After attending AIMS himself in 1980, Thomas King sang professionally in Germany for five years, performing over 400 times on various opera house stages. Among his roles are: Pedrillo in “Abduction from the Seraglio,” Beppo in “I Pagliacci,” the Witch in “Hansel and Gretel,” Rosillon in “The Merry Widow,” Eisenstein in “Die Fledermaus,” and the Conferencier in “Cabaret,” as well as many other operetta roles. Since returning from Germany he has sung in five world premier operas in the last fourteen years, three of which were written especially for him. Dr. King taught every summer for over 25 years at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz , Austria and was the (Co)-Artistic Director for seven years before retiring in September 2010. He continues to be a board member and oversees the archives of AIMS, maintaining all memorabilia from 1968 to the present.  He has researched the German speaking opera system and networking in the opera profession for over 30 years.

THE OPERA SYSTEM in GERMANY, AUSTRIA AND SWITZERLAND (article from TK’s Auditions Training Manual – Graz, Austria)

  • On an average night, almost as much opera is performed in the German-speaking countries as in the rest of the world combined.
  • On an average day, more opera is rehearsed in German than in any other language.
  • The largest single block of professional singers in the world is engaged in the German opera houses.
  • A major portion of the recording of opera is done in the German-speaking countries.
  • More singers are retired on adequate pensions from the German opera houses than in the rest of the world combined.

This is precisely why we are here.  We want to join this wealth of music and talent and finally make a living singing opera – not plodding through some boring 9 to 5 job in America-and only singing in the side!!

Barbara Bonney and TK at an AIMS Masterclass

Barbara Bonney and TK at an AIMS Masterclass

Here is a list of the number of opera houses in Europe.  Compare it with the list of houses in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (the German-speaking part.)

Italy 8, France 8, British Isles 5, Finland 5, Sweden 2, Belgium 2, Denmark 2, Netherlands 2, Norway 2, Greece 1 = 37 Stagione houses

Germany 89, Austria 10, Switzerland 6 (all in German!!) = 105 Repertory houses

1997 figures of employees in German-speaking opera houses

coaches and conductors 908                 orchestral musicians 6325

Solo singers engaged 2460                   Chorus singers engaged 3343

It is difficult to get a work permit in London, Paris, or Rome, but if you get a contract to sing in Germany, that contract will allow you to stay and get a work permit.

I have heard the Barber of Seville in Danish, but then once you have learned it, where else can you use that role??  In Germany theoretically you have 100 places to guest in a role (sung in German).


By coming to Graz this summer, we are in the midst of all these theaters, from Flensburg and Kiel in the north to Bern and Luzern in the south, from Aachen and Saarbrücken in the west to Wien, Dresden, and Graz in the east.  The theaters are counted several different ways depending on which book you read.  Sometimes the summer theaters are counted, but for our purposes we will speak of the theaters with full seasons of 9 to 10 1/2 months per year.

There are approximately 100 theaters engaging solo singers, chorus singers, dancers, coaches, conductors, orchestral musicians, stage directors, technicians, set designers, costume designers, etc.  There are many statistics in the Bühnenjarhbuch, Kein’ Angst Baby!, Auditioning in the 21st Century, Singing Opera in Germany and What the Fach?, so I need not recite them here, but the numbers are impressive.

There are enough places for us IF we understand the German theater system, prepare ourselves, and learn German.  I cannot stress it enough.  The language is everything.

Die Sprache ist Alles!!  You need it to introduce yourself when you arrive at the theater, you need it when you audition, you need it when you negotiate your contract, you need it when you enter the Cantine for the first time and greet your colleagues, you need it to speak to the conductor, the stage director, the coach, the make-up artist, the costume designer, the stage technician, and  and  and………………….

In other words, get busy and learn German, bathe in it while you are here so you will not drown in it after you leave AIMS-and AIMS leaves you!!!


George Bailey writes in his book, Germans, the absence of many outward freedoms forced a turning inward.  The princes and dukes in the various provinces had theaters built to make their particular area better than the next dukedom down the road.  The 100 theaters today are either those actual theaters or newly built theaters, all city and province and state theaters of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in Germany. Since World War II the Germans have spent literally millions of Euros to keep their theaters thriving.  They are subsidized to an average of 83% of their budget.

The Germans have a passion for make-believe and the theater system allows them that inner freedom.  They have a passion for magic, gods, demons, witches, and riddles.  Music is an incantation (a singing–in), a conjuring up of a magic formula.  It is “enchanting.”  The Germans are not disappointed, they are “dis-enchanted,” (enttäuscht), (täuschen meaning to deceive), Literally, they are brought out of their deception.  Deception here is a pleasant word, as an actor deceives his audience into believing his story.

List operas with magic involved – Hänsel und Gretel, Die Zauberflöte, Wagner’s operas, Undine of Lortzing, just to name a few.  This magic is still revered in Germany and they pay every night to go to the opera or theater to be transported (as if by magic) to another land, another century, another class of people.  We love creating these illusions on the stage with our voices, our characters, our very beings.  Why should we not be the ones to transport the Germans to other lands, other times, other cultures??!!!

