Nina Stemme: Opera singers haven’t seen a pay rise in a decade

Nina Stemme: Opera singers haven’t seen a pay rise in a decade


norman lebrecht

November 08, 2020

Or so the biggest Wagner diva tells the Telegraph.

Is that so, and if so why?



  • Anonymous says:

    Article behind paywall. Can someone please give executive summary?

    • Manuela Hoelterhoff says:

      $1 a month isn’t much of a pay wall.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      This is what she says. Hardly warrants the Slippeddisc headline.

      “My pay has increased but broadly, speaking for my colleagues, I think the money in opera is at a standstill. Although opera is sold out and more performances are being streamed so it is more accessible and affordable, pay has not increased for the past 10 to 15 years. For most people, it is not easy to earn a living as an opera singer. At the moment, because of the pandemic, I get cancellations all the time.”

      Hardly helps to expand on what NL implies does it?

  • A.L. says:

    When they sing so badly and unmemorably, why should they?

  • Dander says:

    It’s a question of no sing, no fee, need to have a good agent to negotiate.

  • Firing Back says:


    Stemme’s ‘logic'(?) and arguments are flawed.
    The music industry is not a packing plant where people are in salaried employment.

    She comes across as a self-entitled, clueless baggage.

    Like other self-styled ‘activist’ singers, she’s a liability to the profession, not a help – and should stick to warbling, and avoid the commentary.

    • Sam McElroy says:

      “Stick to warbling”??
      What utter disrespect for one of the greatest voices of our time.

    • V.Lind says:

      Oooh, Firing Back is having another bad day!

    • Lower standards for the Left says:

      Activist singers are successfully killing off what’s left of opera including DiDonato.

      They won’t learn until the bookings dry up after the theaters can’t break even.

      COVID has starved everyone off the stages already so it’s a good thing they aren’t wasting everyone’s time with crusades. People want to get dressed up and see a SHOW not listen to their sermons.

      Look at the met of all houses. They’ve been unable to make profits for the last several years with singers performing to only a 1/2 filled house. Obama years killed off a lot with people rejecting “white music” and pushing black casts with black themes. Now the Met is walled off for who knows how long while allowing everyone to go broke and leave NYC. Believing in the Met was clearly a mistake for all of the now poor artists.

      • Yes Addison says:

        I’m pretty familiar with Met attendance over the last several years, and it just isn’t true that it’s always only half filled. That’s taking hyperbole past the limit. They’ve had their share of hot tickets, such as Porgy & Bess and Akhnaten in the abbreviated 2019-20 season. The former was so successful that performances were added while the season was still ongoing. Admittedly, yes, you can be there on certain nights and get a dismal picture. Another routine run of the 40-year-old Bohème production with an undistinguished cast will leave a lot of elbow room, as will a widely disliked show such as the current Don Giovanni (fortunately, on the way out) with almost anyone.

        • Met Noir says:

          The Met completely abandoned their singers.

          They deserve to remain closed the.way they discarded everybody with no support or guidance. Nobody cares about their largesse or promises anymore when artists are broke and moving out of the city.

          A lot of people are also transitioning into homelessness for those of you who are uneducated or simply uncaring.

      • zergafritz says:

        Obama! Really? You’re a delusional racist!

    • Maria says:

      You obviously didn’t listen to her wonderful live interview for the London Wagner Society about three weeks ago. You might then would have had a bit more of a generous view. She came across as a shear delight.

  • pastore says:

    For years the major international opera houses have had a top performance fee beyond which no singers got paid. The list of top fee artists is larger than you might expect and includes many of the singers in major roles. Most all of them were happy as long as no one else was getting more. But it was also generally accepted that those handful of superstars who filled houses and expanded subscription purchases ( Pavarotti, Domingo, Te Kanawa and a few others) got more. Today I would guess that only Kaufmann and Netrebko are in that category. For a good number of years the top fee at ROH was 10,000 pounds and in the U.S. it was in the $15-16,000 range. As performance numbers have dropped, at least in the U.S., and attendance has dwindled in the last ten years I imagine that top fees have very likely stayed the same and other artists have found their fees frozen. Companies that would have paid top fees for a Cherubino, Susanna and other similar roles are now going with bright and cheaper rising young singers. In short, all artists, chorus and orchestra members as well as top level administrators will be making less in the future.

