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It’s an old saying, but it’s still true: You never have a second chance to make a first impression. How can you make sure that an audition panel’s first impression of you is favorable? First, realize that there are certain things that will predispose the audition panel positively or negatively toward you. Second, realize that, while some things are within your control, you can’t please everyone all of the time.

Have Them at Hello
A frequently asked question: Should you shake hands with the audition panel? As it is really a matter of personal preference (see other articles in Audition Connection and Audition Advice for Singers to learn about specific likes and dislikes), your best bet is to maintain a polite and professional level of interaction, without being too familiar. Give a friendly greeting and introduce yourself, but remember why you are there. As John Hoomes, General Artistic Director of Nashville Opera, says, “Do not be overly chatty. You are there to sing.”

In general, an unprofessional appearance or attitude will put people off. Hoomes includes sloppy attire and apologies for not having had time to learn the music on his list of “don’ts.” Ann Baltz, director of OperaWorks, points out the importance of attention to detail. “I have found that the way singers dress tells me a lot about the kind of musician they are. For example, singers who look nice, but whose shoes aren’t polished, or whose hair is unkempt, or whose shirt isn’t pressed don’t generally perform with a high level of musicality and attention to dramatic detail.”

Presentation is Key
Whether or not appearance is a sure indicator of musicality, attention to detail is essential in the music you provide the accompanist. Providing a pianist with faded, blurry, disorganized, or otherwise illegible copies of your music is a unanimous offender. To the panel, it shows a lack of consideration and professionalism— not to mention how it affects the quality of your audition! Keep in mind that you will only have 8-10 minutes onstage. This does not leave a lot of time to chat extensively with an accompanist onstage, so your music’s clarity is crucial Laurie Rogers, an assistant conductor at Opera Company of Philadelphia, and a private coach for 15 years, offers the following guidelines.

Rather than presenting an accompanist with a full score, find or make a reduction. Finale is a useful software for making these reductions and/or preparing transpositions.

Music should be hole-punched and placed in a binder— never give a sheaf of loose pages. By the same token, check that every page is in place and in order before you enter the room.

Do not use plastic sleeves. They will reflect the glare of the overhead lights, making your music impossible to read.

In Roger’s own words: “When marking cuts, assume your pianist will be brain-dead. Mark them as clearly as you possibly can. That may include blocking out music with plain paper and drawing big arrows with a magic marker. Remember that a pianist has literally only seconds to absorb what’s on the page, which may be a different version from the four that he or she has already seen that day.”

Check all of your markings for accuracy before each audition, especially cadenzas and breath marks. “If your music is marked with a breath, I will give you space,” says Rogers, “but we will both be frustrated if you ‘haven’t used that breath in years,’ as I sometimes hear after the fact.” The same goes for cadenzas— be sure that what is written on the page is the one you currently use. Otherwise, it’s less likely that you will finish the phrase at the same time as the accompanist. Even if your music is impeccably presented to a first-rate pianist, sometimes you or your accompanist will crash and burn. If this happens, Hoomes advises maintaining a positive attitude. “Just keep going, and don’t panic. Your professionalism will make a favorable impression.”

Choosing Repertoire
Many singers try to second guess the audition panel when choosing repertoire, and will agonize for hours over these questions:

Should I choose an aria from upcoming seasons?
I know I’m being considered for a certain role, but I don’t yet have that aria in my repertoire. Should I try to learn it in the next few days?
Should I sing some really unusual repertoire, and wow the panel with an aria they’ve never heard?

These are all valid questions. However, most auditioners will tell you to simply choose pieces that show off your strengths. Baltz advises that you “choose pieces that show you off at your best: vocally, dramatically, and personally.” Richard Pearlman, director of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, concurs, and adds that the selection should pull double duty— showing off the most beautiful parts of your voice, and disguising any technical problems. Consider also this caveat from Hoomes: “Prepare arias from operas that a company is actually casting for, if you already sing them and they are appropriate for you.” Stephen Goldberg, artistic administrator at Indianapolis Opera, says “Singers should sing their best piece, bearing in mind the repertoire that the company is hearing. However,” he cautions, “do not choose arias that you do not know well simply because that is the role being cast.” Instead, he advises singers to choose a similar piece that you already perform well. “Most auditioners have enough imagination to get from Non più mesta to Una voce poco fa,” he says.
It’s true that being cast immediately is your goal in an audition.

Therefore, according to Pearlman, “Your selection must be from a role in which you could be immediately cast, both vocally and physically.” In other words, don’t sing an aria unless you are ready to perform that role.

Be cautious to balance unusual arias with those that are popular and well known. Rogers believes that “Most auditioners would rather hear how you negotiate standard repertoire before listening to that aria you dug up after hours in the library.” She also advises that you notify accompanists in advance if you plan to offer non-standard pieces.

For Pearlman, the essential factor in repertoire choice is simple: “Choose something you LOVE to sing.”

I Am So Sorry, But I Am Indisposed This Evening If a singer gets sick on audition day, what is the appropriate course of action? “Cancel, cancel, cancel,” says Goldberg. Others echo the sentiment. Either you or your manager should call in advance to let the company know you will not be coming; leave a message if you don’t reach anyone directly.

If you want to try and sing anyway, Rogers counsels that “One excuse at the beginning of the audition is sufficient, rather than continuous apologizing and eye-rolling.” Remember that many auditions can be rescheduled. Even when they can’t, you are better off making no impression than a negative one. You might not have an immediate opportunity, but if the company was interested in you in the first place, they will be interested again.
Not convinced? Consider again that you will not have another chance to make this first impression. In order to really showcase yourself, you should never sing while sick. If you have already obtained an audition, another one can generally be arranged when you are not sick. If you are being heard for the first time, the auditioners won’t know that this is not your best singing. Their first impression of you, if it’s not positive, may be their last.
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