Sarah Connolly: Brexit would have killed my career

Sarah Connolly: Brexit would have killed my career


norman lebrecht

November 15, 2018

The dominant British mezzo-soprano has written a reflection for Jessica Duchen’s site on the likely effect of Brexit on opera singers. It’s essential reading.


A few years ago, I stood in at a moment’s notice for Mahler’s Second Symphony in Leipzig for the opening of the famous Gewandhaus orchestra’s Mahler festival. My agent phoned me to say that the great maestro Riccardo Chailly had asked for me to come immediately to Leipzig and replace the ailing singer. It was a really big honour which had me checking flights within a minute, but if paperwork and visa issues had been a problem then like many American singers, I wouldn’t even have been considered, because visas cover specific jobs that need prior notification. At least they do when we work in America. In hindsight, to have missed out on this opportunity would have been a great loss to my career. I have returned many times and it has helped build my reputation in Germany and everywhere else in Europe since this concert was globally live-streamed and recorded for DVD….

The vile experience of queuing at 8am on the pavement in all weathers outside the American Embassy for a work permit every time I get a contract in the US (every application costs me and the arts organisation hiring me hundreds of pounds) is not something anyone would choose to do, in order to work in Europe….

Read on here.



  • Margaret Steinitz says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Dame Sarah. Since June 2016 I have been trying to make some kind of sense out of what is happening before our very eyes now. I am fully aware that the possible ramifications of Brexit for the Music Industry are similar to those in other professions, but I cannot comment in detail about them. I have been working in our Music Industry for over 40 years, fostering Anglo-German cultural relations as did my late husband Paul Steinitz before me, so can claim some knowledge of how it works, what it generates for our country, how we bring some of the world’s greatest artists to our platforms that have enriched the lives of thousands and thousands of British people and how this has been achieved in such measure far outweighing the amount achievable pre-1973. British musicians, whether individually or as part of distinguished orchestras, chamber groups, opera companies, have flown the flag for this country across EU states time after time after time, engaging audiences with their mastery of Western European mainstream music in particular, complemented by new music, new ideas, new thinking. Given the funding regime in this country, which is positively medieval, the ability to freely move from the UK and work among EU Member States enables our musicians to share their expertise and supplement their earnings, something which must be seriously in jeopardy now for the reasons Dame Sarah has described and I can only endorse – the loss of work and income pontificated upon by politicians when it suits them! The Music Industry matters; I’ll wager the challenges we face are not so far removed from those in other professions as well.

    • Allen says:

      How about the fishing profession in places like Grimsby? Have you thought about that? Do you even know where it is?

      • Margaret Steinitz says:

        Batting for our own industry doesn’t mean we are not sympathetic towards others with challenging issues to face.

      • May says:

        Allen, what is your point? Grimsby shot itself in the foot, both because of the delays and duties that will come about after leaving the EU, plus the shortage of workers. Please elaborate!

      • Interested Party says:

        Creative industries in UK worth over £93bn while fishing industry worth less than £1bn. I think the fishing industry gets far more than its fair share of consideration in this whole process, whilst the arts has appeared to be somewhat under-represented. So I hope you’ll excuse us for defending our livelihoods…

        • Allen says:

          “Creative industries in UK worth over £93bn”

          And you’re implying that all of it will be affected? I don’t think so.

          I find it interesting that you have based your comparison of monetary value. Don’t you realise that the fishing industry is based in coastal communities that have little else, whereas the creative industries are dispersed. I’m not aware of any “creative towns” or “creative villages” that will bear the brunt.

          Working class people are simply not on your radar at all, are they?

  • Andrew says:

    More #ProjectFear (Part 376829). It’s not like anyone ever travelled before we joined the poxy EU, is it? The Commisssion has already agreed to visa-free travel of up to 90 days even if we crash out on WTO terms. Work permits shouldn’t be an insurmountable issue for anyone who needs them. Rather sick of all these pampered luvvies and their whining.

    • Margaret Steinitz says:

      I am sorry that we come across as pampered luvvies, whining our way through life. All we are doing is earning our living, just like everyone else, speaking up for our Industry just like others in theirs.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Andrew writes: “The commission has agreed to visa-free travel of up to 90 days…”

      This visa would not allow you to work in the EU. So it really isn’t relevant to the discussion.

  • Ariragi says:

    The EU is not synonymous with open borders. Open borders are only an element of the EU, which is otherwise largely corrupt, undemocratic, and overly-bureaucratic and deprives England of her sovereignty. If England wants open borders – and I believe in them – then it should pass an open borders law with the EU and anyone else it likes. But we don’t keep a murderer free because he also volunteers at the old-folks home on weekends.

