In Europe opera companies are considered cultural institutions and are often subsidized by government financing. In Germany there are more than 100 opera companies, three in Berlin alone. Because there are so many companies, emerging opera singers working in Europe have plenty of job opportunities and many are able to support themselves financially while developing their art.
There are far fewer opportunities in the United States. Opera isn’t part of our native history. It’s a European import that struggles with the perception that it appeals only to the educated elite. Most emerging opera singers working here live a difficult freelance life, scrambling for singing work while waiting tables or working desk jobs to make ends meet.
Resident artist programs seek to fill the void for young artists. There are over 60 developing artist programs in the U.S. for emerging opera singers, and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City plans to join the ranks of opera companies dedicating themselves to advancing the singers who are the future of opera.
Singers in the new Lyric Opera Resident Artist Program, which will kick off during the 2016-2017 season, will be on a full-time contract, which will allow them to develop their art while making enough money to pay the bills.
The Resident Artist Program will not only allow emerging artists to eke out a living, it will also benefit the community. The program, combined with the existing Young Artist Program (a collaboration with vocal performance students at KU and UMKC), will give the Lyric Opera many more artistic tentacles to reach out and enfold the Kansas City community in the operatic art.
“The Kansas City Symphony and the Kansas City Ballet have musicians and dancers who are on contract for much of the year and thus are available as needed,” says Deborah Sandler, general manager and CEO. “As we continue to expand our reach into the community, our YAP and RAP participants will provide us with a group of artists who are available to perform in a variety of ways.”
The program will be spearheaded by tenor Vinson Cole, UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance faculty member and one of the leading artists of his generation.
“We have an opera superstar and master teacher in our own community,” Sandler says. “It was very auspicious that Vinson Cole was in Kansas City, and certainly his expertise made the program more feasible.”
The program would not be possible without Richard Hill, a regular Lyric Opera supporter who stepped forward to be a charter sponsor. “I hope that this program flourishes and is able to expand the opera experience to a wider audience, and especially to families and youth,” says Hill.
Cole couldn’t agree more. “There are more singers than there are places to sing and the program is designed to provide young singers performance possibilities. But if we can showcase incredibly talented young singers, hopefully that will entice more young people to come to performances, building a wider audience base. Youth enjoys watching youth perform.”