral and choral work.

    Mr Barnard seems to have come to Europe on a bit of a scholarship junket, spoken to a few people, and returned to Australia to unleash his wisdom on the unwashed masses of heathens in that country; articles like this don’t seem to be the best way to go about it. Given a quick glance at Mr Barnard’s CV suggests he hasn’t worked in Europe much further afield than Opera North and ENO (I vaguely remember him vaguely in British Youth Opera a while back too), one wonders quite why he thinks he is qualified to be making such assertions about an industry he doesn’t seem to have worked in all that much, particularly not in YURP where everything is soooooo much better (ho ho)……. I don’t know many other of my fellow British repetititeurs who would be so bold as to do such a thing, as we tend to spend much of our lives working with extremely talented Australian singers.

    • Your comment about lamentable school ‘music’ programs here in Australia and the lack of languages in school curricula is absolutely correct. Woeful!!!

    • As I say, please read the whole 14,000 word report and don’t have a dig at me trying to up the standard and expectation in my own country for the young singers I work with all the time and those more established singers at all of the opera companies in Australia. When you’ve read the whole document, you’ll be wanting to retract your words and will realise that it was written out of support for my industry in Australia (and not for or against anywhere else) and to increase the output, widen the repertoire choices and reassess our training and education areas. You will also see that it is without agenda, brings ideas of change – we have problems in Australia that need to be addressed, it’s also not about myself but an honest open report for my colleagues in Australia – and not a scholaship ‘junket’ as you disrespectfully say. I doubt the Winston Churchill Trust would appreciate the governance of their funds being referred to in such a way. I’m fully aware of how many Australians are having very successful careers overseas. That’s my point. Overseas. Your comments are ill informed, disrespectful and completely off at a tangent.

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