Have a Thick Skin and Track Your Finances

Interview part 2: Stephen Svanholm’s online service gives singers advice and tools for self-management.

There is no artistic boundary Stephen John Svanholm has not crossed. He began his musical career as a guitarist in a heavy metal band just to step one day onto an opera stage to sing Figaro. Recently, the Stockholm-based Lyric Baritone founded The Opera Stage, a website designed to “enable singers without agents to learn how to manage their own career paths”, as stated in its press release. In part two of the series about his work, he talks about today’s challenges for singers and the tools to meet them.


AIF: What is the main challenge for singers in promoting themselves?

Stephen Svanholm: In the past, a lot more singers took the tightly prescribed traditional path from college to agent to opera house. Today, far more singers manage their own careers. The opera business is far more open and in a field with many unrepresented artists, one must both formulate an individual career strategy and be willing to put in the time to actualise that strategy. In an oversaturated market, the challenge lies in knowing which avenues to invest in, develop and employ.

AIF: What quality does an opera singer need in an environment as international as the opera world?

Stephen Svanholm: Flexibility is hugely important – both artistic and practical. Most artists, especially in the beginning of their careers, will have to juggle an array of musical and non-musical jobs. Once hired, they will also have to exhibit artistic flexibility, and will often be asked to sing roles outside their Fach now, especially in early Fest contracts. Also, developing a thick skin while remaining open as an artist is essential. Rejections are inevitable for all artists. I think it’s essential to be able to absorb any constructive feedback and criticism from these experiences, and move on with positivity.


AIF: What kind of help does a singer get when he or she signs up at The Opera Stage?

Stephen Svanholm: If an artist registers on The Opera Stage, they become a Basic Member free of charge. A Basic Member can create an Artist Profile, adding audio, video, photos, reviews, and stage experience. All Artist Profiles appear in our public Opera Industry Directory. Basic Members can use an array of other career tools: Our YAP Calendar is the only calendar available online which lists Young Artists Programs by their deadline, along with links to the program’s home page. In addition, artists get access to our Opportunities Board. We believe strongly that singers should not have to pay for information about any openings or work which are non-paying or pay-to-sing, as well as for info about competitions, courses and masterclasses.

AIF: How does a singer benefit by upgrading to the premium service?

Stephen Svanholm: With our very reasonably priced monthly subscription the artist becomes a Premium Member and can get access to our Paid Jobs Board, which features a large selection of paid work worldwide, daily. We also send a daily Jobs Bulletin with new jobs which each artist can filter according to their needs. Premium Members can also take part in Agency Panel Auditions which we are holding in London and Berlin in February (more cities to come) for a subsidised price. There they will be able to sing for a panel of at least five agents.


AIF: So, does a singer still need an agent?

Stephen Svanholm: We have members with agents as well as without. I think a lot of singers can fill their diaries nowadays without an agent. There are a lot of openings out there, and it just requires some initiative on the part of the artist and willingness to really take the chances presented to them. 


Of course, having an agent still has great benefits.The singer can have someone else handle the admin side of their career and also the highest level mainstage soloist jobs will continue (at least for a while yet) to go through agencies rather than subscription services. However, to find the right representation for them, artists need to be in the shop window and sing as many roles with the smaller and medium-sized companies as possible.

Find more information at theoperastage.com






A Baritone’s Love for Sauerkraut and Chiaroscuro

In his career, Lyric Baritone Stephen John Svanholm has criss-crossed the continent and music genres alike. In part one of his portrait, a questionnaire explains the artist; in part two, the artist will explain his latest undertaking, the website The Opera Stage.


Your name:
Stephen Svanholm

From where?
Born in Durham, England, brought up in County Durham (England), Stockholm (Sweden) and Newport, Pembrokeshire (Wales)

Where based?

Your Fach?
Lyric Baritone

When have you been in Berlin?
I lived in Berlin from March 2014 to September 2017. (minus a few work periods in the UK)

Two things you like about Berlin:
The creativity, which is to be seen everywhere from street art, crafts, use of space, and music. And also the liberal attitudes to just about any lifestyle imaginable.


Two things you don’t like about Berlin:
Dog poop on the pavements. Other stuff on the pavements.

Your favourite role:
Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Your hero in opera:
Franco Corello for the visceral impact of his singing

Your hero in real life:
Elon Musk

Your favorite quality in a singer:

Best opera production you saw in Germany:
Die Zauberflöte at Komische Oper Berlin

Craziest opera production you saw in Germany:
Rheingold at Staatsoper Berlin

Your biggest career change:
From heavy metal guitarist to opera singer

Your newest project:
The Opera Stage’s expansion with a new website.

