Culture Magazine

Young Artist Programs - A Guide for Future Divas

By Pinkall @pinkall
It's my 100th post and it's performance week at Sugar Creek! - Check back every day this week - I'll be posting on two new blog series: "A Guide for Future Divas" - showing some ways on how to get into this crazy business & "The Making of an Opera" - videos about my experience here at sugar creek including performances.
YAP = Young Artist Program
Sometimes this term is synonymous with "Apprentice Artist" and "Studio Artist" as well as other various forms, but generally, it is what you think it is - a program for young artists to learn the opera profession.  Much of what we do is similar to a trade school in that we are learning a very specific technical profession.  However, it is a very varied business.  As you may expect, everyone has an opinion about what someone should or shouldn't do.
Young Artist Programs are generally created by opera companies as a means to train young singers in return for (lacking a better term) cheap labor.  Young Artist Programs today attempt to teach singers about what is needed to succeed in "the business".  (And if you're an emerging artist, this info will be greatly beneficial to you, so take good notes - or bookmark this post)
1.  You must be able to sing, act, and do these in an audition (there will be a future post on this).  Companies generally want singer/actors. Obviously, the time of the "park and bark" is over.  Companies want people who look the part (not the epitomically colossal opera singer stereotype) and who can have more facial reactions than just happy and sad.

Young Artist Programs - A Guide for Future Divas

Willie the Operatic Whale

2.  Young Artist Programs come in tiers, like professional baseball.  Assuming that you've learned to play the game well (operatic equivalent to an undergraduate degree in music) and perhaps you can teach others, including yourself, on how to improve (master's degree), you are certainly ready to try your luck in the professional world.
  • Independent Minor Leagues - just like in baseball, this is the first level of YAPs, the first level of learning about what it takes to become a pro.  In opera, these would be "pay-to-sings" - meaning that you pay tuition or a fee to sing with a program.
  • Single-A Baseball - for most professional baseball players, this first step is one of the most difficult, and in opera that can also be the case.  This first step would mean that you are being paid to sing opera, or at the very least do not have to pay to sing anymore.  Most of these companies have many apprentices who help fill choruses, small roles, perhaps lead roles, or cover the lead roles.
  • Double-A Baseball - so now we're getting pretty serious, people are becoming interested in you being a part of their fantasy baseball team, and in opera - companies and perhaps talent managers are noticing you.  These programs would be some of the more historic and well known apprentice programs like Chautauqua Opera, Central City Opera, and Des Moines Opera.
  • Triple-A Baseball - you are the next in line to be called up to the majors, and in opera this means that you are at one of the most prestigious programs carefully scouted by talent managers and opera companies.  These elite would include: Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Merola Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera.
3. How do you find out about auditioning for these programs?'s the best and easiest resource that opera singers use to help them find gigs.
4.  The previous list mainly describes professional companies that have their performing seasons in the summer.  However, there are many companies that have winter programs: Minnesota Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and Virginia Opera.  These are generally called "Resident Artist Programs" because you are employed for many months or even several years at a time.  Because there are fewer of these, the competition is fierce, however it would require you to move to the area.
Some of the best programs, like our Triple-A programs, are the most prestigious and coveted apprentice programs programs out there.  These top tier resident artist programs would include: Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Lindemann (the Met), Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Florida Grand Opera.
5.  The most important tip is to audition for everything, especially for the programs that are in the next tier up.  You may not get to the gig this year, but your good audition may get you on the short list for next year.  So keep trying.
As to where this program (Sugar Creek) fits into the scheme of things...(trying to remain unbiased) it is probably a Single-A program with Double-A talent.  Because times are so rough, there are fewer companies.  This means the good singers can't move up the tiers as easily making the competition incredibly difficult for the singers who audition.  For this particular program, we were required to send in an audition recording - I'm not sure how many applied because they did not release that information to my knowledge, but I have seen other similar programs tout anywhere between one and three thousand applicants.  Then they invited 280 for a live audition in one of several cities - I went to New York.  Of that number, only 19 became apprentice artists for the company.  So, it can be tough - that's why it is important to apply often, to even have a chance.
Opera, as a business, is having a tough time, just as many other professions are.  Many opera houses and companies are running a deficit, and until donor contributions rise again, many companies - even long standing companies like the holy New York City Opera - may become extinct.  But for many, these young artist programs are a way to keep producing operas.
The good news is that there are more classically trained singers and classical musicians than ever before in our country's history, which may serve as some hope for the continuation of what we love most, even if the world falls off the cliff in the Great Recession.  Some of the most difficult times in world history have created the greatest achievements in music - for example, the Medieval Music Era developed because of the fall of the Roman Empire, the 20th Century Music Era developed out of the humanitarian and economic costs of World War I, and Jazz developed in illegal "speakeasies" during Prohibition.  For what it's worth, the world is a much more stable (and thankfully less sober) place now than during those times, so there is still optimism to be had. _________________
Come back tomorrow for my video, "The Making of an Opera - Raising the Dough"
August 1 - Sugar Creek Opera - Community Preview Concert - Kiwanis Club, Watseka, IL NoonAugust 4 - Sugar Creek Opera - Kick-off Concert (Duet from Romeo et Juliet & Agony from Into the Woods) Watseka, IL - 7:30pmAugust 5 - Sugar Creek Opera - Daughter of the Regiment - Clifton, IL (near Chicago) 8:00pmAugust 7 - Sugar Creek Opera - Daughter of the Regiment - Clifton, IL (near Chicago) 3:00pmAugust 8 - Audition - Kansas City Symphony

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