A tenor recounts his Covid losses

A tenor recounts his Covid losses


norman lebrecht

July 08, 2020

From Allan Clayton’s chilling, widely resonating article in today’s Telegraph:

I couldn’t sing for the first two months of lockdown. When it happened, I was six days away from the opening of a new production of Janacek’s Jenufa at the Royal Opera House, and then everything stopped. The rest of my season was completely wiped out too: recitals in New York, Hamlet in Amsterdam and residencies at the Wigmore Hall and Aldeburgh Festival. All vanished, and with it the prospect of payment. My first feeling was one of numbness; I completely lost my mojo. With nothing to prepare for, stuck indoors, I couldn’t find any joy in it at all. I’ve spent my whole life in music, and have been lucky enough to develop a career singing as a tenor in some of the major venues of the world. This was the longest break I’ve had from singing since I was eight years old….

 Even though I’ve been lucky in my career to date, the situation could not be more precarious. I have no pensions, no savings – what little I had of the latter has been exhausted. The only supposed relief I’ve had is not having to pay the latest instalment of self-employment tax this month – but then, that payment was always reliant on the money that I was going to be getting in the spring….

After a few months of lockdown, I did come around to singing again. Having listened to Bryn Terfel singing some Schumann – Mondnacht from the Liederkreis, Op 39 – I rediscovered at least a little of my mojo. I was then asked to take part in the Wigmore Hall recitals organised with Radio 3, and I feel very lucky to have been involved. It was incredibly special just to be making live music again – even to an empty hall. And so now I’ve been trying to see what projects I can create on my own, or with colleagues and friends, and approaching small venues to see if it’s viable.




  • Straussian says:

    Very sad and painful to read this…my heart goes out to him, and all the other artists whose careers are now in jeopardy. I hope and pray for a brighter tomorrow for the music world.

  • Craig says:

    He raises a common theme among a lot of us performers: music has been a part of our lives and a focus for as long as we can remember. Of course there will be people who will say that we should find other employment in the meantime, and many have done exactly that, but it’s not going to be that easy merely to retransition into performing again. Techniques require constant upkeep. It’s a tough situation.

    • Jay says:

      No tougher than dying by the thousands He raises a common theme among performers ,that they are
      something special….well they ain;t.What arrogance !

      • Larry D says:

        A remedial course in punctuation marks might be in order here.

      • Craig says:

        I’m not entirely sure what you mean by any of that, but given you are commenting on Slipped Disc, I assume you are a music lover. I sense that you are angry at Clayton purely because he works in the creative industries as a performer, something you may see as a hobby and frivolous.

        If you read the article, he is arguing for fair treatment for the work that he does. He mentions colleagues who have spent vast sums of money on travel and accommodation for months of cancelled work in the form of rehearsals and show runs, sums that they will never be able to recoup. Singers especially are booked far in advance for huge spans of time, and so because of the lump payments they get they run the risk of losing everything if things go wrong. He is saying things need to change, and he is right to.

        I will never understand the attitude of those enthusiastic consumers of music, who will sit in an auditorium and applaud those on stage who have worked for years to be where they are, while at the same time holding those same people in quiet contempt for being so ‘arrogant’ as to dare to pursue a career as a creative and to expect fair treatment for their talents. You know no one just waltzes into an orchestral job, or onto the Covent Garden stage, right?

        Or maybe you hate music, in which case why are you here?

        • Jay says:

          Mr. Clayton it seems is not so distraught
          as to forget printing out his modest history ,He seems oblivious to the fact that in these terrible times others have also lost their livelihood, stability of home life, sense of future, loved ones, but somehow manage to go on.One can only be happy for him in that he rediscovered his mojo.

          • Craig says:

            Well, let’s have a little bit of perspective here. The article was likely not entirely written by him, or if it was, he needs introducing to the readers who may not know him as a leader in his field, so they probably inserted something to that effect.

            And let’s be real here: there will always be someone who’s struggling more than you, but that doesn’t make your struggle any less worthwhile. Sure, Clayton may not have it the worst out of all musicians, but he is well known and he is speaking for many, many others who are finding the situation extremely difficult.

            I think sometimes that the penance that performers have to pay for having mostly high job satisfaction is that they are told to buckle up when things go even slightly wrong. ‘Shut up and sing’, even.

