Once upon a time I imagined that opera singers were pampered creatures; that the companies who employed them looked after all of life's practicalities, freeing the Mind of the Artist to focus on, well, Art. Maybe it's really like that for a handful of superstars. But if there's one thing I've learnt since making the transition from fan to official hanger-on, it's that opera is full of admin – and a lot of that admin stems from the perpetual search for somewhere to stay. For all the romance of bohemian poverty, in truth it's easier to make high art when you have a roof over your head and a working fridge.
These are some of the lessons I've learnt about those roofs and fridges.
The singer pays. Most of the time, anyway. Concert gigs do often include hotel accommodation but when it comes to the weeks and often months required to stage an opera, you're generally expected to fund your own digs. Some companies do pay a "rehearsal fee" which may, if you're lucky, cover the rent, or at least contribute to it – but chances are you'll have been required to pay for the apartment, either in part or full, before you've even arrived, let alone been paid this fee. In fact, since every opera company has its own idea about just when you should be paid, it's entirely possible you'll actually have left a city before anybody ever compensates you for coming in the first place. Forward planning is vital.
Networking is your friend. Yes, there are hundreds of sites offering short term apartments but when you're faced with choosing a temporary home in a foreign city and committing to it sight unseen, it can really help to have a personal recommendation. Friends, colleagues, agents, people you vaguely know via Twitter; there's almost always somebody who knows somebody who stayed somewhere. Sometimes the opera company has tips too, or even maintains a few apartments of its own: there's a building in Zürich, for instance, whose tenant history must make fascinating reading.
Rental agreements are like snowflakes. No two are quite the same. Every possible aspect of the rental process – from the deposit to the heating to the broadband to the obtaining of keys – is subject to infinite variation. This is where big blocks of serviced apartments/aparthotels have a slight advantage – the process there tends to be a bit more standardised and hotel-like – but when you're renting out somebody's place, anything can happen.
And anything can go wrong. The wrong key, the wrong address, the wrong door code, the wrong arrival or departure date. Miscommunication about who's paying whom how much, by which means and when. Taps drip, ceilings leak, wifi drops out, and dishwashers can't be trusted. The term "double bed" covers a multitude of king singles, and there's a lot of creative photography on rental websites. A lease agreement which looked entirely legitimate upon signing may prove, on arrival, to be an illegal sublet, requiring you to tell anyone who asks that you are the vacationing "friends from Florida" of a woman you've only just met. Throw in the exciting possibility of a language barrier and the scope for bizarre mishaps is immense – and remember, today's horror story is tomorrow's hilarious anecdote. You should hear our stories from Taiwan.
Every kitchen lacks at least one vital utensil and you will discover what it is roughly two minutes before the meal you're cooking requires it. That said, it's almost always A) a sharp knife B) a cheese grater or C) a sensibly sized saucepan. I highly recommend travelling with A) - wrapped up snugly in your checked baggage, of course.
Europeans are really into handheld showers. Mounted in bath tubs with no shower curtain. I have yet to discover the convenient, comfortable and non-contortive way to use this system. Perhaps there isn't one?
Storage space is a grand and glorious thing. I can't believe I ever took it for granted. Now I experience paroxysms of delight upon discovering cupboards (plural!) and decent-sized drawers – and don't even get me started on the unalloyed joy of sufficient coathangers. Seriously, if you're considering renting your apartment to nomadic singers, here's my advice to you: provide a cupboard or clothes rail tall enough to fit a concert frock or a set of tails, throw in a few dozen coathangers, and you will have a friend for life. Bonus points if you include skirt hangers. Somewhere to store the suitcases is also much appreciated.
Home is where your stuff is. Even if it's not ideal and even if it's only for a few weeks, unpack and set up as if you're staying for good. I used to be the world's worst unpacker, living out of suitcases even when I was at home, but this peripatetic lifestyle has changed all that: now I can't wait to hang up my clothes, set up my computer, fill the bathroom with my toiletries and find spots for our two travel mascots – the infamous pig and a little polar bear from Pottery Barn – in the living room. Shop for groceries as soon as you're able, so that you can have a homecooked meal and figure out what the kitchen's missing. It's surprising how homier a place can feel once you've strewn your stuff about it a bit.
I've really only scratched the surface of this surprisingly complex and often time-consuming part of the business. With every new city, I learn more tricks of the trade, and while the potential for disaster is always there – and everyone has at least one of those stories – I have to say that for the most part, we've been very lucky; sometimes exceptionally so. The nitty gritty admin might not be the most glamorous aspect of opera, but for somebody like me – a dyed-in-the-wool opera nut still fascinated by the whole process – it's all a part of the adventure.