Arts: The diva's not for spurning

The soprano Cheryl Studer has sued Munich opera house who dropped her because they said her voice was damaged. What's been going on? Is there more to this altercation than meets the ear?

The central concern of Weber's opera, Der Freischutz, is sureness of touch and the art of hitting the target. In the opera, it is the protagonist, Max, who is selling his soul to the devil in an effort to shoot straight, but at the current production in Munich, it is his sweetheart, Agathe, whose ability to hit the target is in doubt.

Cheryl Studer, who was engaged to sing the part, was found by the management to have severe vocal problems which had only become apparent during rehearsal. It was thought that her intonation was too insecure for the house to take the risk of having her as the leading lady after all. Now Ms Studer, whose fee for one performance is pounds 10,000, is suing the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, for a loss of earnings amounting to a total of pounds 100,000, including another set of cancelled engagements, in which she was supposed to sing in Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss.

"There is a particular profession by now, the travelling singer," says Dr Roland Felber, the managing director of the Bayerische Staatsoper, who believes that Ms Studer has over-extended herself. Dr Felber regrets the acrimonious situation between the opera house and the singer, who was an ensemble member of the Staatsoper in the early Eighties. "She has probably been singing too much and we think that, at the moment, she is not up to the role. These things have happened before with other singers, and we have always found a gracious way out," he comments. "I am sure we would have been able to find a good solution here as well."

The decision to relegate Ms Studer to the reserve cast is thought to have been made by the management, in conjunction with the conductor of the production, Zubin Metha. It was Ms Studer herself who made the disagreement public, after the opera had tried to settle the issue quietly.

Cheryl Studer, 43, has sung extensively all over the world. In this year alone, apart from the Freischutz, she appeared in Wagner's Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, The Valkyrie, the Rosenkavalier , Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, and Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss, as well as numerous recitals. In the past two years, she also sang in works by Verdi, Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, Bartk, and Wagner. She has recorded works by more than 30 composers, ranging from Italian bel canto to heavy dramatic roles.

It is only logical that such a punishing schedule would take its toll on all but the most exceptional voices. The combination of the physical and emotional strains of continuous performances with those of constant travelling are a hazard every performer has to take into account. In addition to this, singers have to train and maintain a group of tiny and highly specialised muscles, their vocal cords, which usually take some time to adapt from one type of use, such as coloratura singing, to another, such as the heavier repertoire. Constant demand in opera houses and concert halls around the world, and the necessity to plan for years ahead, provide a great temptation to ignore the demands for rest made by the voice. In the case of Cheryl Studer, this life of constant strain is widely believed to have damaged her voice, a fact that has raised concerns before this incident.

The age of the travelling singer has had two distinct effects on the operatic world. From the public's point of view, there is only a small handful of international singers and conductors appearing in certain operas, and performances can be very similar, whether they are held in Zurich, Milan, or New York. For the singers, this culture produces enormous opportunities as well as dangers. They can quickly gain international exposure and are liable to strain and ruin their voices in the process, singing more demanding roles more often than they might otherwise do. This has contributed to a string of "shooting stars" on the operatic scene, who appeared to wide acclaim, only to vanish into relative obscurity after a few seasons.

The case brought by Ms Studer is seen as a test case for possible similar disputes. With many engagements made years in advance, they can often turn out to be an expensive gamble on the future state of a voice, especially with singers nearing the end of their career. The case will also show how much power opera houses like Munich have over stars like Cheryl Studer, and whether it is possible to resist the phenomenon of the travelling singer, whose career choices and itinerary may be at variance with the requirements of individual engagements.

Meanwhile, Ms Studer's replacement as Agathe in the Freischutz turned out to be less than an unqualified success. Described as "not yet ready for the role" by a critic, her aria "Softly sighing, day is dying", was a sigh too soft for the audience, while her more famous colleague transformed her absence from the stage into a shrill shriek of protest.

`How can I Work With These People?': Divas in Dispute

SUCH WAS the sweetness of her singing that managements spent years swallowing hard over the temper tantrums of soprano Kathleen Battle. At the San Francisco Opera, the crew took to wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the legend "I Survived the Battle". After her years of arguing with conductors, storming out of rehearsals, and reducing fellow singers to tears, the managing director at the Met sacked her for "unprofessional actions detrimental to the artistic collaboration among cast members".

ONCE HAILED as opera's real-life Romeo and Juliet, Roberto Alagna and his wife Angela Gheorghiu have more recently been described as Bonnie and Clyde. Jonathan Miller was furious at Alagna's cavalier attitude to turning up to rehearsals. When Gheorghiu refused to wear a blond wig as Micaela in the Met's production of Carmen, the management replaced her with her understudy. When the pair of them wanted control of the production for Traviata, management replaced them both.

JESSYE NORMAN, allegedly the world's highest paid soprano, has a luscious voice, a regal stage presence, and a rather dormant sense of humour. She has a reputation for meticulous stipulations about the non-usage of air-conditioning and a complete ban on smoking backstage at any house scheduled to employ her. She recently hit the headlines with her failed Appeals Court attempt to win damages from Classic CD magazine who published a remark about her size which she deemed defamatory.

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past