  • RW2013 says:

    He’s more than talented enough to bounce back.
    I had to look up mojo…

  • Primo Clarinet says:

    Go and get a job in Tesco. Just because you are an artist doesn’t mean you are exempt from getting of your backside and doing a “normal” job for a while.
    So many “artists/musicians” moaning about the state of the arts. How about people in other sectors who have needed to find a different job. Are they moaning? No, they are finding different jobs. So many musicians/artists moaning. You are not special. Get over it

    • Edward says:

      and how many of those with ‘normal’ jobs have been sitting on their backsides doing nothing on more or less full pay? Many people in the arts have not received a penny in government support, as his article states. Why should some people be paid to sit on their backsides and some not? It may enlighten you to know that people in the arts pay taxes as well, we contribute to the government’s coffers, but many have been abandoned.

    • Craig says:

      Your use of the word ‘normal’ is especially telling.

      A huge number of self employed musicians have fallen through the cracks of government support, around 38% of people who took a Musicians Union survey, but many people have taken up alternative employment in the meantime. Alex Aldren has become quite notable over the past few months for using his medical training while he’s unable to perform, but he is one of many musicians who have sought out temporary employment during this crisis, including at your beloved Tesco. Others have relied on online teaching, on recording or on home concerts to continue to work during this crisis, and there has been no complaining from those quarters, because you just get on with it, don’t you?

      In fact, I would state that musicians are among the hardest working people I know, who will practice for hours a day, get on trains, planes, dash off 3 hours and a concert for very little money, all because they love it. But I’ll tell you, sometimes when we’re told by people like you that we don’t have ‘real jobs’, that somehow we’re not contributing anything to society, that our time and effort spent since our childhood towards perfecting our craft, which entertains millions of people across the world and enhances their lives, was clearly just us dossing about – it makes us wonder whether it’s worth creating anything at all.

      So perhaps forgive us a little ‘moan’, to use your oh-so-contemptible refrain, that our contribution to society isn’t recognised by the powers that be, something which seems to be an eternal struggle. Most of us have been pretty anxious, until at least the last few days, about whether we were going to have a sector to return to at all. You’d miss it if it were gone, wouldn’t you?

    • Larry D says:

      And yet you feel free to moan about his “moaning”. It makes you look “primo” alright, but primo what I will keep to myself.

    • MWnyc says:

      “How about people in other sectors who have needed to find a different job. Are they moaning?”

      Likely as not, many of them are. It’s just that we don’t read about them on websites about the arts.

  • Figaro says:

    That is a tragic story and i sincerely hope it will get better soon. But here is thought: If you play in the league of singing at ROH, NYC and Amsterdam, i guess you get paid more than 5k for a performance, so lets say you make at least 100k a year. How can it be that you dont have savings??? I honestly dont understand

    • An opinionated woman says:

      Did you not read what he said? He had savings and he has already exhausted it. Also, sure he could make at least 100k/year. But he also probably pays a lot of tax on it (in the UK and in the other countries where he works), has a ton of expenses like accommodations when he’s on the road, travel, preparation fees, agent fees, etc. And then on top of that he probably has the normal personal expenses eveyone has like a mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries, etc. The fact is, 100k/year doesn’t really go very far in this industry so maybe let’s not judge him on not having a huge savings account?

      • Figaro says:

        I dont judge anybody, please dont get me wrong. I am only wondering, why the ivy league artists, who make much more than 100k/year, are complaining the loudest. But on the other hand, artists with lower incomes dont complain but buckle down to work. they pay taxes, utilities and stuff too like everybody else.
        And having spent my entire career in arts management: travel expenses are most likely part of the deal, if you sign a contract. So please tell me: Why dont have the big cats not enough savings to cover 6 month without income?

        • GoMusic says:

          I totally agree with Figaro. I was puzzled when I read he has no saving left.

        • MWnyc says:

          Allan Clayton can be a very fine singer, especially in Baroque repertory — which doesn’t pay terribly well. I wouldn’t be at all sure he makes £5k for every performance or £100k a year.