Your favourite German word:
Sauerkraut (which is also my favourite German thing)

Read next week: AIF’s interview with Stephen Svanholm about his website The Opera Stage that helps singers to manage their career.




German for Singers in Cardiff: The Programme

In the upcoming workshop “German for Opera Singers” in Cardiff, singers will brush up their grammar, linger over theatre vocabulary, follow stage directions, and dive deep into the linguistics of chosen arias and Lieder. In between, a Berlin-based singer colleague will give advice about auditioning in Germany via Skype. Here is more information:


Who runs the workshop?

Bernd Hendricks, Berlin-based German language consultant, tutor and author of the book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing”. Mr Hendricks has held workshops in Berlin, Vienna and London, and will be coming to the Welsh capital for the first time.


Day 1:
– Liebst, liebt, liebe, geliebt, liebten – Who loves or is it already over?
Refresh verb basics, conjugate and build the tenses.

– Seien wir wieder gut – The linguistics of Ariadne auf Naxos
Understand the relationships between the characters through the language, and learn fixed phrases that help to memorize parts of the text.

– Zwischen Bühnenbild und Lampenfieber – Theatre vocabulary.

Day 2:
– To the end of the line – understanding Wagner’s linguistics
Understand Wagner’s texts and his order of words, and unlock the emotions underneath its linguistics.

– Little words – great emotions
Explore the words that express feelings or attitudes with examples from the
Rosenkavalier and Entführung aus dem Serail.

– On stage – follow the direction
Understand stage directions and practice the vocabulary of movement and position.

Not scheduled yet (either on Friday or on Saturday):
– What you need to know about Vorsingen (audition) in Germany
Skype conversation with a Berlin-based singer colleague.

Bernd Hendricks

Language consultant Bernd Hendricks holds workshops in Berlin, Vienna and London.

What else?

Each day for 2 hours before or after the group session, Mr Hendricks will be available for individual sessions about the singers’ written audition requests and questions about the linguistics of arias or Lieder they are currently working on.


Friday, December 8, 4 pm – 8 pm
Saturday, December 9, 12 pm – 4 pm.


Roath Room at the YMCA Plas Community Center, 2 Shakespeare Street, Cardiff.

What language level?

Some understanding of the language is desired (beginners, advanced beginners)

Who participates?

Singers and everybody else who is involved in opera productions.

How many?

Number of participants: 10 – 12

How much?

Price: £ 120 per person.
Pay 10 % less if you bring one participant.
Pay 20 % less if you bring two participants or more.
Pay £ 70 if you can attend for only one day.

Where to register?

In Facebook:
Or send an e-mail to Bernd Hendricks:

The workshop is featured at MGR Music, a network for voice teachers at mgrmusic.com and at the online audition service Audition Oracle at auditionoracle.com.

Read articles about previous workshops, for example … 
The London Workshop: Click.

The Vienna Workshop: Click.

The Ariane auf Naxos Workshop: Click.

Video: Watch and listen what singers have to say about the Ariadne workshop.



Soon in Cardiff: German for Opera Singers


Opera singers in Berlin, Vienna and most recently in London have embraced it, and soon it will be brought to the singers’ community in Cardiff, Wales:

German for Opera Singers.

The Berlin-based German language consultant, writer, and tutor Bernd Hendricks will conduct his renowned workshop for the first time in the Welsh capital. On Friday, December 8th and on Saturday, December 9th, for four hours each day, singers will be able

– to brush up their German,
– to examine the linguistics of German libretti and Lieder,
– to understand and express theatre vocabulary and stage directions, and
– to learn about the German audition system from a Berlin-based singer via skype.

In addition, each day for two hours before or after the group session, Mr Hendricks will be available for individual sessions about the singers’ written audition requests and questions about the linguistics of arias or Lieder they are currently working on.

Location: YMCA Plas Community Center, Roath Room, 2 Shakespeare Street, Cardiff.

The workshop will be open for everyone who sings, conducts, or directs.

Are you interested in participating in the Cardiff Workshop? Do you want to know more about the course programme? Please drop me a line at bernducha@gmail.com


Shakespeare statue in Berlin, across the Deutsche Oper.

