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Give a Performance
John A. Anderson, Executive Vice President, Herbert Barrett Management
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Audition Connection6/1/2003

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An audition doesn’t have to be a tension-filled, unnatural situation. It can, and always should be, a performance. You, the artist, need to get out of yourself and into the character you are portraying. When singers audition for management, I always look for this sort of artistry as well as a voice. Ask yourself if you are merely singing notes, or if you are conveying the meaning of the text as well with a modicum of gesture and facial expression. It doesn’t matter if you are alone on the stage (if you are on a stage at all!) or that there are only one or two people out there to hear you. Sing a good performance. That is what will get you the job or a slot on a manager’s roster.

As a manager, I attend scores of auditions every year in addition to those we hold for our office. Many issues arise again and again for singers in both of these situations. Here is my personal perspective on some of them:

Materials
Herbert Barrett Management holds vocal auditions almost every month. We receive a high volume of unsolicited materials: Cover letters with résumés, photos, and performance tapes/CDs/videos. While we are always on the lookout for that next great voice for the roster, we can’t schedule an audition for every artist that solicits for one. I look at the cover letter first to see who has recommended this singer. If the person is referred by an artist on our roster or by a director, conductor, or voice teacher who I know and trust, an audition usually results.

Your résumé should be clear and easy to read, categorized by type of experience and in reverse chronological order (most recent performances or future engagements first). List opera roles performed and covered; concert and musical theater experience; awards and grants. Chorus work, church, and temple jobs are not necessary. Also give your education background and list the teachers, coaches, conductors, and directors you have worked with. And be honest: References are checked more often than not. We expect and understand that a young singer will have limited experience.

Audition Repertoire
“Play” your audition like you would your hand in a game of Bridge: Open with your strongest suit. In many cases, when you are auditioning for a company, you may only be given the opportunity to sing one aria due to time constraints. Select this opening aria very carefully. It should show all your strengths and be so totally ingrained in you that you could sing it in your sleep if you had to. Not that it should be routine—remember again that you are giving a performance. It should be technically secure, confident, and communicative.

Any aria you present should tacitly tell your auditioner that you are, at this stage in your vocal development, able to sing the entire role from which the aria is taken. A soprano, for instance, may be able to sing a lovely “Sempre libera” as a “party piece,” but not have the vocal weight to deal with “Amami, Alfredo” and the rest of the role. Why jeopardize your chances at being hired or joining a roster by singing inappropriate repertoire?

Another way to jeopardize your chances at being hired is to sing for an audition because you know the role is open. I have seen singers crash and burn when they try to sing a new piece for the occasion. Some can do it and I have heard it done, but you are better off looking through your tried and true “song bag” to pick an aria you know that relates to the role you are going up for. You don’t need the added stress. Trust that the person you are singing for will have the imagination to cast you. You can even say “I know you are casting Konstanze, but I have none of those arias ready to present yet, so I would like to sing.....” This often does the trick. Talk to your teacher, coach, and manager (if you have acquired one) prior to this situation.

The Audition
Your attire is important. The watchwords are simple and elegant. Women should always wear something flattering for your body type, but without a busy pattern, flamboyant colors, huge ruffles, extreme neckline, and the like. In other words, don’t let the dress wear you and detract from your performance! Mezzosopranos often wear pants suits or slacks and a nice blouse to sing for trouser roles and this is fine, too. Men should always wear a jacket. If you are uncomfortable in a tie, then wear a mock turtleneck or an open collar shirt. “Dressing up” comfortably shows you take the audition seriously and indicates a certain amount of respect for your hearer.

Prepare yourself for a good audition performance by warming up thoroughly at home or your teacher’s studio (more often than not there is no place to warm up at the audition site). I like to see a singer walk confidently into the room, walk over and introduce himself or herself to me, hand over the press materials and the list of what is to be presented that day. Some people disagree due to time limitations, but I feel this introduction breaks the ice, and buys the singer a bit more time to get calm and centered before he or she has to perform.

A written list of what you have available to sing for a particular audition prevents surprises and fumbling. It give the artist a certain amount of control in the audition, because the four or five pieces offered say straight out what is to be sung that day. Plus, it saves time. There is no “Oh, let’s see what I have...Mimí...no, the other aria; Pamina...(to pianist) Did I bring that today? Uh, Susannah...no, the Floyd, etc.” If the auditioner asks you if you know a particular aria from your full repertoire list which is not on the list of arias to be performed that day, you can say “Yes, but I didn’t bring it with me today,” and the list covers you. A written list is an asset.

Even if you are not hired by a company or accepted on a management roster the first time around, you want to be remembered positively in audition notes. It is sometimes impossible (very difficult at best) to change a first impression. When in doubt about your health and well being on an audition day, do not sing. It is much easier to re-schedule another audition if you didn’t sing on a “bad day;” if you go ahead with an audition on a marginal day, it is much harder to get a second chance. Not feeling well is a good excuse if you don’t sing, but a lame one if you foolishly go ahead and do. It doesn’t demonstrate good judgment and self-awareness.

When all is said and done, the most important factors in an audition are your voice and your artistic presentation. Walk in with confidence and give your best performance.

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