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Prepare and Let Go
Audition Connection •
I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the best of two worlds: For the past fourteen years I have performed as a professional singer while directing the Young Artists Program at the Opéra de Montréal. My heart goes out to every young singer whom I have the opportunity of hearing because I remember how fragile I was when my whole future depended upon auditions. Unfortunately, auditioning is not something you can avoid. No matter how artificial the situation may feel, I am afraid you need to find a way to not only make it part of your routine, but to also have fun doing it!
Olympic athletes benefit from coaches who teach them the art of staying focused, but singers are usually not so fortunate. However, your perspective towards auditioning is crucial and needs tending, just as much as your vocal skills, your pronunciation of foreign languages, your sense of style, and your good looks. Unless you are one of those few singers who don’t get self-conscious at all, you will find, like I did, that you are your own worst enemy when it comes to selling yourself. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to give the full measure of your talent! So you are condemned to find a way to have fun while auditioning; to preserve your freedom as an interpreter despite the apparent limits of this artificial context. I guess the best way is to pretend you are a kid again; imagine a playful situation and forget about being judged. I know, easier said than done! It helps to remember that no matter who is in front of you, he or she is only human, just like you, and wants you to do your best.
During an audition you are selling dreams. Your whole body language must express poise, freedom, command of the situation, a glow, real class and on top of that, a sense of authenticity. Quite a challenge when your heart is beating out of your chest and your adrenaline is up through the roof! Try to be yourself and show us your obvious love of music making — these are your greatest assets. Should you not do yourself justice, do not let it show. What you may think was bad probably did not come across as strongly to us. Pull yourself together as soon as you can and go on. The way you get back on track will tell us more about you than a missed high note or a messy run.
I would like to share with you a few ideas that may inspire you or that may help you avoid missing good chances to be noticed in the way you want to be.
Your audition actually begins the moment you first contact the company. Most of the time, you will communicate with an assistant who will appreciate your diligence and politeness, and who may report it to his or her colleagues. Please make sure you are not one of those “high maintenance” singers who call ten times for information, change of schedule, etc. Be kind and promptly answer any request for information and confirm that you received voice mails or e-mails. Whether you use phone or e-mail, it is a good idea to keep a record of all communications for your files. Continue to be professional and polite on the day of the audition. Remember that the minute you enter the building anybody you meet will notice you and may speak highly or poorly of you.
Your publicity materials should be current and well organized but without fuss. Do not waste precious money in extravagant portfolios or fancy paper that may very well end up in the waste basket. Make sure your headshot is excellent and, most importantly, that it looks like you (a new hairstyle may cost you a new photo session). I appreciate a resume that keeps to one page and has a date at the bottom, with a repertoire list on a separate page. In terms of supplementary materials, I don’t care too much for reviews but I do like to look at production pictures, and I rarely have time to listen to CDs or demo tapes. You may do best to keep these costly items for other purposes.
When sending unsolicited materials, it is important to have a few good letters of recommendation from significant professionals in the opera field, though I take most of them with a grain of salt (for I know that they are not totally objective). Make sure you choose people who know you well and can speak highly of you. Should you put a name as a reference, tell that person so that he or she is not caught by surprise if called. Never put the name of someone you haven’t seen in a very long time or with whom you have worked very little.
You are young and ambitious and you want to bring what you consider your chevaux de bataille, your war horse. To find this piece, you need to be advised adequately by your teacher or manager and, above all, know yourself well. I prefer to listen to easier pieces sung with a wonderful mastery than difficult arias that are sung with a struggle and make me nervous and ill at ease as a listener. The bottom line is to present repertoire that shows you at your best.
The list of 3 to 5 arias that you present to the audition panel say a lot about you. Each aria should demonstrate your present skills, the consistency of your technique, your sense of style, your linguistic capacities, your musicality, and your understanding of the text. When choosing these selections, have an idea of the steps you would like to take in the planning of your career. For example, what role would you feel ready to perform professionally right now? What do you believe you will be singing in the near future? Remember to be realistic with these goals.
Your repertoire must be selections that you are ready to sing on any day, in any order the jury chooses. If you have put an aria on your list, it means you are willing to sing it, so don’t frown or have a negative reaction if being asked for one that is not in your order of priorities. I sometimes like to give the second choice to the singer, and I’m always surprised how some of them react in a clumsy way.
It may very well happen that your favorite aria is the pet hate of some jury member. How could you have known? Nevertheless, seize the opportunity to make him or her discover it again. Find out what arias pay the most dividends for you and surprise the jury with the way you make them yours in a very special way. Even though your aria may have been heard ten times already, do it with conviction. I’m all the more impressed with a singer who reconciles me with an aria that I was fed up with than with someone who sings a favorite of mine in a colorless manner.
You can never be too prepared for an audition, nor can you leave any of the details to luck. Before an important audition, gather a few people together and do a mock audition for them, especially if you will be performing new arias. Ask someone to videotape it for you, and do not hesitate to ask for feedback. Do not do this the day before, as it may discourage you. Allow yourself some time to adjust to their comments. Never underestimate the power of a first impression. When you prepare for an audition, visualize yourself many times entering the hall, and refine your demeanor. The way you walk into the room and towards the piano tells us a lot about you. If you are not addressed by your name right from the beginning, do not hesitate to introduce yourself and your accompanist. I personally like a singer who maintains a cordial distance. Shaking hands is fine if you already know somebody on the panel, but most of the times, it seems artificial and makes people uneasy Practice announcing your arias in a clear and well projected voice. If you are auditioning for professionals in the field, you will not need to give a lot of details if you are singing one of the “greatest hits.” However, do say more than a word to announce your aria, and be prepared to answer a few questions. Sometimes it is important for an audition panel to know what kin
About the Author: Soprano Chantal Lambert is pursuing an active career as a singer as well as directing the Program at the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal since 1990. She a regular guest at the CBS radio station (SRC), and is the co-author of three lexicons (English, Italian and German) for the young opera singer.