On Friday Roberto Alagna revealed his finances to the world in an interview with Le Figaro. Now the paper goes one step further with a more general feature on opera stars' earnings.
They disclose the 15 or so stars at the very top, like Karita Mattila and Anna Netrebko, can expect 15,000 euros per show. For rising stars like Diana Damrau or Sophie Koch it's more like 2,000 to 12,000 euros a night. But even the small roles get 1,000 euros or more.
Out of the flat fee, the singers must pay their own transport and living expenses. There are no private jets in the world of opera - everyone flies commercial. Because she sings at the Met so often, Natalie Dessay has bought an apartment in Manhattan. Renée Fleming has one in Paris. She lends it out to other artists, and they reciprocate.
Fees are fixed by arrangement between the major opera houses like London, Paris and New York. The Met's Peter Gelb was quoted as saying that the directors are on the phone to each other all the time. Elisabeth Pezzino, director of programming at the Paris Opera, says that twice a year they all share a table listing what they've paid to each artist.
The fees the big houses can pay are limited by their income, which is often dependent on public aid. But Bilbao, with a massive government subvention, can afford to offer 20,000 euros a night. "'Before that, it was the Italians with their extra under the table payments,' complained Pierre Médecin, President of the Association of European Opera Directors.
The only way for singers to make big money is to release a CD and link that to a recital tour, says producer Jean-Pierre Le Pavec. These are privately financed, so the laws of supply and demand rule. Fees range from 30,000 to 200,000 euros per night - Angela Gheorghiu is one of the top earners. Only Cecilia Bartoli has given up the stage to concentrate on recitals [not strictly true - she still appears at Zurich for example]. However Peter Gelb claims that it is only the prestige of opera which helps these singers get the recital contracts, and that in the long term, public interest will wane.
The financial crisis has hit American opera hard. The American Guild of Musical Artists has agreed that their members won't get paid for cinema screenings. Coupled with the closure of some American opera houses and the pruning of schedules in others, Elisabeth Pezzino sees an exodus to Europe is on its way.