Praised by Broadway World as a “compelling actor” with a “rich and powerful bass voice,” James Harrington returned to the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice program ... more
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YAP Bootcamp: YAPs 101

All summer long, we are running this YAP Bootcamp series to introduce our readers to this mainstay of the American singer training process. As the summer progresses, our readers will learn how YAPs function, which companies have YAPs, how to find them, how to apply, and how to ensure that their application materials are top-shelf as they enter the fall application season. Today, we'll look at a few means of classifying YAPs based on certain characteristics including schedule and responsibilities.

Young Artist Programs (also Resident Artist Programs), or YAPs, are (typically) opera company-aligned performance-and-training programs that bridge the gap between higher education and a professional career in opera. The first true Young Artist Program in the United States was started at Santa Fe Opera in 1956, and was designed to give performing and training opportunities to developing singers. There are now more than 50 YAPs in the United States attached to opera companies at every level, preparing hundreds of singers each year for the professional stage.

If you are just nearing the end of your academic career, you may not know much about YAPs, so this primer is intended to help you start your research: to know what questions you still need to ask in finding the application/audition strategy that will yield your best possible results at each point in your career. (I will cover the research phase in depth later in this series.)

Breaking Down YAPs

Schedule: Summer vs. Year-Round/Partial Year
YAPs fall into two broad categories based on schedule: Summer and Year-Round/Partial-Year This latter distinction is becoming more prevalent as a handful of well-known companies shift to a festival season of 3-4 months, rather than a year-round model.

Examples of summer YAPs include Santa Fe Opera, Merola Opera Center, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (Gerdine), Des Moines Metro Opera, Central City Opera (Bonfils-Stanton), Chautauqua Opera, Wolf Trap Opera (Filene and WT Studio), Opera Saratoga, and Glimmerglass Opera.

Partial-year YAPs may be found at Fort Worth Opera, Nashville Opera, Palm Beach, Portland, and others.

Examples of year-round programs include the Metropolitan (Lindemann), Lyric Opera of Chicago (Ryan Center), Houston Grand (HGO Studio), Arizona (Pullin), Florida Grand Opera, and Washington National (Domingo-Cafritz).

Pay: Paid vs. Unpaid/Pay-to-Sing
Though nomenclature may differ from program to program, if you are not being paid for your labor, you are not in a Young Artist Program in the traditional sense. I will cover “Pay-to-Sings" and tuition-based training programs a bit later, but these are important distinctions that do affect how the work you’ve done is perceived by other companies.

In some cases (mostly at AGMA houses), you will be an employee of the opera, which means you will be salaried, and have Social Security, Medicare, and taxes taken out of each check. At some others, you are an independent contractor, and must withhold your own taxes. At these companies, you may have a weekly salary, a per-gig fee, or be paid a flat fee for a set amount of time (sometimes as little as $800 for ~8 weeks of work!). So, while many of the top-tier YAPs pay a living wage, at smaller regional houses, you may get paid very little, and require outside employment, and perhaps even have to pay for your own housing. Make sure you know what you're signing up for when you apply!

Designation/Responsibilities: Young Artists vs. Resident Artists
More American opera companies are adopting a “Resident Artist” program made up of older, more experienced singers who can be trusted with larger main stage assignments. In practice, it is a bit like the German “Fest” system, where the Resident Artist is cast in most, if not all of the roles in his/her fach, with only the most demanding roles (headliners) brought in from out of town. This is financially beneficial to companies, as it saves on performance fees and travel costs; it is also beneficial to the Resident Artists who get main stage credits and experience at prestigious companies where they may not otherwise be competitive as a main stage artist.

Examples of companies that include or have moved entirely to some version of this are Florida Grand Opera, Minnesota Opera, Portland Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera San Jose, and Sarasota Opera (Studio Artists).

Academic Training: Grad School Partnerships
Several companies that share a city with a strong graduate voice program have forged partnerships that allow select graduate students to participate as young artists at the city's opera company. In many cases, the student earns her assistantship while performing comprimario roles and/or covering principal roles and performing chorus duties at a regional opera company.

School/Company Partnerships
UMKC/Lyric Opera of Kansas City
University of Tennessee/Knoxville Opera (no formal YAP at Knoxville Opera)
University of Memphis/Opera Memphis
SUNY Binghamton/Tri-Cities Opera
Roosevelt University CCPA/Chicago Opera Theatre
University of Alabama-Birmingham/Opera Birmingham
*Juilliard Opera Center/Opera Columbus (OH)

(* - Opera Columbus provides performance opportunities for members of the Juilliard Opera Center, but as the two institutions share neither a city nor a staff, this arrangement is very different than those otherwise listed.)

Tiered Programs
Many companies have adopted a tiered format, allowing them to give performance and training experience to singers at several different levels. An example of a 3-tiered system might be:

Tier 1 (Upper-division undergrads and grad students): Chorus, outreach, and cover small roles (Supporting and Bit)
Tier 2 (Grad students and post-undergrad singers): Chorus, outreach, play small roles and cover larger roles.
Tier 3: (Emerging professional singers with stage experience): Chorus, cover leading roles and play medium-to-larger-sized roles.

The most likely scenario is a two-tiered system, where YAPs geared toward younger singers utilizes tiers 1 and 2 above, while more advanced programs lean more toward 2/3.

Examples of companies utilizing a tiered system include Chautauqua (2 tiers), Sarasota (2), Saratoga (3), Central City (2), Wolf Trap (2), Lyric Opera of Kansas City (2), and Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY (2).

Because of the importance of building new audiences to help sustain our art form for decades to come, educational outreach is a crucial part of many opera companies' missions. Hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary school students are reached by these programs each year in the United States. Many singers find this responsibility deeply fulfilling, and students are almost always engaged in and appreciative of singers' efforts to entertain and educate them.

Broadly considered, "outreach" may also take the form of public concerts at parks, libraries, or museums, or donor events like benefits, galas, or dinners.

The year-round and partial-year programs at B, C, and D** houses are likely to include school outreach (think Sid the Serpent, Three Billy Goats Gruff, et al), while summer "outreach" is likely to take the form of public concerts and donor events.

(** - these designations correspond to budget level as reported to Opera America and Musical America)

While every career is slightly unique in its trajectory, Young Artist Programs play a part in the development of a considerable percentage of American professional opera singers. The training, performance experience, and connections they receive from YAPs provide a crucial stepping stone into a career in singing, so it is important that every singer consider what role these programs may play for them, and which are the best fit and have the most appropriate resources at various phases of their early careers.

In my next column, I will provide a list of paid YAPs and important details including company affiliation and schedule (summer/partial year/year-round), to help you begin planning for audition season.

OpusAtlas Summer YAP Bootcamp Series

1. YAPs 101
2. YAP List
3. Research
4. Application Process
5. Résumés

Praised by Broadway World as a “compelling actor” with a “rich and powerful bass voice,” James Harrington returned to the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice program ... more