Singing the Same Tune
Editor's Note: The following is an article excerpt from the February 2004 edition of Newsline. To read the entire article and other articles relevant to your career in opera, become a full member of OPERA America and receive Newsline, OPERA America’s magazine. Newsline, published 10 times annually, covers opera company news from around the world, issues affecting the field, professional opportunities, repertoire, and updates on OPERA America programs and activities. For details, go to www.operaamerica.org.
The placing of artists in opera houses can, at times, be as fraught with drama as the works enacted on stage. The relative ease of travel and the growing supply of good opera singers have created a culture of maneuverability and choice surrounding the engagement of singers. With choice comes complexity, and this complexity can result in unnecessary misunderstandings between artist managers and artistic administration.
Artist managers and company personnel are involved in a feedback loop of information that must continually be refined as the process moves from a hypothetical inquiry to opening night at the opera. Being able to engage in this shared dialogue, while advancing one’s own interests, results in a relationship that is as concordant as it is divergent. Diane Zola and Bernard Uzan both have the interesting perspective of having sat on both sides of this artistic fence; in this article, they discuss the positive and negative ramifications of the manager-administrator relationship.
Uzan and Zola agree that management and administration of singers require similar skills. A substantive knowledge of the repertoire and the voice lies at the heart of both disciplines. The administrator must be clear regarding the demands and parameters of a role, especially when extrapolating a singer’s suitability based on performance in other roles. Zola fears that this ability is sometimes lacking in administrators. “Too often I get the sense that people only feel secure in casting if they have heard the singer in the role in question. You have to understand vocal technique and potential if you are to cast a Manon after hearing a Lucia.” Uzan underscores the same point from the teacher, I have to be clear in my understanding of the capabilities of singers. I have to know if a particular singer is able to sing an Otello a month after finishing a Siegmund. When suggesting names to companies for a particular role, it would be detrimental to my whole roster if I put forth singers who are not suitable or ready.”
While managers and administrators must excel equally in their knowledge and its application, these are two distinct professions with differing motivations, responsibilities, and working environments. Day-today tasks are essentially sides of a buyer-seller relationship: contract negotiation, preparing and hearing singers in audition, ensuring housing and travel, and planning future repertoire or gigs. Each of these elements requires the coordinated input of two parties and, given the similarities of tasks, it is perhaps not surprising that Zola and Uzan both stress that the differences between management and administration lie in the work environment, not the job functions.
Generating mutual trust, while a simple solution, is a somewhat ideological aspiration. The prisoners’ dilemma model contends that, in a situation where cooperation is the most beneficial strategy, self-interest and the fear of an abuse of trust will result in an adversarial and mutually destructive relationship. North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents (NAPAMA) does have a well-respected code of ethics and this is a valuable step towards a framework for honest and fair interactions. But trust is built on personal relationships, not codes of ethics. It must begin at the individual level through respect and collegiality.
About the Author: General Director’s Liaison, Houston Grand Opera