Christine: Congratulations, Brett! You got hired at the Theater Erfurt in Germany!
This must be very exciting for you. You received your first Festcontract at a theater in Germany.
Brett: THANK YOU! I am very excited for this opportunity!
Christine: Many singers dream about getting a Fest contract at a German theater. What was your first reaction when you learned that you got the job?
Brett: It was a funny situation, I sang the audition on the stage and after I finished the third aria, the Intendant came up onto the stage and asked me how my German language skills were and if I had any offers for the following season. After we chatted for a bit, he said “If you want it, I have a two year position for you on a Fest contract. What do you think?” I was very excited and surprised (still quite jetlagged, to be honest) and said, “Of course, thank you very much.” We agreed to let them contact my agent about roles and terms. I was so excited but played it cool, I think. As soon as I left the theater, I called my mom and that is when I was overwhelmed with happiness. It was one of those feelings of relief. I knew I would get to stop living out of my suitcase and hustling for every penny. I walked over the Erfurt Weihnachtsmarkt (christmas market) and had a celebratory Glühwein and some food. Then my agent called to discuss the terms and roles. Shortly after, I got on a train to Munich for another audition.
Christine: In our previous interview last June, we were already so lucky to learn from the experiences you had during your German audition tour last spring. What happened since then? You told me you received multiple offers. What have you been up to and what are your plans now?
Brett: It has been quite the fun Autumn and Winter. I was able to spend two months in Germany for auditions and getting a feel for where I intended to move (before the fest offer came in). I had some very exciting auditions and Arbeitsproben. I received one guest contract offer that fell through at the last moment, but these things happen. My agent was able to secure me a performance of Carmina Burana in Finland which went very well and gave me another opportunity to sing the same piece in Sweden in April. This works nicely, as my rehearsals at Gärtnerplatztheater in Munich begin around the same time. After that production, I will begin rehearsals in Nordhausen for Entführung, before starting my contract in Erfurt.
Christine: Singers often ask how many auditions it might take to get a contract at a theater in Germany or until an agency adds you to their roster. How many audition tours did you do before you got hired by a theater and how many auditions did you sing? Where the auditions for specific roles?
Brett: I was very fortunate to be added to my agent’s roster very quickly, after auditioning for him once and performing well in house auditions, he organized for me. He runs a week-long workshop in Bavaria called, Bayerische Opernakademie, which is where I met him. He set up a few house auditions for me, some general/informational and a few for specific roles. My second audition in May (specifically for Pedrillo) was the first offer I received, then the next one I took in Munich led to the Gärtnerplatztheater offer. I was very lucky in that regard; my agent has continued to put me in front of many theaters and works very hard on my behalf. I am incredibly grateful for him and his team. If my counting is correct, I had sung for six different companies for a possible ensemble position before Erfurt hired me. In total, I have gone to Germany four times on audition tours and now I will live there, so it will be easier to audition.
Christine: How does the communication with your management work? Did your manager call you in the US telling you that there is an opera audition opportunity next week and you rushed to buy your air ticket?
Brett: We talk via email and WhatsApp, usually more in advance than a week. I think my shortest notice was two and half weeks. Then I book my tickets very quickly, so they do not get too expensive. I was in Germany for five days for the Erfurt audition and a showcase set up by the agency for twenty different companies. That was the shortest trip.
Christine: How is the work with your management like? What are your and their responsibilities? Were all auditions set up by the agency?
Brett: All of my auditions are set up by my management (IOA Management). As I said before, I love my agent and his team. We have an exclusive arrangement, so I only work with this company. He puts me up for anything he thinks is good for me (in Germany and abroad) and schedules the auditions. He always follows up to give me feedback and information regarding the auditions. If an offer is made, he negotiates the terms and takes care of the business. Beyond that, it is on me to do the rest of the work. Without him, I wouldn’t be over there at all, let alone moving. We have a very open, honest, and friendly communication. I am truly lucky to work with him.
Christine: Did you change your audition repertoire according to the feedback you and your manager got after the audition?
Brett: We always discuss the repertoire beforehand. I have several pieces that I can swap in and out of my audition package and we decide what will be best for the theater and their proposed repertoire. Sometimes I have been asked to learn specific things. For example, I was asked to learn a whole role to coach for an Arbeitsprobe in one theater. That was certainly an interesting seven days of preparation.
Christine: You have done many auditions in the US and Germany. Did you learn anything new during the last tour?
Brett: I maintain the opinion that the German audition experiences I have had are far better than my experience in the USA. First of all, in each audition I have had the opportunity to rehearse with the pianist beforehand, most of the auditions are on the stage of the theaters, and generally the panels have been much more pleasant and respectful. As for tangible differences I have noticed in the process, I would say the German theaters require a more specific product from singers, whereas in the US we are often taught to show we can do a little bit of everything. In my last trip, I definitely got a better idea of what product the business is willing to hire me for, which I think is invaluable.
Christine: What did you enjoy most during the audition tour and what where challenges? What was your experience singing with different accompanists? Was there a chance to rehearse with them before the audition? Any advice you can give to young singers?
Brett: The best part of doing an extended audition tour is traveling to new places and meeting new people! I have made so many friends and seen so many places I may not have seen, had I not been in Germany for two months. I have been to many cultural festivals, Football matches, and spent time experiencing German life. That is the best part to me. The challenge for me was financial. It is hard to have so much money going out and none coming in during a long tour. But, I planned well and had saved quite a bit, so it was ok. As far as singing with multiple collaborative pianists, it is par for the course in the life of an opera singer. I was glad to rehearse with each pianist before every audition, so there was never a messy surprise. Also, I sent my audition list well ahead of time, so they were able to practice before my arrival. My advice to anyone auditioning over there is to be very polite and clear with what you need from a collaborator. They are on your team in an audition situation, so one should treat them as such. Respect and kindness goes a long way. Also, pick repertoire that best showcases you and with which you are comfortable.