        • Craig says:

          As I’ve said above, consider that news outlets have approached well-known figures for comment, those whose voices will be heard the best (sorry). The article might have less impact if it had talked to a random assortment of people. It seems that for every person who shouts ‘get a real job, you’re a luvvie who’s loaded get over it’ there are many more who are expressing concern that even the top artists are finding the climate especially difficult.

        • An opinionated woman says:

          As someone who handles contract negotiations I can tell you that the major opera houses in both the US and Europe do provide housing in their contracts.Some of the smaller regional houses do but the bigger the fee you get the less likely you are to get your housing covered. Depending on the length of the contract an artist can expect to pay the equivalent of at least one performance fee for their accommodations in places like NYC, SF, Chicago, London, Paris, etc. US orchestras do usually provide hotel accommodations. European orchestras tend not to. Economy class flights are usually provided by everyone, but local transportation is not (rental cars, public transportation). Artists this past spring has booked their accommodations in advance of their engagements, paid the money, and then had their work cancelled and were unable to recover the costs of their housing (and opera companies were not willing to help no matter how much we pleaded with them). I know the people say that everyone should have at least 6 months of savings in case of an emergency. But I think this pandemic has proven that most people have not been able to do that.

          • psq says:

            A real question!

            Do singers get paid for the rehearsal time they put in? I’ve come across the statement that after rehearsals but the show is somehow cancelled, the singers don’t get paid at all. The pay is for each performance. No play, no pay?

  • V. Lind says:

    When I read that headline I thought that the man had lost PEOPLE to Covid-19, as so many have. Of course losing work is a wrench — one shared by MILLIONS of others, who have also lost businesses for good — things THEY have dedicated their time, effort and money to.

    Some musicians have found outlets, whether providing some online work and uploading it, or finding other work to occupy their time, even in supermarkets and hospitals. He could have gone round to hospitals and sung for patients — maybe not from Jenufa, but people in hospitals appreciate diversions in their unhappy situations. It has to be at least as rewarding as playing to an empty hall.

    • Craig says:

      I think the important thing to appreciate is that the sector has been kind of paralysed with an inability to make decisions thanks to 1. The indeterminate length of this crisis and 2. Extremely ambiguous social distancing rules. In a hypothetical situation where we were told that there couldn’t be any public performances until a certain far-off date and that people would have to find alternative employment, I’m sure it would simplify decision making. But I imagine many artists have been told by concert promoters and employers that ‘we have something in the works and we’d like you to take part, we’ll keep you posted’, making thing a good deal more complicated.

      The other thing is a larger complex debate about whether musicians should have given things away for free during this time. Many better informed people than me are talking about this, so I won’t attempt to go into it in detail here. But there is an argument that at a time when artists are struggling to make their contributions to the world felt, that they should be doing precisely the opposite of giving away their talents for nothing, and ensuring that the wider public appreciates the value of what they do.

    • The View from America says:

      Difficult to go round to hospitals and sing during the COVID-crisis. You’be be lucky to get in the door, much less open your mouth to sing.

    • David says:

      Pray tell how he could have sung for people at hospitals *during a pandemic*.

      Also, the internet is oversaturated with “Covid Content”. There’s nothing especially rewarding about it.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      Surely no one would be allowed to sing to patients in hospitals at the moment?

  • H. B. P. says:

    Also, unlike musicals which are loved and supported by all generations of audiences, core audience of opera and classical music remains/ -ed old who are not so easily coming back for live performances?

  • JHiggins says:

    There are some cruel comments on this thread.
    Allan is only illustrating what so many artists are currently going through.

    Perhaps a lot of the bitterness comes from the fact that many artists have a reputation of earning large fees, however a lot of the context is missing. Expensive travel and accommodation combined with living away from home for 4-6 weeks at a time (and the cost of living associated with that) plus regular long breaks between work (even for very successful artists) are all important considerations. It’s important to keep in mind that if that artist has quite a lot of work in the UK, those are subject to pitifully low UK fees when compared to most of the rest of Europe.

    I am not saying that artists of Allan’s caliber are not well off, but have some heart that this man’s job and purpose were destroyed by Covid, just like so many of us. He was simply telling us his story.

