Most people think that singers make a lot of money, which is true for some cases but these are the minority. One of the hardest jobs to land in the singing scene is to be an opera singer, mostly because you will need to have a degree in the music field and most likely you will need to finish a conservatory. Most opera houses are extremely picky who they hire, and this also reflects in the salary.
The salary of an opera singer is between $30 000 and $80 000 per year, as for how much they will actually make spends on the competition between the opera singers, seasonality, apprentice program, size and the prestige of the opera house, earnings per performance, number of performances, sponsorships, level of education, and the type of voice. The opera house which pays the highest salary in the US is the Metropolitan Opera, where the average salary of an opera singer starts at around $60 000, although being hired by this opera house is extremely difficult.
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The main problem is that there are way too many singers who want to become opera singers, and there are only a few select opera houses which do hire regularly. Usually, once you are hired by an opera house you are set for life. The problem is that due to this high competition between the singers the opera houses do not even have to attract new singers with a decent salary. Every opera house’s main goal is to make a profit, although some would say that their goal is to bring culture in people’s lives.
If you are a singer and you want to become an opera singer than this is probably the worst time for it, you missed the high point of operatic singing by 100 years. In the past century opera singers were like modern-day celebrities, and they made a lot of money. Today, however, most opera singers are relatively unknown by the general public, and a lot of opera houses struggle to stay afloat and they are increasingly relying on donations rather than just selling opera tickets.
There are some opera singers that make over $100k per year, but the truth is that most opera singers can barely scrape by and some of them also have a second job. One of my close friends who was an opera singer for around 13 years had to take up another job as a firefighter, and after the first year of having two jobs, he had to quit singing opera. Only a handful of opera singers make it big, and the barrier of entry is way too high for such a low salary.
Generally speaking, the highest paying opera house is the Metropolitan Opera, this is where 90% of the richest opera singers can be found or have started. The barrier to entry into the Metropolitan Opera is extremely high, as this is only one of the few opera houses which do pay a salary. If you want to become an opera singer than check out my recent article How to become a professional opera singer? ( In 10 Easy Steps ).
Competition between the opera singers
The main thing which will determine an opera singer’s salary is competition. The problem is that way too many singers who have a bachelor’s degree in music want to become an opera singer. Simply put the offer on the opera singer market is way too high for the demand. This is why some opera houses manage to get extremely good opera singers without paying for their true worth. Year by year the demand for opera singers is going down and the number of singers who want to be opera singers is only going up.
What you need to understand is that the opera house is a business, and every year a new budget is calculated based on the previous year’s earnings. If the next year’s projections are not the best than the opera house might even let go of some singers. The truth is that most opera houses do not let go of singers so easily if the earnings of the opera house are going down than everybody who works at the opera house will have a portion of their salary cut, they do this so they don’t have to fire anybody. There is something which a lot of opera singers tend to forget, which is the cost of a bachelor’s degree in the field of music or even the master of music degree.
You will have to spend a couple of years studying, and once you get all the necessary degrees to get hired by an opera house you are still not guaranteed that you will be hired. The truth is that most people who have a bachelor’s degree in the field of music do not actually work in that industry. At any college or university, every teacher will tell you how talented you are, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are and a lot of singers face a harsh reality with no talent but with a degree in their hands. If you are a singer and you want to get better then check out my recent article How to sing better ( Top 50 Ways and Industry Secrets ).
Opera singing is seasonal, there are only a few months a year when the opera house is open to the public. The rest of the time the opera singers tend to practice for the next season. This limits how much the opera house can actually make. There are some opera houses which charge hundreds and thousands of dollars per ticket, but these are extremely few. Most opera houses struggle to fill the seats, and things are not looking brighter for the future.
The opera season starts in September and ends in May, basically out of 12 months only 9 months can be used to set up shows and make a profit. In Europe, this isn’t a big problem as some local governments do help out opera houses, but this is hardly the case in the US.
Most opera houses do have some kind of apprentice program, which is a program meant for students who have not graduated yet. Some opera houses do not offer a salary or compensation for apprentices, the few that offer a gallery only pay between $2000 or $3000 per month. Basically, as an opera apprentice in the best case, you would earn around $36k per year, which you will most likely be able to get almost anywhere else.
Generally speaking, the apprentice program is an investment, as you will increase your chances of getting hired by the opera house after you have graduated. Although there is no guarantee that you will be hired, but you can still use the experience to get hired at some other opera house. Opera singers need to learn a lot of musical terminologies, if you want to take a look at these then check out my recent article ( All 256 ) Musical terms explained in plain English.
Size and prestige of the opera house
The size and the prestige of the opera house do determine how much money they can offer to the opera singers and the rest of the staff. For example at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the average salary of an opera singer is at around $80k. In the southern states, you will not even come close to this number. New York has a fairly high cost of living, and trust me $80k per year isn’t that big of a salary.
The more prestige n opera house has the more they can charge for their tickets, thus allowing them to give a higher cut to the opera singers. Maintaining an opera house is a lot of money, and most of the buildings are fairly old and in a need of renovations. Usually, opera houses would rather invest in the building itself than to give a raise to the opera singer, its just normal business practice.
Earnings per performance
Generally speaking, most opera houses do pay per performance, although there are some that only offer a base salary. The amount that an opera singer can make per performance varies a lot, it can be anything between $150 and $20 000. Only a few opera singers make above $10k per performance, these are usually the most famous ones of which almost everybody has heard of. The main reason why they can earn so much is that their name doesn’t attract the crowd. The richest opera singer is Renée Fleming, who has a net worth of 12M and she has started as an opera singer at the Metropolitan Opera in NY in 1988.
This doesn’t mean that they are the best opera singers, as far too often there are a lot of opera singers who for some reason do not achieve the celebrity status and thus they are not able to attract the crowds. There are a lot of extremely good opera singers who are well known in operatic circles, but outside this circle, almost nobody has heard from them.
Number of performances
Simply put the more an opera singer performs the more they can earn. Generally speaking, most opera singers have anything between 20-60 performances per year. The number of performances depends on bouth of the opera house and the opera singers’ ability to sing. The highest-paid performances are the private performances, this usually happens at certain celebrations like a birthday, but an extremely classy one.
Opera houses make a significant amount from sponsorships and donations. Usually, this money comes from extremely rich people and in some cases, they are recurring sponsors to a specific opera house. The more sponsorships or donations can an opera house get the higher salaries they can pay to the opera singers. On some occasions, an opera house can get a big enough sponsorship to last them the entire season.
Level of Education
In order to be an opera singer, you will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in the field of music. The problem is that everybody who works as an opera singer has one, and this degree is needed for the base or the lowest salary in the opera singing scene. If you also have a Master of Music degree than your base salary will go up around 15-25% more. The problem is that getting this degree is not only hard but extremely expensive. Simply put the more degrees you have the higher your salary will be.
Type of voice
The type of voice which you have is also a contributing factor to how much money you can make as an opera singer. There is not one certain type of voice which is getting the highest salary in an opera. The type of voice needed will be different from one opera house to another. Some opera houses might be looking for bass, soprano, alto and so on, you will have to ask them what kind of opera singer they actually need.
As you can see, opera singers do not make that much money, and only a select few make it big. The age of opera singing has long gone, and most opera houses struggle to stay afloat. Only a couple of decades ago, being an opera sing meant that you had a good salary and excellent job security. Today however things have changed, far fewer people go to the opera and most opera houses have to rely on sponsorships and donations.