AIMS in Graz - Uhrturm

AIMS in Graz – Uhrturm


The 14 August 1984 article in the Graz Tagespost lists the operas of the 1984 season – 245 different works performed, 40 world or German premiers, over 20 theaters presented Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni 18, Hänsel und Gretel 15.  Other hits that season were Entführung, Così, Figaro, Butterfly, Tosca and Bohème.

The top ten of 1981 were Zauberflöte, Barber of Seville, Hänsel und Gretel, Don Giovanni, Figaro, Così, Tosca, Bajazzo, Rigoletto and Fidelio.  In 1986: Figaro, Hänsel und Gretel, Zauberflöte, Barbier, Fledermaus, Bohème, Freischütz, Hoffmann, Così, Traviata, and Entführung.

1992: (higher numbers because the wall fell & former East German houses are added in) Zauberflöte 59, Hänsel 40, Fledermaus 38, Carmen 30, Don Giovanni 28, Così 25, Figaro 24, Anatevka 23, Bohème 23, Barbier 23, Der kleine Horrorladen 22, Traviata 21, My Fair Lady 20


2000: Butterfly 25, Barbier 22, Tosca 19, Bohème 18, Don Giovanni 17, Traviata 16, Zauberflöte 15, Carmen 14, Fledermaus 13, Aida 11, Figaro 11, Liebestrank 9, Lucia 9, Rigoletto 9, Susannah 8!!, Margarethe 7, Cenerentola 6, Così 6, Holländer 6

2008: Zauberflöte 39, Hänsel und Gretel 25, Carmen 21, Fledermaus 20, Traviata 20, Bohème 19, Don Giovanni 19, Barbier 18, Tosca 15, Rigoletto 14, Eugen Onegin 14. Auditioning with standard arias is smart because fitting into the German system means being able to sing the standard repertoire above.


Soloists in a small or medium opera house can expect from 1300 to 2000 €  a month to start. Do not bother to divide that into the exchange rate. Germany is on a different economy. Chorus singers can expect at least that much money to start and often a little more than a soloist. Deductions from your salary take up to 50% of the gross amount, but these deductions are for health care, unemployment, pension plans, union dues, and of course, income taxes!!   Doctor and dentist visits are free and one never pays more than 1 or 2 € for medicine.


In my very first production in Germany (Kaiserslautern in 1980), there were 10 Americans in the cast.  In Hoffmans Erzählungen 2 Hoffmanns, 1 Niklaus, 1 Dr. Mirakel, Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia, Spalanzani, Hermann and me, Nathanael.  This of course is somewhat unusual, but Americans are here.  Americans are also in the orchestra (brass players especially), in the ballet, and as conductors and coaches.

AIMS audition table display

AIMS audition table display

In the April/May issue of the 1984 NATS Bulletin, there was an open letter from John Glenn Paton of U. of Colorado at Boulder.  German opinions of American singers in German opera houses – an international conference “The future of musical theater” Dr. August Everding, Intendant of the Bayerische Staatsoper, in München presented results of a poll of Intendants (general managers of opera houses).  47 Intendants responded.

89% said beginning singers from foreign countries are better or generally better trained than their German counterparts.

62% often pass up Germans and choose foreigners to hire.  Germans have just as much talent, but are receiving insufficient training and insufficient practical experience during their school years.

70% mentioned inadequate voice training for the German singers.

91% use private agencies to find their prospective singers, 83% use government agencies, 41% hire individual applicants, and 24% visit music schools to find talent.

With 2/3 of the opera houses reporting from the 1980-81 season, there were 1069 solo singers employed, 505 were foreign, 210 from the USA, 50 from Austria.

There were 209 new contracts in that year, 1980 (I was one of them) 70 went to Americans.  In 1984, AIMS had artists in 38 different opera houses.  That included solo singers, chorus singers, coaches, and instrumentalists. In 2003, AIMS had 47 artists as freelance performers in over 10 different cities or  with contract jobs in over 22 different opera houses.

While flying to Graz in 1986, I noticed an article in Capital magazine.  Kölner Intendant Michael Hampe notes “The Americans have today the best singer education in the world. Numerous experimental stages (meaning university stages) give the young American chances to present themselves.”  Hampe in four words “ They are simply better.”  I take this to mean, the dramatics, the singing are top notch in the USA and the Germans know it and the Germans admit it!!

Back to the NATS article.  One Intendant quoted “When our singers come from their training at age 23 or 24, they compete in auditions against Americans who are 28 or 30.  Furthermore, the Americans have come to AIMS where they have learned what to sing and how to behave.”

I have quoted facts from the early 80’s to 2008, and the Americans have continued to appear year after year and are still revered for their training, their professionalism on the stage, and their enthusiasm for performing.  If you want a job in Germany, Austria, of Switzerland, they are out there.  The singers working today have talent, drive, money to pursue their dream, and luck.  If you have those things, you can find work here.   TK August 2009

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