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Preparation and Presentation
Timm Rolek
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Audition Connection8/1/2003

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I want to work with smart people. In an audition, while my focus is on the voice, I am trying to assess a singer’s intelligence and musicianship. Several aspects of the audition give me a great deal of insight. I always stress the elements of preparation and presentation when I do audition seminars or master classes, because these are the keys to an informed performance.

Musically, your preparation for an audition has to be thorough. As far as I’m concerned, accuracy in execution is paramount. If you’re not accurate the first time I hear you, I’ll assume that you’re not going to be accurate in rehearsal or performance. Intonation and phrasing, not to mention notes and text, all have to be right on the money from the very beginning. For example, I once heard a singer who had a terrific instrument, but showed she didn’t understand the relationships between the tempos in her selection—she simply did the math wrong. Her inaccuracies told us that she is someone who sounds great, but will need extra help and coaching if she’s hired. I just don’t have that kind of time.

Dramatic presentation is equally important: Consider your aria in the context of the entire opera. Too often, I hear singers who have a good instrument and are good at singing their particular piece, but treat the aria as a recital excerpt with no relation to the whole. Show me in the brief time allotted to sing that aria that you know the opera’s entire story. Find out and really think through what happened five minutes before the aria, and what’s going to happen ten minutes in the future; know who’s onstage with you, who’s just left the stage, and who’s about to come on. You must show us that you know how this aria fits into the big picture.

The depth of your preparation will show in your presentation. A sparkle in the eye, the lift of an eyebrow, the shrug of a shoulder—these will demonstrate your command of the entire role. The other aspect of presentation is how you present yourself to the people hearing you. Keep in mind that the focus ought to be on you when you are onstage, and that we shouldn’t even be thinking of anything else. We want to be riveted to your performance. Set this up from the first moment you enter the room. If your walk is balanced, if you are confident without being cocky, you will make us feel confident that we are going to hear something worthwhile. Your interactions with the pianist hold many clues to your level of musicianship. For example, a good musician will have his or her part clearly marked so that any pianist, anywhere, will be able to read it. Neglecting to prepare your part not only makes life more difficult for the accompanist, it also takes time away from your audition: Often, singers enter the stage and open their book, then spend longer talking to the pianist about how he or she is going to sing the aria than actually singing it.

Show me that you “play well with others” by how you interact musically with a pianist. For example, many singers find themselves breathing late when working with pianist for the first time. A good accompanist reacts not just to your singing, but also to how you prepare yourself to sing. Be sure to keep on your schedule and sing the aria the way you are used to singing it. Trust your accompanist and know that we can discern if a problem in a performance is yours or that of the accompanist. Don’t come to a general audition with an aria from Die Frau ohne Schatten or something similar: it shifts my focus entirely to the accompanist, wondering how they’re going to manage that piece. By then, I’ve forgotten to listen to the person auditioning.

Finally, consider your repertoire choices. I am consistently disappointed at auditions to hear artists with magnificent instruments singing the absolute wrong repertoire for their voice. They may have brought something more appropriate as a second piece, but once I’ve heard the wrong thing, I’m not terribly interested in hearing more.

Put your best foot forward for that crucial first impression. Choose your repertoire in collaboration with your teacher and your coach. After talking with them, go and sing for someone who is disinterested in your career, but honest in his or her feedback. At your audition, begin with what you and the team you have as assembled truly feel is the best repertoire for your voice. It’s critical in your audition to be singing the right thing at the right time.

Remember that first impressions are lasting ones. Prepare thoroughly, present yourself in the best possible manner, relax, and knock our socks off.
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