The workshop series German for Opera Singers draws singers from all around the world who want to live and sing in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. These are some of the themes of previous workshops:

– Ich komme. Haben Sie Zeit? How to write an audition request to agencies in German
- Seien wir wieder gut – The Linguistics of Ariadne auf Naxos
- O namenlose Freude – The Linguistics of Fidelio
- Du heller, wilder Fluss – Understanding the Poetry in Schubert’s songs
- Die Frist ist um – Common Traits in Wagner’s Libretti

Read articles about previous workshops, for example … 
The London Workshop: Click.

The Vienna Workshop: Click.

The Ariane auf Naxos Workshop: Click.

Video: Watch and listen what singers have to say about the Ariadne workshop.






London Workshop (3): Nouns Play Roles, Too

At my recent UK workshop “German for Opera Singers” at the Rich Mix cultural center in London, we discussed the Fidelio quartet. Marzelline falls in love with Fidelio; Fidelio – or better: Leonore – fears complications; Marzelline’s father Rocco gives his blessings to a possible liaison; and because of that Jaquino feels desperate. Four characters, just four lines for each, but a barrage of pronouns. Ich, mich, es, dir, mir, ihn, sie – what is that all about?


On each side of the River Thames, different needs are served.

It has to do with the role nouns, thus things, people, animals, everything that can do something, play in the sentence, in our case, these four characters. In grammar, these roles are called “case”. In the German language, we know four cases. In this quartet we are concerned only with three. One of them is called “accusative.” According to their roles, the pronouns change, too.

Er liebt mich. Two people are involved in this statement, er and the first person narrator, mich. In the middle, we find the verb lieben. Er is active and affiliated with the verb while mich is passive and on the receiving end of the action.


Now, let’s turn it around and reverse their roles. Then we must say, Ich liebe ihn. Er, now on the receiving end of the action turns into ihn, and mich, now active, into ich.

Another role (case) is called dative. Nouns turns into a dative when it becomes the location of an action, or when something is transfered to them, e.g. a present, an opinion, an answer etc, or when something happens to them.


In the latter case, what requires in English two words – to me – needs in German only one, but a new word: Er gibt Blumen. (He gives flowers.)
Er gibt mir Blumen. (He gives flowers to me.)
To me it is strange, miraculous = Mir ist so wunderbar

Please fill in the pronouns.

(2x) mich   (2x) mir   es   ich   er

_____ ist so wunderbar,
_____ engt das Herz _____ ein;
_____ liebt _____, _____ ist klar,
_____ werde glücklich sein.

sie   es   mich

Wie groß ist die Gefahr,
Wie schwach der Hoffnung Schein!
_____ liebt mich, _____ ist klar,
O namenlose Pein!

er   es   sie   ihn   sie

_____ liebt _____, _____ ist klar;
Ja, Mädchen, _____ wird dein.
Ein gutes, junges Paar,
_____ werden glücklich sein.

Three times – which pronoun do we have to use?
mich  or  ich  or  mir?

_____ sträubt sich schon das Haar,
Der Vater willigt ein;
_____ wird so wunderbar,
_____ fällt kein Mittel ein.

Here are the correct answers:

Mir ist so wunderbar,
Es engt das Herz mir ein;
Er liebt mich, es ist klar,
Ich werde glücklich sein.

Wie groß ist die Gefahr,
Wie schwach der Hoffnung Schein!
Sie liebt mich, es ist klar,
O namenlose Pein!

Sie liebt ihn, es ist klar;
Ja, Mädchen, er wird dein.
Ein gutes, junges Paar,
Sie werden glücklich sein.

Mir sträubt sich schon das Haar,
Der Vater willigt ein;
Mir wird so wunderbar,
Mir fällt kein Mittel ein.

Watch and listen to this magnificient recording from 1978 at the Wiener Staatsoper. Marzelline was sung by Lucia Popp, Leonore by Gundula Janowitz, Rocco by Manfred Jungwirth, and Jaquino by Adolf Dallapozza. Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra.




London Workshop (Part 2): Blondchen’s Warning

At my UK workshop “German for Opera Singers” at the Rich Mix cultural center in London in early September, we discussed how to write an audition request in German as well as the linguistics of various arias, one of them Blondchen’s aria Durch Zärtlichkeit from Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail. Blondchen lectures her captor’s servant Osmin how to win a young lady’s heart and issues a warning not to lose it, too. The participants of the workshop, singers from Australia, Cyprus, Ireland, the UK, and the US, were eager, based on the method how to approach a German text, to understand the aria – and Blondchen’s reprimand.


