UK opera singers tell Government: We are the worst affected

UK opera singers tell Government: We are the worst affected


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2020

Dame Sarah Connolly leadsd a letter in today’s Times letter detailing the plight of British singers:

Sir, Professional British singers have a world-leading reputation, and along with our colleagues in the performing arts we are the heartbeat of British culture. The music industry contributes more than £5 billion a year to the UK economy, and exerts enormous “soft power” globally.

Public Health England directs that singers (and brass and woodwind players) remain at least three metres apart. This means that we are the worst-affected group of musicians. As a result we are failing to survive financially. Our institutions are closing, performers are unable to earn an income and we cannot foresee a time when audiences will return to concert halls and theatres in sufficient numbers to provide a meaningful and successful box office. Our lives are literally at a dead stop and it is terrifying. We urge the government to show its pride in British culture by supporting all of us in our time of need.

Dame Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano, and fellow, Royal College of Music; Sir John Tomlinson, bass, and winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal; Stuart Murphy, chief executive, ENO; Aidan Lang, general director, WNO; Richard Mantle, general director, Opera North; Sarah Hopwood, managing director, Glyndebourne Opera; Jonathan Howard, bass, The King’s Singers; Sir Willard White, bass, and winner of the Jamaican Order of Merit; Dame Felicity Lott, soprano, and winner of the Wigmore Hall Medal; Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano; Susan Bullock, soprano, and Royal Philharmonic Society award winner; Claire Martin, jazz singer; Mark Padmore, tenor, and artistic director, St Endellion music festival; Roderick Williams, baritone, and president of the Three Choirs Festival; Sarah Walker, mezzo-soprano, and fellow of both the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music; Iestyn Davies, counter-tenor, and fellow of the Royal Academy of Music; Sophie Bevan, soprano, and International Opera Award winner; Mary Bevan, soprano, and Royal Philharmonic Society award winner; John Mark Ainsley, tenor, and Royal Philharmonic Society Singer Award; Brindley Sherratt, bass, and International Opera Awards winner; Deborah Annetts, chief executive of ISM; Lucy Crowe, soprano, and fellow, Royal Academy of Music; Iain Paterson, bass-baritone; Neal Davies, bass-baritone, and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World prize-winner; Christine Rice, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Rose, bass, John Christie award winner; Toby Spence, and Royal Philharmonic Society award winner; Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Will Thomas, bass, and winner of the 2019 Kathleen Ferrier award; Louise Alder, soprano, and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World prize-winner; Christopher Purves, bass-baritone; Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo-soprano, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music; Jennifer Johnston, mezzo-soprano; Henry Waddington, bass-baritone; Matthew Brook, baritone; Sarah Tynan, soprano; Leigh Melrose, baritone; Claudia Huckle, contralto; Natalya Romaniw, soprano; David Butt Philip, tenor; Nicky Spence, tenor; Allan Clayton, tenor, and Royal Philharmonic Society award winner; Melanie Marshall, mezzo-soprano; Jeremy Huw Williams, baritone; Rosalind Plowright, mezzo soprano, and Grammy Award winner; John Daszak, tenor; Yvonne Howard, mezzo-soprano, and vocal professor, Royal Academy of Music; Anna Patalong, soprano; Benedict Nelson, baritone; Mary Carewe, recording and concert artist; Kitty Whately, mezzo-soprano, winner of the 2011 Kathleen Ferrier prize



  • Daphnis176 says:

    Oh, and here I thought it was the world’s hyper-rich over-publicized conductors who are worse off than anyone else (
    How about the anonymous musicians in the trenches who make the actual sounds that conductors take all the credit for? And why do singers feel the need to single themselves out as especially deprived? (Perhaps because they already own the spotlight that doesn’t shine on “accompanists” or into the opera pit.) Cross-cultural statements would carry much more weight and demonstrate mutual supportiveness.

    • Former Singer says:

      Singers STILL have no safety mechanisms Daphnis176.

      Conductors have the opportunity to have long-term contracts with large pay ‘packages’.

      Orchestra members also have the opportunity to have long-term (at least season to season) contracts with sizable pay rates and sometimes pay ‘packages’ on top of the clout wielded by their SEPARATE Union(s).

      House/Hall staff (who help make everything happen) have the opportunity to be either independent contractors, part-time or full-time EMPLOYEES with a GUARANTEED INCOME.

      Opera singers have no such opportunities! However they are expected to have comparable educational standards on top of performing in numerous languages and inhabiting a character. In the states there is AGMA which one is REQUIRED to join in order to perform in major opera houses and venues but they are focused on INDIRECT issues and NOT on a singer’s professional side when it comes to pay rates or even the hope of a reliable source of income like ALL of the aforementioned.

