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Variations on a Theme
Audition Connection •
Having been a singer myself, I see things everyday that I wish I had known when I was out there auditioning. For starters, I appreciate now that while many people have the same basic criteria for their singers, each person you sing for has his or her own unique preferences for the voice and the art form.
Knowing this, it is important to maintain your integrity as a singer and not try to change yourself to fit the taste of whoever you may be auditioning for. Even when you get negative results from one situation, you should not change everything you are doing. The next person you audition for may have totally different tastes. Ultimately, you will need to trust yourself as you experience the ups and downs of professional auditions. Working with a teacher, coach, manager, or other professional whose judgment you trust will give you the consistent feedback you need to grow as an artist.
At every stage of your professional life, before you even begin applying for auditions, take the extra time to do your homework. Talk to colleagues who are further along in the process and learn from their experiences. Attend workshops, such as OPERA America’s Singer Workshop, given by respected professionals in the field, who can give good advice on many of these issues. As an auditioner, I can tell the difference between a singer who has gone the extra mile to prepare and one who has not. That extra work and preparation will absolutely separate you from a crowded field.
At the audition, introduce yourself when you enter the room. I see nothing wrong with stopping at the table and shaking hands. Do not, however, stay at the table and try to chat. At best, it is a clumsy attempt at familiarity; at worst, you are wasting your singing time! Alternatively, walking to the piano without any acknowledgment of us sets up an awkward barrier and deprives us of getting a feel for your personality.
While you want to make an impact, you don’t want to be remembered for your outfit. Choose clothes that I won’t remember. I want to concentrate on your singing and your expressions, not your clothes.
If you are too ill to sing, don’t sing. Should you decide to sing, do not give an apologetic preamble. Why? I’m going to listen to you differently, and that’s a negative. Be honest with yourself about whether you can do the audition. Keep in mind that good judgment is among the many criteria I’m listening and looking for in a singer. When you are too ill to sing and do so anyway you exhibit bad judgment — so don’t!
Keeping these general principles in mind, let’s look at some different types of auditions — what you can expect and how to prepare.
Apprentice Artist Auditions
At Lake George Opera, we receive 600-700 applications each year for our Apprentice Artists Program. After reviewing the applications with the letters of recommendation and the singers’ resumes, I select approximately 400 singers to hear at live auditions. Singers are also cut from the process due to late or incomplete applications. From that pool, we choose eight artists for our summer main stage season and an additional four for our education tour. Over the course of five days, John Douglas, apprentice program director, and I hear these 400 singers in six minute slots.
Most young artist auditions are run on a similarly tight schedule, giving you only a sliver of time to make yourself stand out from hundreds of other auditions. In all likelihood, you will have only one shot to prove yourself. Sure, it would be nice if there were time for a second aria, but you have to assume there will not be. My point? Choose your best piece, and sing it first. I always suggest singers choose either a short aria that shows as many strong points as possible or a cut version of a longer aria. If you present three good minutes, that will give us time to ask for something else.
When choosing repertoire for an apprentice audition, remember that you are not auditioning for a mainstage, principal role. Therefore, don’t try to figure out if you fit into the company’s season. Just sing your best piece, the one you feel will leave the most positive and lasting impression. Don’t waste your time and ours by trying to change yourself to fit every different situation.
In a mainstage situation, you may get more time to present your wares than in a young artist audition. However, it is also entirely possible that you will not. In my mainstage auditions, I usually hear 2 or 3 pieces. However, even though I usually hear more repertoire for this type of audition, it isn’t always a negative if I don’t. In fact, I cast one of my leads for last season after hearing only part of 1 aria. If my questions are answered, I move on.
If you work with a manager, he or she may be able to let you know if the general or artistic director wants to hear you in specific repertoire or is just listening generally. I will tell managers what I want to hear from which singer. If you are not managed, certainly try to ferret out some of this information before you sing. I always leave slots for non managed singers, and if one of these calls me I will let him or her know in which direction to go.
Resist the temptation to guess what the company wants to hear based on the upcoming season. Don’t sing Violetta solely because the company is doing La traviata in the next season (unless that is truly your best audition piece). Chances are that it was cast long ago! If you are unsure what you are being heard for, go back to the apprentice model and present what you think is your best piece. You don’t want to waste the opportunity to make a positive first impression. For both types of auditions, it’s important to keep in mind that you need to present the best snapshot of where you are now. If you aspire to Macbeth but are a Malatesta right now, sing Malatesta. Let Macbeth develop in your lessons and coachings. One of the things I’ve learned from hearing hundreds of singers is this: A very good audition and a very bad audition are the two most memorable. Don’t fall into the second category by choosing the wrong repertoire.
One of the things that many young singers seem to want, with good reason, is feedback. When you get to the mainstage artist level, your manager may sometimes, though not always, be able to get it for you. At the young artist stage, many singers feel that feedback will help them in this stage of learning and development. While that is true, there are a number of factors to keep in mind when it comes to getting feedback at this level:
You may not get any. The number of singers is so overwhelming that an auditioner cannot give feedback to everyone that wants it. Those who get slighted end up hurt or angry, so the easiest decision is to not give feedback to anyone. If this happens to you, don’t take it personally. It just means the general or artistic director is being consistent.
If you are able to get comments, they may not be as extensive as you would like. This is all about numbers and not about you. During Lake George Opera auditions, we hear at least 80 singers every day. As a result, I develop a shorthand for a number of different components in the audition. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the sheer volume of the over 400 auditions that I hear during the Apprentice Artist Audition season. Looking back at my notes after finishing the selection process, I may not remember exactly what it all means.
Everyone you sing for has different opinions. While it may seem painfully obvious in print, it is so important to remember. As a singer, keep in mind that you will get a variety of feedback from different companies, much of it contradictory! The common threads you encounter will be useful to your development, but you should still rely more heavily on consistent feed
About the Author: General Director, Lake George Opera