Christopher Busietta
Tenor and Music Teacher

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Theater Augsburg in June 2015.
Theater Augsburg in June 2015.

8 reasons why I love being in a fest contract

Theater Augsburg has re-opened for business today. Rehearsals have started. The first meet and greet is past. I'm rested, energized and really happy to be back at work. So I'd like to reflect on how lucky to have the job and the position that I'm in.

Singers love to complain about how hard their job is. How unfair their career is. How unlike everybody else their conditions are. Me included!

We certainly do over-complain, even though in a lot of cases our complaining is justified.

However, instead of re-iterating about how hard being an opera singer is, which is written and even romanticised about over and over again, I am going to start my first article of the season with the opposite: why itís an amazing thing having a fest contract in Germany, which seems to be becoming rarer and rarer.

1. The theatre gives you work

On a fest contract, you are paid a salary and the theatre gives you roles to perform in the season and concerts to sing in. Because you are paid a salary, they are actually at an advantage to keep you busy so that they can get their moneyís worth.

Quite often, it can seem unfair Ė you can have work piled upon you, generally don't get to choose what you do and you do not get paid any extra.

Auditioning is about as fun as it looks.
Auditioning is about as fun as it looks.

However, here is the other side of the coin. Unless you are Jonas Kaufmann, you will be constantly looking for work. As a permanent singer, you donít have to go out and audition for several hundred dollars at a time, you donít have to write letters to theatres, you donít need to hound your agent (if you have one): the work is given to you!

Like many starry eyed young singers, I spent the first three years of my fest contract auditioning and constantly searching for more work. I didnít need a contract, but I was desperate to work up the ladder as quickly as possible and not miss out on any opportunities better than the job I currently have.

In contrast, last season I made the decision not to do any auditions. For me, it was a very good decision. I am enjoying the fact that I am concentrating on my work without worrying about the train trip next week, whether I have the hotel booked and having to find time to work on that same aria for the five hundredth time instead of the exciting new role Iím currently working on.

I have work to do and I have at least another year before I have to start worry about whether to start auditioning again. Thatís luxury!

Orchestra Sitzprobe for Wozzeck, 2015.
Orchestra Sitzprobe for Wozzeck, 2015.

2. You get to sing with a professional orchestra

The quality you get in a city opera house means you have a permanent orchestra, chorus, technical crew, prompters, conductors, make-up artists and costume designersÖ the lot!

This means you perform operas and concerts with great make-up, costumes, backstage crew who bend over backwards to make you look great and make the show a success.

My favourite part of all as a musician is to perform an orchestra of full-time professional musicians who make everything (including you) sound great.

Thatís what itís all about in the end.

3. When you are left out of a production, you are not called into the theatre and you are still paid

You are paid even if you are not currently rehearsing. Yes, you will be busy learning concert music and roles from home, and come in for an occasionally rehearsal or coaching, but the work from home you would do as a freelance artist would be unpaid.

As Michael Jackson in the Theater Augsburg Opernball 2014.
As Michael Jackson - Theater Augsburg Opernball 2014.

4. You get coachings

When you work as a fest singer in a theatre, you get coachings for your role from a repetiteur. Not always enough, but itís something I used to shell out hundreds to thousands of dollars a year for.

5. You get to do a variety of theatre productions & concerts that you never thought you would do.

On top of opera, you do other types of performance including concerts, childrenís programs or the opera ball. I have even done musicals like Hair, Blues Brothers, My Fair Lady and an open-air rock revue. I never thought I would be singing and dancing Michael Jackson songs in costume as part of an opera ensemble.

6. No travel (or very little)!

While performing all over Europe and beyond is what every twenty-year old singing student dreams of, the glamour is not what it appears, especially when you hit thirty.

Partners, spouses & children all make the separation of travel painful. Also, every train trip you take before a performance (or audition) wears you down mentally and physically.

No Ė staying in my town most of the year is fine by me!

Photo from Theater Augsburg Season Booklet 2015/16.
Friends and Colleagues.
Theater Augsburg Season Booklet 2015/16.
Christopher Busietta, Sally du Randt, Giulio Alvise Caselli. Photo: Nik SchŲlzel

7. You get to know your colleagues in the ensemble

When you come to do a production, you know your colleagues. That might seem like it could become boring, but on the other hand, theyíre like a family. You go out for coffee, you have parties and you support each other in successes and hard times.

In the case of Augsburg, I have to say: what a great bunch of singers, artists and people you are.

Not only the singers, but the dancers, actors, orchestra, costumes, make-up artists and everyone else in between. It's a great way to see how all parts of the theatre work and an appreciation for the huge amount of work that everybody in the theatre does.

And if you need to work with new people Ė there are always guest artists and directors coming in and out.

8. Paid holiday leave (& all the other benefits of being in contract)

You are paid for the month the theatre is closed and can go on holiday. Sure, itís inflexible, but itís there. Maldives here we come!

So, there you have it Ė you will work hard, you will not tour the world, but fest contracts are a wonderful thing and Iím glad to have one. See you all in the theatre!

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