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Informed Choices are the Key
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Audition Connection4/1/2002

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If I get nothing else across in this article, I hope to leave the reader with a very strong sense that auditions consist of a myriad of choices.

If you are not making choices, you cannot have the best chance of success.

Let me take it one step further. Auditions are really about informed choices. Therefore, the more information you have about the audition in question, the more potent your choices can be.

Choice-making can be difficult. It can also drive you absolutely crazy, if you take it too far. But if you begin by accepting the notion that everything you do is the result of a choice (even a non-choice is a choice), then you can gain both the most control and the most freedom in your auditioning process.

There are really four types of auditions: paper audition (résumé and head shot); interview (by telephone or in person); visual audition (your appearance); and performing audition (your actual presentation). In some cases, you will audition for a company in each of these ways. In other cases, you may only have one format in which to present yourself.

Regardless of the format(s), you are being judged. The impression you leave is often a lasting one—which could be a positive or a negative.

When preparing for an audition, I suggest you create an “audition dossier.” This dossier should answer a number of questions about the prospective audition. Based on the information gathered, appropriate choices can be made. Some of the questions are obvious, others perhaps less so:

Is it a general audition or an audition for a specific role?
Who is the person you will be auditioning for? What is his/her position with the company?
Is this person known to have strong particular likes or dislikes in terms of repertoire? In terms of aesthetic? (Are they traditional or progressive?) In terms of personal style? (Are they warm and open? Are they reserved and formal?)
In what size theater(s) does the company perform?
Does the company’s repertoire have a prevailing direction? (Popular classics? Contemporary work?)
Does their production style have a prevailing direction? (Traditional, narrative? Progressive, more abstract style?)
Does their musical style have a prevailing direction? Which conductors do they most often engage?
Do they perform in the original language?
For what level role are you auditioning? (Leading, supporting, or young artist position?)
Are you auditioning on “their turf” or on a “neutral site?”
Will they provide an accompanist? If so, does the scheduled accompanist have a reputation for being able to handle tricky repertoire?

These are very basic questions. Some of OPERA America’s publications—Audition Connection, Career Guide, and Audition Advice for Singers—offer answers to many of these questions; company websites often provide another layer of information. Networking with your colleagues can also be very enlightening. By answering these questions, you can begin to make choices that will positively impact your audition. Once you have prepared your audition dossier, it’s time to turn your attention to the actual audition(s).

Paper audition: The résumé, cover letter, and head shot are often your first introduction to a prospective employer. The impression these materials make can often be decisive in whether you are granted a performing audition. A few things to keep in mind about this kind of audition:

Give it the same care you would your performing audition.
The contact information on your résumé should be complete.
Don’t visually overload the résumé. If it is too dense, the reader will often not even read it—too much effort. The font size should not be too small, and it should be organized into visual “bytes” or sections that are easy to digest at a glance. You will need to become adept and merciless at “editing out” unnecessary information.
Save the résumé in an electronic form, so you can “spin” the information for each audition. For example, if you have done a notable amount of music theater, you will want to highlight this information for some auditions and omit it for others.
Your head shot needs to help the viewer “make the leap” to imagining you onstage. Therefore, it needs a certain amount of theatricality to it (for instance, enough highlight and shadow). It needs a balance of poetry and accuracy. Have a neutral background—nothing “interesting,” like trees. Make sure the face takes up about 60-70% of the frame. Have contrasting shots—at least two—that offer very different qualities. We need to get the sense that your visual range is as great as possible; at the same time, you should avoid the real extremes.

Interview audition: These are relatively rare but they do occur, especially in places where you least expect them. For instance, you may face an “interview” situation during an opera company’s fundraising events. It is important to develop an engaging, outgoing style without being unnatural about it. Aside from the formal interview and the public encounter, an interview—albeit a brief one—is often a part of your performing audition. Your entrance into the space will usually include a greeting and a few spoken words. That constitutes your interview.

Visual audition: Every time you are exposed to a prospective employer, you are giving a visual interview. Your choices in clothing, hairstyle, the things you carry (even bottled water!), all leave an impression. They convey information. A thorough analysis of the information conveyed by each choice is much too long to go into here, but just know that your auditioners are taking notice—on some level or another— and give it some thought.

Performing audition: Once you complete your “audition dossier,” the most advantageous choices will be self-evident in most cases. But let me offer a few things I look for, in order of importance:

Repertoire: What you and your instructors feel is appropriate for your audition at this moment in time is relative to many things, including the level of role for which you are auditioning. A couple rules of thumb: 1) in 99% of cases, you should sing what absolutely sounds best in your voice as your first selection. 2) Make sure your first selection is on the brief side—avoid the uncut version of “Glitter and be Gay,” for example.
Voice: Anyone who tells you that the vocal impression is not the most important one in an opera audition is lying, crazy, or trying to be kind.
Musicianship: This is a very close second. Pitch is most basic, but rhythm, phrasing, and line are all noticed.
Diction: Even (or perhaps especially) in this day of supertitles, I look for good, clean diction, often because it goes hand in hand with ease of vocal production.
Physicality: I look for the potential for physical expressiveness and flexibility. You don’t need to gesture or move around a lot—in fact, keep it on the simple and minimal side— but I need to feel that your body is free to be expressive.
Interpretation: I look for the basics; for example, does the person know what they are saying? I also look for the ability to do unusual interpretations if asked, so delve below the obvious meaning a bit. Think of what the piece could be about in more unusual terms.
Type: This is, unfortunately, something you have no control over, but it does play a part in the casting process. There’s nothing you can do about this—simply be yourself.

Auditioning is an imperfect substitute for a prospective employer seeing you in a performance, but it is often the only mechanism we have for making a judgment. Get over that fact. It is here to stay. Don’t drive yourself crazy with all these choices. Do your homework, then relax (as best you can). We want to hire you, and if we don’t, it is often for reasons that have nothi
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About the Author: Artistic Director, Cincinnati Opera
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