Music Australia News

European opera houses apparently no place for young Australian singers

Palais Garnier in Paris
Graham Strahle
| May 9, 2016

A new Churchill Fellowship report by David Barnard shows there are significant attitude barriers that prevent young Australian opera singers finding job openings in Europe.

Barnard, formerly Head of Music at State Opera of South Australia and now a freelance pianist and repetiteur in Melbourne, undertook a seven-week study tour of European opera houses. He found that opera directors there do not take seriously Australia’s place in the opera world or its potential for producing singers.

“There’s a lot I am embarrassed about and take on board personally when I talk to opera industry leaders in Germany, France and Italy,” Barnard said in a Churchill Trust news update. “Australia is still not truly on the opera radar internationally and is regarded by many as third rate, which is devastating to me, considering all the other industries for which we excel in and have proven international leadership of.”

In an ArtsHub piece, Barnard quotes the director of the Academy of the Paris Opera, Myriam Mazouzi, on how likely an Australian singer would find a position there. She told him: “None – there are so few places and the standard is so high across Europe, why would we even consider looking to Australia? In Europe, Australia is not regarded as a country for opera and we would most likely spend the whole time bringing the Australian artist up to standard in the basics of style and language first – we don’t have time for this”.

Barnard’s full report is expected to be shortly posted on the Churchill Trust’s website.


  1. OzzieAbroad

    I find that an incredibly misleading heading. Australians, for a comparatively small country, have dominated young artist programs around the world with Australian artists currently and recently moved on from YAPs at Royal Opera Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Staatsoper Hamburg, Opera de Lyon, among others. Australian singers, technicians, directors, conductors, instrumentalists, composers, and repetiteurs are performing throughout Europe including becoming regular fixtures in some of the most prestigious global competitions such as Operalia, Neue Stimmen, and Belvedere. I believe that the attitude of Myriam Mazouzi is misplaced. It is true that there is less thorough training in many of the fundamentals needed for a career on stage in our music programs. However, Australian artists are becoming well known for their resourcefulness and work ethic in overcoming any obstacles. Good artists are good artists, no matter where they come from. That we produce so many despite a sometimes lack of resources is nothing to be embarrassed about. I am an Australian artist based in Europe and I am not ashamed of it. There is a vast amount growth to be made in Australia in this industry, true. This is an industry that actively contributes to the economy, fosters highly skilled workers and innovation while being an asset to education. However, we are a traditionally innovative country and had a history of being ground-breaking scientists, entrepreneurs, and creators. When the rest of the artistic world continues to say that innovation in creation is what is needed to move forward with our audiences and financially, why are we trying to compare rather than lead?

  2. Graham Cox

    I don’t know who else David spoke to on his tour but as former Head of Music at the German opera houses of Kiel, Kaiserslautern and Nuremberg not to mention répétiteur at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, I’ve had thirty years experience of auditions in Germany. Australians have just as much a chance as anyone else. The bottom line is that there are many less full-time jobs in German houses these days, whereas there are many more extremely well educated singers from all over the world competing for these fewer positions. Australians are nevertheless very well thought of and the most talented hard workers do find work. Sadly however it is no longer the way it was when I left my job at Melbourne’s VSO in 1986 with the comfortable assumption I could get a job in Germany. There are quite simply less jobs and more competition. Not having read David’s report I can only assume he went in with negative assumptions and got the answers he was expecting to hear.

  3. David Barnard

    I’d like to clarify all of this and put an end to all of the misleading comments flying around: please read the statement on the end of the Arts Hub article below. Agreed, these headings are not a useful representation of what I wrote in my 40 page report and I’m of course fully aware of how successful Australians are in other houses. (I lived abroad myself for 13 years) If you read the whole report, you’ll see that I spent two weeks at Deutsche Opera amongst fellow Aussies and had a wonderful time, along with many other amazing experiences. I took Myriam’s words as a polite challenge – she is perhaps one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Her words have been poorly represented in articles online. Some articles have taken a small part of my report and turned what was an incredible inspiring experience into something else. I respect all my Australian colleagues both in Australia and those working aboard immensely. Those who work closely with me will validate all of this. I hope that this clarifies the situation clearly for all who read this. Cheers, David

  4. Andy Sarkozy

    Thank you Hannah and Graham for your responses to what is obviously a many-sided topic. Clearly there are very many Australian singers who have found considerable success overseas. All are to be congratulated, and we plan to write in future on notable recent success stories. Thank you also, David, for coming in with a direct reply and offering clarity. Our news item quotes statements from two sources, firstly from an update on the Churchill Trust website itself, and secondly the ArtsHub article with its quotation of Myriam Mazouzi’s words. Readers are encouraged to follow the link David has provided where Ms Mazouzi claims her words were mistranslated in that article; an updated version now incorporates her response. We all look forward to reading David’s report in full when it becomes available on the Churchill Trust website. – Graham Strahle

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