  • Wurtfangler says:

    It is clear that many of the comments here are from consumers of music, not creators. They show a complete lack of understanding of what it takes to be an artist. How it consumes you. How it is what defines you. How it can, in some cases, give your life a meaning. No one becomes a professional musician on a whim, to make money (not a great deal of that around at the best of times for most jobbing musicians), because they need a ‘job’. It is often the focus of a life from teenage years. When that is taken away from you it is not simply ‘losing a job’. Being an artist is often inextricably linked to who we are, what we are. It is not something that we start at 8am and put in a box at the end of the ‘working’ day. The lack of compassion and understanding here from people who I would have hoped had an appreciation of what artists contribute to our humanity is very sad indeed.

  • H. B. P. says:

    * Dear moderator, please ignore the two comments I submitted earlier. This is the revised version. Thank you for your help *

    I also thought this article must be about the loss of people the man knows or maybe his own experience of suffering Covid at ICU, rehabilitation, the loss of voice to sing etc. when I saw the headline, and was surprised to find it totally different.

    Opera / classical singing indoors is not Covid compatible (they try to sound really very loud, and that’s without a microphone!), so in this Covid era, less opportunities to work for classical singing, for an unknown period of time.

    Unlike musicals which are loved and supported by all generations, core audience of opera and classical music remains/-ed old. Probably not many of them are coming back to live performances any time soon?

  • David says:

    I’m so baffled at these highly successful singers with no savings. The amount they make annually is not insignificant, and Mr Clayton is in high demand at major venues. How do people not save, not have an emergency fund, some investments? Perhaps it was how I was raised, but having 6 months worth of expenses saved up was considered normal and necessary.

    • MWnyc says:

      You must have been raised in an era when regular middle-class people were paid enough, and their housing costs were low enough, to have six months’ of expenses saved up. In the States, at least, that era was over a generation ago.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    Lots of bitter people on here. The fact that others may have worse problems doesn’t mean that his aren’t real.

    And his problems are, based on my circle, pretty typical across the population of self-employed musicians. Yes, he could “get a job in Tesco” but having someone who is world-class in their normal profession doing low-skilled work doesn’t feel like the best thing for society as a whole, let alone for this individual.

  • Harold Clarkson says:

    I do not understand why it is necessary to make spiteful comments and to make such invidious comparisons. This wonderful artist is sharing his very difficult experience, which is as much, as has been pointed out, about the loss of the routine of performance, which he has prepared intensely all his life for.

    That doesnt mean his loss is any less valid than anyone elses…

    You wonder how so many orchestras, ballet companies and opera companies will manage being off for so long. The routine of performance will be lost and it will take several weeks for them to come back to the quality that they represent, in some cases if at all. The Vienna Philharmonic recently performed a series of concerts for no money at all ( no more spiteful comments about their income please) just to be able to preserve their integrity as an ensemble. of course they are lucky as they will perform at the Salzburg Festival. But how about the musicians of the new York Philharmonic or the Met, or Covent Garden? We are facing a staggering cultural loss… its a huge setback for our culture and heritage. Allan comments reflect that.

  • Christopher M H Wood says:

    Inspiring performance at Wigmore Hall – Thank you.

  • psq says:

    I am biased in my sympathy for Allan Clayton because I’ve enjoyed his performances with the Komische Oper Berlin for many years, from Tamino to bigger and bigger parts. If anything positive should come out of the pandemic for him may be, I hope, an even more assiduous saving for a rainy day.

    An example of planned performances evaporate into thin air because of the pandemic is the cancellation, I think, of the premiere in December and further 10 performances in the Komische Oper of Kurt Weill’s “The Rise and Fall of Mahagony” in which Allan Clayton was scheduled to sing Jim Mahagony.

    Last season he sang Candide in a production by Barrie Kosky. Typical in a BK work, Clayton did more than just singing. Here is a trailer to prove it and a reminder of happier times:


    Make sure to catch the scene at 0:22, a fitting commentary of how this thread got started. You blink and you’ll miss it.

    Mr. Clayton, hope to see you in KOB soon.

  • Bratsche brat says:

    Why does he have no savings when he’s getting so many top gigs?

  • Father Vlad says:

    Grief is the price of any love lost
    Be that a person or profession
    And grief paralyses any mojo

    With help from your friends and allies-in-life
    You will survive and then
    Once again