      That’s still the great failure of opera. Nobody helps the singers and there is scant opportunity. That’s why there is such ‘singer outrage’ at the self-absorbed Met Daphnis176 and more singers are turning away from opera as a result. Why kill oneself to get to the pinnacle (in the US) when they clearly DON’T CARE about artists and further left their beloved chorus to ROT???

  • Karl says:

    I’ve been reading that most experts think a vaccine is likely to become available by mid-2021.

    Even if that’s not true it looks like COVID is so infectious that more than half the human population will have been infected with it by then. If that’s true then it’s possible we will have heard immunity even if a vaccine isn’t developed. Even if that doesn’t happen viruses often attenuate and become less lethal because viruses mutate and there is no evolutionary advantage to a virus if it kills its host. One way or another this pandemic will subside in 18 months or sooner.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Well said! In London we are shortly to discover whether there is any herd immunity when the partial lockdown is lifted from July 4th. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests Covid-19 was kicking around at the end of last year in the UK. I know a family, in London, who back in December went down with weird, flu-like symptoms, dry cough & high temperatures: the wife had it bad & the husband less so & the two teenage boys had no symptoms. They were better after two weeks, although fatigued & they haven’t been ill since then. A few weeks’ ago they all had themselves tested & all four had antibodies for Covid-19. (I appreciate that the test isn’t always accurate but for all four to test positive must mean that they had the virus.)

    • Laura says:

      That’s very uncertain. Also some suggestion that antibodies may be active for as little as 2 months, meaning that someone who caught it in February, and recovered in March, by now will be vulnerable again. That’s why you get seasonal flu vaccines every year (and also because viruses mutate)

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        Certainly, so far, nobody has contracted Covid-19 twice. I haven’t read of the possibility of antibodies being effective for only two months, which would be worrying. Dr Fauci who is on the White House Coronavirus Task Force has said the reason he is very optimistic about a vaccine is that the antibodies are so effective – with some viruses, like HIV, there are no antibodies & you die, whereas the ‘vast majority’ of people with Covid-19 recover. I’ve not read any evidence that Covid-19 will ‘mutate’, and early on the Chief Scientific/Medical Officers in the UK stated that it would be ‘highly unlikely’: the history of viruses suggests that Covid-19 is most likely to weaken over time, as people develop immunity or die.

        Meanwhile, in terms of the arts I’ve rather given up and have written off 2020. If I can’t even go to the Wigmore any time soon that’s it! You can’t frighten people half to death with a so-called deadly killer virus & then expect everyone to go out & about as usual a few months later. So roll on 2021…………

        • Graham H says:

          Hi Stephen, my wife is a nurse in a Covid ward and she has spoken about people getting the infection twice. Beating it and being discharged, only to be admitted again after a month or longer. I think that perhaps the infection is so much unknown that many can speculate but we just don’t know. As to opera singers being worst hit I would say there are many free lance musicians that have been devastate, my friend has lost 1000 of pounds of contracts and is now delivering fish and chips. There is the Blackpool circus that is just in limbo as they only get paid cash from live performances and so can’t claim furlough. But at least musicians are not on the wards actually being thrown up on with patients who have Covid, or other diseases. I feel we need to just be patient and earn money in other ways until this time is past.

          • Nik says:

            Sorry, but if they were re-admitted after a month it means that they had a relapse of the illness. That’s not the same as getting reinfected. It means that they hadn’t recovered as fully as they thought.

          • Stephen Diviani says:

            From everything that I have read of the science nobody has been infected twice with Covid-19. Initially there was some confusion around the remains of the dying virus – apologies, off the top of my head I can’t recall the technical term – in the body: it was the reason why yonks ago a Japanese patient recovered and then tested positive. It was a misdiagnoses.

            As I wrote, I am now resigned to the worst when it comes to the arts. I heard a rumour the other day that the Wigmore was unlikely to open again until next year. I really hope that is wrong but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. We seem to have a death wish & have turned Covid-19 into some kind of Bubonic plague. For me it is a virus from which 98%-99% of people recover; for others it’s the Black Death. Que sera sera………………………

          • Stephen Diviani says:

            Graham, I think you are describing toxic shock – I’m not sure that’s quite the technical term – which can happen to the body after a severe illness. It can also happen with a severe flu virus and is not unique to Covid-19. Personally, I have always been more concerned about the economic consequences of the lockdown than I have about this particular virus. As a self-employed ‘arts worker’ I have always been willing to take other jobs if needed, but given what is about to hit us in the UK will there be any jobs available. When the furlough scheme ends in the autumn tens of thousands of workers are going to be laid off and unemployment is predicted by some economists, to rise to between 3 & 4 million. There is already a growing anger about the lockdown, which is likely to get considerably worse I’d have thought. It may be that the economy picks up – remember the V shaped recovery? – if it doesn’t then things could get very rough indeed.

