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Audition Connection12/1/2005

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Do you sometimes wish that you could simply snap your fingers and end up singing roles at the world’s premier opera houses? Most singers probably have similar secret wishes; however, an enormous amount of time and effort (and a certain amount of luck) is required to actually achieve success in the opera world. Auditions are a major part of getting ahead in the business, and most of today’s prominent singers went through the same schedule of auditioning that you find on your calendar this season.

Soprano Harolyn Blackwell and bass Kevin Langan are two well-known singers who made the most of their auditions and have successful careers to show for it. Blackwell’s exciting performances and radiant voice have garnered her fame in venues ranging from The Metropolitan Opera to the Broadway stage to television. Langan has also enjoyed wide-ranging success in his 25+ year career, singing repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary works in the United States’ leading opera houses. With collective experience spanning half a century, these two accomplished singers offer a time-tested list of audition dos and don’ts.

Choice of attire can make or break your first impression with the audition panel. “Dress accordingly and properly for the audition,” Langan says. “Men should wear a suit or nice sports jacket with a suit and tie. Casual attire is more accepted at European house auditions, but in America, a tie is usually preferred.” Blackwell agrees: “Do wear a nice suit and tie. A turtleneck is too casual.” Regarding female singers, Blackwell shuns black and looks for color. “Wear a colorful dress that makes your personality shine,” she suggests. “Wear a dress that complements your figure and isn’t too short or too low in the front.”

A tasteful ensemble is not complete without the right footwear. For men, shined shoes are a must, according to Blackwell. For women, she says: “Wear a comfortable pair of shoes. If the heels are too high, the balance can be thrown off and breathing suffers.”

Upon entering an audition space, common courtesy is a must. “If possible, when you enter the audition hall, walk up to the people who are hearing you, introduce yourself, and shake their hands before proceeding to the stage to audition,” Langan suggests. “This isn’t always possible in a big house, but at least introduce yourself from the stage and show them you are pleased to be there to sing for them.” Blackwell recommends: “When you walk into the room, be confident, not cocky. A cocky air will turn everyone off.”

Since auditioning is a collaboration between singer and accompanist, the relationship between both parties should be as comfortable as possible. “It is best to bring your accompanist,” Blackwell suggests. “If you are coming from out of town, contact an accompanist who has been recommended to you by your fellow colleagues. Arrange to meet with the accompanist several days prior to your audition. This type of preparation will help you and your accompanist feel more confident and secure for the audition.”

How you sing can depend upon what you sing. “Select the repertoire that is suited for you and displays your strengths ... not your weaknesses,” Blackwell remarks. “Make your first selection an aria or song that will help calm your nerves and show the auditioners your joy and love for singing. First and foremost, it is your joy of singing that they want to hear and to see.” Langan agrees that the first selection should display your individual strengths. “Always begin with your best aria: one that shows off what is unique to your vocal abilities,” he says, “whether it be unusual range, high notes or low notes, dramatic or lyric style, dynamic abilities, legato or coloratura ability. Whatever it is that makes your voice special, be sure it is shown in that first piece. You may not get a chance to sing a second aria, so you have to make a quick impression that will pique the interest of the people who are hearing you. Present the aria in the context as if you were doing the opera. Give a performance. Don’t just stand there and look pretty.”

Langan also gives some advice on repertoire to avoid in an audition setting: “Don’t start with an unusually long aria or scene from an opera unless it is a piece that you are being considered for specifically. Audtioners do not want to hear a piece longer than five to seven minutes. They will know within five minutes what your abilities are, and you should be able to show them within that time frame.

“This may be obvious, but don’t sing an aria from an opera you wouldn’t do or worse, couldn’t do,” he goes on. “For example, I once heard a bass sing selections from Wotan’s Farewell in Die Walküre in an audition. He never would have been able to sing the entire role of Wotan, so what was the point in singing it in an audition? Don’t give someone the impression you can do a role, when in reality you can’t. Additionally, don’t put aria selections on your repertoire sheet that you cannot present well. Trying to impress people with arias that may be beyond your abilities only invites an opportunity for disaster. Only offer selections that best suit you at that moment in your career. Don’t be afraid to offer an unusual selection, say, not in the common repertoire, but that shows off your ability in an unusual language (e.g. Russian, Czech, Spanish) or contemporary style, as long as the selection is not too long, but shows off some vocal or musical ability you have that would be advantageous to that particular audition situation.”

“After you have sung and performed your best for that particular audition,” Blackwell says, “always leave with a smile and a thank you.” Langan agrees: “After the auditioners release you, thank them for hearing you and wish them a nice day. Being polite is always a plus. Thanking your accompanist in front of the auditioners doesn’t hurt, either.”

“NEVER sing an audition if you are not at the best of your vocal abilities,” Langan insists. “Once you have sung under less than ideal circumstances, auditioners will remember that. If you are sick, or not in what you consider top vocal form, cancel the audition. You can always sing for them at another time when you are feeling better. It is better not to be heard at all rather than under bad conditions.”

Blackwell suggests keeping a journal of your auditions. “Go home and analyze what was great about the audition and what areas need to be improved,” she proposes. “Along with the areas that were great in your audition, the areas that need improvement should be discussed with your team (i.e., your teacher and your coach). With your teacher and coach, make a game plan to improve upon these areas for your next audition.”

“Auditioning is something that we all must do,” Blackwell remarks. “I believe a positive attitude of learning, growing, and enjoying the process is one that we can all develop.” Langan continues: “To me, auditions never seemed to get easier, but I always adhered to the above suggestions. Even if I did not get the result I was hoping for out of some of them, I always felt I had done my best.” “So,” Blackwell says, “put on that colorful dress or your best suit and remember to have a good time!”
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About the Author: Artistic Services Coordinator, OPERA America
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