    • Scotty says:

      A post-EU UK won’t be able to pass an open border law without the cooperation of the EU. The UK can decide only how it will treat EU residents. It will be up to the EU to decide whether Brits will need work-permits and visas and so on. Right now EU sentiment is unsympathetic.

      • Ariragi says:

        That’s true Scotty. And if the EU doesn’t agree to an open border policy because of sour grapes, then the condemnation belongs on the EU. The UK will have to do what every other country does – negotiate with individual countries on travel policy.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Ariragi writes: “The EU is … largely corrupt, undemocratic, and overly-bureaucratic ”

      Repeatedly stating such bizarre statements don’t make them true. In fact, there is relatively little corruption; all the countries in the EU elect their governments through democratic elections (and the commission is chosen by the member countries); and it barely has a bureaucracy (each country in the EU agrees to act in turn as the EU bureaucracy, changing every 6 months).

  • Mike Schachter says:

    There is no reason to believe that what would happen in Europe would be anything like the US model, which has always been out on its own. So why pretend otherwise?

  • PaulD says:

    “The vile experience of queueing at 8am on the pavement in all weathers outside the American Embassy” Oh, please. Well, if it is vile, she should pass on opportunities to work in the United States. I wonder if members of the Berlin Philharmonic, and other European musicians who regularly visit the United States feel that it is a vile experience to get a visa.

    • Scotty says:

      Based on my conversations with European musicians, yes, they feel that it is a vile experience. For members of big organizations that have people helping, it’s somewhat less vile. For freelancers, it’s a nightmare.

    • V.Lind says:

      It’s a vile experience to try to get into the US from Canada, which for many, many decades enjoyed “the longest undefended frontier in the world,” something both countries long cited with pride.

      I was travelling from Canada to Mexico via Houston (1-hour layover with a plane change) and the grilling I got from US Customs in Toronto, despite having all the appropriate papers and travelling on behalf of the Government of Canada, was borderline abusive. When I think we used to slope over to Niagara Falls, NY when on the Canadian side (just to gloat about how much better our side was) in those halcyon pre-paranoia days…

      Good luck to all re EU visa situations if/when Brexit happens. (That cur Gove may prop up a failing project given his propensity for playing both sides against the middle — with people like him in government you almost feel dealing under the aegis of the EU would be better). If they manage to ram it through, things may be dodgy for a while, but they ought to settle once some of the bitterness and spite has worn off, in the interests of all concerned. The arts will probably not be first to be accommodated, but it may well happen, as the interests of the UK and European countries are essentially aligned.

    • Rustier spoon says:

      It’s a pretty vile experience, yes, but a necessary evil. It’s made worse, however, by the authorities inside the building who give you a hard time because the callouses formed on your left hand fingers from playing can make it hard for them to get the quality of fingerprint they think they need. And they think you can do something about it!!!

    • Bill says:

      I suspect that a major performing arts institution like the BPO is able to send over a staffer with a bag full of documents and get them all done at once, rather than each musician having to do the process individually.

      As a US citizen, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with the US government as an individual. I doubt they treat individual non-citizens even that well! However, my experience with other national governments suggests that it can be a nightmare just about anywhere, and I am quite thankful I do not need to do so on a regular basis!

  • Piffle. Visa-free travel has already been confirmed in the EU so all one will need to do is buy a ticket. Foreign artists, called in at the last minute, appeared at the ROH etc. whenever emergencies required in the decades before the EU.

    Opera thrived long before the EU and will continue to do so afterwards. Get real. This is about what is good for the nation.

    • Scotty says:

      It’s not the travel that’s the issue. It’s the working. I’m American and I live in the EU. I can hop on the train or on a plane and enter the UK at a moment’s notice. But if I want to perform, I need a work permit. At immigration, if officials even suspect that I will perform they interrogate me. Not that I’m complaining. The paperwork required to work in the UK is nothing compared to the hell that musicians have to go through to perform in the States. But it’s also not so effortless as just buying a ticket.

      • Maria says:

        Then get EU citizenship for whatever country you are in?

        • Scotty says:

          That won’t help, Maria. And as I said, I have no complaints about my working conditions. I have a work visa for Germany and the only place in the EU that requires me to secure a work visa is the UK, which appears to be leaving the EU. Anyway, obtaining German citizenship would require me to renounce my USA citizenship and fulfill many not-trivial conditions.

  • Mark (London ) says:

    More bleeding heart crap from these so called “artists “ whose life only maybe a little more uncomfortable, due to visa ! But in reality it won’t make a difference ! Pathetic article