  • Has-been says:

    In the UK as in the USA there is no ‘cultural vote’. I guess it is considered ‘elitist. Central Europe certainly has a cultural vote.The last cultural secretary [or whatever his title was] was David Mellor, who cared and knew something but couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants. Too bad.

  • will says:

    What a wonderful letter by 46 famous singers and 5 well-known music managers. However, it’s a shame that none of the many equally famous brass and woodwind players, quite rightly mentioned by Dame Sarah Connolly, appear to have signed it.

  • Jonathan Barner says:

    Arts orgs get enough of government cash. Great as they might be, it’s not the job of the government to support every business in danger of going under. I imagine most people will disagree…

  • fred says:

    well, you can follow the example of that singer in Berlin and in the meantime get a job somewhere

  • Andrew says:

    So much self-regard in that first paragraph. I see you’re using the same photograph from last time Sarah Connolly was whining at the government about Brexit being the death of Opera…. There’ll be another whine shortly, no doubt. In a time of pestilence, civil unrest and mass unemployment warbling really isn’t that important.

  • Wesley says:

    Another letter to the Times. Yes, that will do it. I’m sure it will be just as effective as their previous letter to the Times demanding that the EU Referendum vote be ignored.

    The majority of people in this country don’t care about such artistes. Sorry, but its true. And what do they expect?
    That a government they have collectively insulted for 4 years is going to direct economic recovery cash to metropolitan opera singers rather then unemployed manufacturing workers in the midlands? Seriously?

    As I’ve said before, writing letters to newspapers is self-indulgent “look-at-me”-ism. Form deputisations; knock on the door of government; get meetings to argue your case; and stop the petulance.

  • Allen says:

    “Public Health England directs that singers (and brass and woodwind players) remain at least three metres apart.”

    Is 3m really necessary? Seems to me that someone is under the impression that brass and woodwind players simply blow large volumes of air through their pipework. It doesn’t really work that way. If it did, they’d never survive a Mahler symphony.

    I also doubt whether a significant amount of liquid in aerosol form comes out the other end. It condenses. Has anyone actually done any research into this?

  • Allen says:

    It has just been pointed out to me that you posted some information on 11th June.

  • Have British Pride says:

    Hard to believe this letter was written and signed by people who are/were ‘the heartbeat of British culture’. Rather than just asking financial support from the government, how about finding different type of work if they are aware nearly everything is ‘at a dead stop’ and need money?

    • Stand up for Singers! says:

      “Rather than just asking financial support from the government, how about finding different type of work if they are aware nearly everything is ‘at a dead stop’ and need money?”

      Because, historically ‘ALL OF THE OTHER OPERA HOUSES AND HALLS DO IT” dear Have British Pride!!! That’s why.

      You don’t see any of THEIR uppers merely ‘being humble, making due, finding another line of work’ since there’s nothing to raise money for, promote or blatantly push their Leftist SJW narratives!!!

      The artists and workers who need the most hep NOW are being ignored for the most part hence the outrage.

      I don’t see anyone sticking up for the unsung people (the artists) who JUSTIFY these executive’s salaries, accommodations, lifestyles, galas and ‘monuments’ aka grand opera houses.

      It’s high time for some BLM ‘protests’ of all of those locations! Nobody is stopping them as they eagerly trash and LOOT higher end shopping locales and neighborhoods (I.e. Beverly Hills, CA USA)…

  • Have British Pride says:

    Or, if they are actually great musicians, how about doing recording? I am listening to right now a recording of British orchestra (with non- British soloist and conductor) from the 60s. Personally I would like my favourite musician/s to be doing recording their wonderful music while concerts halls are closed.

  • Laura says:

    Agreed – there’s a huge gap there. It would make a lot of sense now to establish some kind of scheme before all kinds of other businesses start going bust and the cupboard is bare. (eg there is an expectation in one country that 50% of newspapers will be closing by year end). Its a very differentiated industry though and I think it might help if one of the representative organisations proposed a scheme because clearly UK government are not capable of dreaming anything up by themselves.