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Performing an Effective Audition
Audition Connection •
Performing an Effective Audition
Congratulations! You have sent an effective cover letter and résumé, and your materials have helped you score an audition. This month’s audition advice column focuses on presenting your best possible audition, including selecting repertoire and presenting yourself at the audition. The following remarks are excerpted from “Performing an Effective Audition” sessions at various OPERA America Singer Workshops. Panelists included Jonathan Friend, artistic administrator at Metropolitan Opera; Christopher Hahn, artistic director of Pittsburgh Opera; Speight Jenkins, general director of Seattle Opera; Dale Johnson, artistic director of The Minnesota Opera Company; Karen Keltner, resident conductor/ music administrator of San Diego Opera; Lotfi Mansouri, then general director of San Francisco Opera; Nicolas Muni, artistic director of Cincinnati Opera; Olivia Stapp, soprano; Kim Witman, general director of Wolf Trap Opera; and James Wright, general director of Vancouver Opera.
Before the Audition
Perhaps you have signed up for auditions in various places across town, the taxis are late, you’re frantic, you’re rushing around and running late. When you arrive, you find that there is no place to warm up. Suddenly you’re onstage, you clearing your throat, and you’re singing. What happens is that it’s not until roundabout half way through the second aria when we begin to feel as if we are really hearing something of your voice, because you’ve had to use the first one to warm up. If we’re very busy and we only have time to hear one selection, then you’ve lost your chance. So you simply must fight for the place and ability to warm up. Plan in advance, make sure you can get to the audition as early as you possibly can and find a place to do a very, very good warm up.
Prepare for more than just your performance time. For example, if you have to go to another city for an audition, it’s a very good idea to find out where the building is before you actually have to go there. On the way from the airport, I always ask the taxi driver to take me by the theater or the auditorium, to check out where the stage door is. It’s important to know how to get into the place.
Make sure you can warm up—bathrooms are great places. Make sure too that you have something to drink if you will need it, or that you have a shawl or sweater with you so that you don’t get cold in the place where you wait for the audition. Be sure that all of the things that you can control are under control.
Be nice to the hall monitor. He or she is probably connected to the company. Do not gossip or dish. You may think that the monitor is your friend, or you may think that the person running the audition will not hear about it, but it all gets back to us. Conduct yourself in the hall the same way you do in the audition space.
If you can, scope out the audition area before hand. It’s as simple as taking a look at the space and mapping out your path from the door to the spot where you will stand so that you will not be surprised by that path. Don’t be apologetic when you come through the door. You are here to share your talent. You have got to get into the frame of mind that you are going to tell us something very, very special. I don’t mean just about the opera, the music, or the libretto, but something very special about you. You are going to share with us why we should hire you.
Your first aria should not be your most difficult. We want to hear the beauty of your voice and just get an overall impression of what you can do. Perhaps if we are interested we will ask for pieces that show us more. Begin with something very comfortable that you love to sing. Come out knowing that you can do this and that you can do it well. It’s useless to have an aria that you are afraid to sing.
Really examine your repertoire choices. Find characters that are not only good matches vocally, but are also close to you physically and emotionally. Show us that you are not tied to a specific style or language by varying your repertoire choices. Also, as you develop vocally, it may be worth it to reexamine your choices. You retain a lot of bad habits in these old pieces, so ask yourself “does this piece best represent how I sing now, or does it demonstrate how I sang when I was much younger?”
What to Expect
You need to be prepared to stand in some silence after you sing. People have different styles: Sometimes auditioners have sat quietly and then need some time after you sing to look at your materials. Make yourself feel as comfortable as you can about that. If they don’t want to hear a second piece, they’ll have already said “thank you very much” and sent you on your way. Also be aware that some of us may ask some pretty silly things during your audition. Usually, we want to hear how you converse, or to get more of a sense of your personality. Much of your first work will be young artist programs, apprentice programs, education programs, and so on. Part of those jobs will be interacting with the public, the children, the donors. Sometimes we ask things and don’t even care about the answers— we just want to see how you respond and how you interact with us.
In auditions, things can go wrong. You may run out of breath, you may miss a note. Don’t let us see it—learn instead how to bluff. If you run out of breath, make it look as if it were an emotional expression. Don’t show us your mistakes, and don’t apologize for them.
We often try to gauge your stamina, because, of course, we are trying to see how you would do in a full role. If you do make a mistake, and your energy drops for a moment, we may read that as your stamina faltering. The minute we notice that, we worry about whether you’ve got the steam for the whole thing. So as you prepare, try to bluff yourself into getting beyond those moments, and not giving them away.
You will sometimes have a pianist who takes a tempo that you cannot sing, that is either too slow or too fast. Simply stop singing and take a moment to talk with the pianist and show him very politely and discreetly what tempo you need. Then start again. Everybody understands.
Of course, if you have spoken to the pianist, and he still does not take your tempo, you must just sing your piece and put it out of your mind.
Make an Impression
What can you do to make yourselves a little different to us? We see a lot of auditions, and we have a pile of artists’ résumés in front of us, so how do you perk our interest? How do you make us look up and say “wait a minute, there’s something special here?” It is your presence, your dramatic energy, your understanding of the character in that aria. Prepare the character and the personality so thoroughly that it’s a conditioned reflex. Assume the character even before you start singing. Even when you are not singing in a musical interlude, you have to exude that dramatic intent through your physical energy.
Explore the character’s inner life, and know why the aria is necessary. Know how the character is different at the end then at the beginning. What is the journey? Why must he/ she say these words? That will be much more riveting to an audience then if you simply try to establish the mood of a piece. The music does that much for you and you have to take it from there.
There is no right answer to how much body movement is too much, but
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