    • AngloGerman says:

      Kaufmann’s fee is definitely above £10,000 at ROH.

    • Paul B says:

      Only Kaufmann and Netrebko..?!!?
      If this is today’s view of opera audience, than this is not only very ignorant, but also very sad!

    • De-Fund Opera! says:

      This is why opera should no longer be supported. Now that singers aren’t valued enough to be compensated for their educational investments and talent, there’s no point.

      There’s always other ways to make money.

  • Nicholas Ennos says:

    They don’t deserve any money at all until they learn to sing properly, not the diaphragmatic pushing and shouting and fake vibrato they use at the moment.

  • papageno says:

    We don’t have any truly great singers today among the new crop of neophytes and they want more $$$ ? Everybody was taught the ‘international style’ of singing and all sound the same.

  • Inaustria says:

    One problem, at least in Austria, Germany and Switzerland is “the list”. An intendant can see what a singer has been paid for a role elsewhere and will of course not offer substantially (if any) more, even if the first engagement was several years prior. And very often the chorus in a large house will receive a good chunk more than soloists. The starting salary in the chorus is more than that of a starting soloist and grows exponentially with time.

  • Fred Funk says:

    Doesn’t look like they’re missing any meals.

  • Saxon Pierce says:

    The problem begins with so many Universities churning out ‘singers’ who mistake the academic credentials the earned as some sort of qualification for being on stage. Their CVs are padded with opera studio leading roles, festivals, competitions and other pay-to-sing activities; which include an array of faculty, coaches, and ‘directors,’ who use these pay-to-play events to generate leads for their own income streams from desperate singers; and as an opportunity to pay less for talent (while in the case of a not for profit co that might be lucky to have an endowment keeping their own salaries healthy). Then when a singer can’t make it as a performer they turn to coaching and teaching and pass along their own bad habits and technique; and start their own competitions and festivals.

    That’s how the audience has ended up with lesser-than voices, wobblers and to the point of activist singers, why those voices stick around – because we can’t tell anyone their talent isn’t up to Opera for fear they’re made to feel bad. Never mind if they can’t emote, act or otherwise are just not pleasant visually. So the audience gets a sub-par voice from someone who is in no world even interesting to watch and they walk away with a mediocre impression of opera at best.

    The desire of directors and singers alike to be socially relevant rather than put the music first is agreeably smothering the life from opera. They jam their agenda down the audiences throats with staging and even changing the endings, and 15 minute lectures before the curtain goes up, as opposed to leading the audience to reflect on how ‘things have not changed’ from the time the piece was written and modern times, and allowing them to come to their own conclusions.

    Recently speaking with some people who enjoy opera but wouldn’t consider themselves aficionados, one commented that she knew all about one singer being part of the lgbt community, being horrible to watch as an actor, and correct;y observing that this singer artificially darkens their voice and isn’t truly the fach for the roles they sing, but otherwise couldn’t understand how this singer became popular.

    There’s a collective misread by the opera world of what audiences expect, and an assumption that audiences don’t really know what they’re listening for anyway. But the reality is even if the audience isn’t particularly educated on technical aspect of singing, they have expectations, and when those aren’t exceeded they’re not likely to stick around.

    So while some in the opera world wonder or think they’re saving opera from dying, in reality their slowly killing themselves with their own egos and agendas.

    • Firing Back says:

      I don’t mind if they stick to singing.
      But their egos, in some cases, are such that they think the public is interested in them giving sermons on what ‘they’ consider to be social justice.
      They think the public cares what they actually ‘think’.

      The public gets turned off.

      When push comes to shove, many turn out to be as dumb as buckets when they try to talk about current affairs etc. Look at the self-indulgent shriek-fest of Sarah Connolly on social media, to give a perfect example.


  • Warren Parkinson says:

    I watch a lot of opera and really enjoy them. Over the years their performance have improved immensely. The new Met Operas shown in theaters around the world are magnificent. If the geniuses who wrote these operas centuries ago could witness the now the would be astounded. We can enjoy them much more now, largely do to technology. I personally find the comments very disappointing.

  • Harold says:

    She says fees for most singers haven’t increased for many, but says her own pay has increased, which is to be expected for a star. That is an experience many workers know too.

  • John Borstlap says:

    As one can see in the picture, Mrs Stemme sings a high b flat quite effortless.