Christine: What do you think was crucial for you getting hired at a German theater?
Brett: Short answer- My agent, knowing my product, a willingness to learn and adapt, and a lot of hard work. Long answer- All of the above short answers plus being patient. Had I gone over there only a few years back, I would not be in the position I am in now. There are more theaters there, yes, but also many, many talented singers. If one is not ready with the right repertoire, a solid technique, and a willingness to learn, they will not find success.
Christine: What will your schedule look like? Do you know what roles you will sing? Do you need to pick up shows that are already on their program?
Brett: I am sure I will be quite busy in Erfurt, as I am singing five roles over the course of this coming season. However, I am not sure on the dates for everything yet. I am aware of the roles I will be singing, but they are yet to be announced by the theater, so I do not want to announce them just yet. It is possible I could be added to other productions, but I have a negotiated performance cap in the contract. Anything exceeding that total would incur a higher fee. My roles do not all fit into a traditional fach, I am singing things across the tenor spectrum, which I am very excited about.
Christine: I am sure that all rehearsals at the theater in Erfurt will be in German. How do you prepare best for this challenge?
Brett: I do a lot of German homework on my own to get my brain in the right mode. I know that I will get comfortable the more time I spend in Germany. There is only so much preparation one can do without speaking and operating in the language every day.
Christine: How are you planning to make the transition from the US to Germany? What does your family say?
Brett: My family is the best! They couldn’t be more supportive. I have family and friends already planning to visit in May, June, and July. I have a few other friends intending to come next year around Christmas. Honestly, I am anxious but very excited. I know it will take some adjusting, but I am willing to do what I need to, in order to find happiness and success.
Christine: What’s next?
Brett: I get on a plane February 25, start rehearsals March 5, and hit the ground running! I will be back in the USA in late July for my brother’s wedding, then Erfurt rehearsals begin right away.
Christine: Thank you so much for your time and willingness to let us be part of your exciting journey! We wish you a great start in Germany and hope that it will turn out as good or even better then you have dreamt of.
Brett: THANK YOU!
To learn more about Brett, check out his website .
Interview: An opera theater audition tour in Germany through the eyes of an American singer
American tenor Brett Sprague who recently won first prize of the Seattle Opera Guild Singer's Awards just came back from Germany where he sang for theater auditions. GVAI’s Director Christine conducted this interview with him. Learn and enjoy!
GVAI: Thank you Brett, for being willing to share your insights about your tour and your experiences with GVAI's young singers!
Brett: It is absolutely my pleasure to share what I learned on my audition tour; it is information I wish I had from someone who recently had the experience. I hope my insights, however limited, can help!
If you are a young professional singer, you may be headed off to a summer program or two to learn more about singing. OR you might be taking the summer off and planning to apply next year. Either way, it pays to do your research on summer programs before you pick the right one. If you are wanting to attend a summer opera program that has a focus in a specific language, you especially want to make sure it’s a good fit for your needs. For our purposes, we are going to consider German summer programs.
The State Opera House Unter den Linden in Berlin-Mitte before the renovation.
By Beek100 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
In Germany, there are around 126,000 theatre productions a year. If that sounds impressive, just wait. Over 35 million people go to these performances in that year span! Holy Brünnhilde, that’s a lot of people! There are roughly 140 publicly funded theatres and 220 privately funded theaters. Unlike New York, USA and Paris, France, opera houses are not all concentrated in one city. There are opera houses dispersed all throughout the country so that everywhere you go, you will be able to attend a production. 
GVAI just finished our 2nd annual summer opera program in Seattle, WA! Congratulations to all the singers, teachers, volunteers and supporters (especially Uli Lengenberg with Uli's famous sausage at Pike Market in Seattle)! It was a success with growth and learning all around. Our summer opera program is a two week program geared towards young artists who plan to pursue advanced schooling or opera careers in Germany, or artists who want to improve their singing in German. This year, our participants put on two performances of Mozart’s Magic Flute with German dialogues, as well as two recitals of German repertoire… all in just two weeks! Yes, it is indeed a very intense program.
Aside from making lifelong friends and exploring the great, unique city of Seattle, what can you expect to take away from this experience? Well, I can’t really put that into a short, concise answer, so here’s a blog about all the wonderful lessons to be learned from 2 weeks at GVAI!
For When One Wagner Opera isn’t Enough
Next week, the Bayreuth Festival will start and run through the end of August. The program consists entirely of operas written by Richard Wagner. No, it only takes a month to get through them all, not a full year!
Believe it or not, the idea of a festival of only Wagner operas was the conception of Wagner himself! Okay… I guess that is pretty believable. Always in a financial crisis, the festival was a means for Wagner to pay debts and remain financially independent. Once Wagner had chosen Bayreuth as the location for his festival, he discovered that the existing theatre in Bayreuth was not equipped to handle the grandiose staging and orchestrations of his operas. Hence, he set out to fundraise to build a grand opera house worthy of his works.
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Most blog posts from June 2017 - June 2018 were written by GVAI's blogger Anikka Abbott who has just started her journalism studies. We already miss her. Learn more about her here or connect with her on Facebook.
Hello, I am Christine, the director of GVAI, a passionate singer, German diction, voice and performance coach. I love music, singing and dancing. Life is an exciting journey and I invite you to walk with me....