London, five past five


die Zärtlichkeit = tenderness
das Schmeicheln = flattery
die Gefälligkeit = (here) courtesy
das Scherzen = joking, joke
mürrisch = grumpily, grumpy
das Befehlen = commanding
das Poltern = rumbling
das Zanken = quarreling
das Plagen = pestering
die Treue = faithfulness
entweichen = (here) to disappear, to ooze



1. Mark all nouns.
2. Identify the verbs (activity words) and look how they are conjugated (changed in spelling according to
ich, du, er, wir etc.).
3. Look at the meaning of the verb (activity) and find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun that is doing this activity.
4. Find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun to whom the activity is directed.


Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln,
Gefälligkeit und Scherzen,
erobert man die Herzen
der guten Mädchen leicht:
Doch mürrisches Befehlen
und Poltern, Zanken, Plagen
macht, dass in wenig Tagen
so Lieb’ als Treu entweicht.

Nouns are always capitalized. There are many of them in this text, most of them nominalized verbs, meaning verbs, turned into nouns, e.g. Scherzen, Zanken etc.
There are three verbs: erobert, macht, entweicht – all of them conjugated for third person singular (er, sie, es) or second person plural (ihr).


Who is doing erobert?

It is man, the indefinite pronoun, someone not specific which implies that Blondchen sets a general rule. One conquers “the hearts of the good girls” (die Herzen der guten Mädchen) easily by (durch – the first word) all these things she mentions in the beginning.

Who is doing macht?

The better question would be, “Whats is doing macht?” It’s grumpily commanding, quarreling and pestering.

What is the object of macht?

Who or what receives this action macht (to do, to make)? It is a process, here presented in a relative clause that includes our third verb: entweicht. Liebe als (here: as well as) Treue entweicht – in a few days (in wenigen Tagen)!

Listen to a recording of Durch Zärtlichkeit with Diana Damrau, available on Youtube:








London Workshop (1): How to Approach a Text

At my recent UK workshop “German for Opera Singers” at the Rich Mix cultural center in London, we discussed the linguistics of arias from Entführung aus dem Serail and Fidelio, as well as the poetry of a Schumann Lied. To the participants, altogether 17 singers from Australia, Cyprus, Ireland, the UK, and the US, I introduced the following approach to a German text, a way to identify the basic meaning, at least the core statement, and the mood of the language.


London Bridge, City Hall, twilight

Before you start, keep in mind:

Old words, hard to find
Many words in classical operas and Lieder are old words and not used anymore (e.g. das Weib, hold, wunderlich). It might be difficult to find them in a dictionary.

Weird word order
The way sentences are build in German can be different from your language, depend on the context, i.e. words show up in places you did not expect. (See below.)

Capitalized nouns
In German, all nouns (proper names, things, ideas) are capitalized as well as verbs and adjectives that were made a noun (e.g. das Singen = the singing, das Schöne = beauty). All other words are written in lower case. A noun is a word that can do something. If in doubt, add the verb haben (to have) and look if it makes sense.

Facing a text, employ the following method:

1. Mark all nouns.
2. Identify the verbs (activity words) and look how they are conjugated, meaning changed in spelling according to
ich, du, er, wir etc.


3. Look at the meaning of the verb (activity) and find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun that is doing this activity. Keep in mind, the thing that is doing this activity, called “subject” does not have to precede the verb. Depend on the context, it even can be the last word of the sentence. (See below)
4. Find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun to whom the activity is directed. This thing, called object, is not affiliated to a verb, it is passive, but it’s possible that it is the first word of the sentence. (See below)

Now, you might get a general sense what the text is about.

If you still have trouble understanding the meaning or cannot find the meaning of the verb look at these three questions:


A. Is the sentence written in future or past tense?
Then it has probably a second verb that helps to create the future or the past tense. For future, it is
wollen, for past tense (or the perfect tense) it is haben or sein.

B. What are the “little words”, e.g. negative pronouns (kein, nicht), particles (intensifier, words that carry emotions), etc.? If you remove them, does the sentence make more sense to you?

C. What is the word order?
The iron rule in building a sentence is: The conjugated verb appears always in the second position. It does not matter what you put first, even if a singer like Maria Callas is involved.
Maria Callas singt heute in der Berliner Staatsoper.
You can mention the time, for example
heute (today), or the place, for example Berliner Staatsoper, it must be followed by the verb, for example singt.
Heute singt Maria Callas.
In der Berliner Staatsoper singt Maria Callas.


Rich Mix – The location of the workshop in London-Hackney