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Complete Audition Folder Preparation: A Pianist's Perspective
In the business of opera, it is a given that a singer must focus on a myriad of things in preparation for an audition. Solid technique, thorough coaching, an impressive set of arias, dramatic interpretation, an excellent headshot and resume, an eye for smart fashion choices and comfortable interaction with the audition panel are important tools to have at your command. As complex as all these aspects may seem, it is likely that many have lost sight of a crucial element of a well-prepared audition: the audition folder.
We've all heard the stories of audition disasters where a pianist seems to have problems even when they have played the last few auditions well. These situations often arise due to poor organization of the repertoire they are given. So limited is the time spent in coachings and rehearsals that it is no wonder this detail falls by the wayside. After years of hearing these tales from disgruntled pianists, the time has come to level on this subject!
A Place for Everything
Your audition music, like most things in life, needs a safe place to live. The most common and economical option is the standard one-inch, three-ring binder. The binder may not be able to contain your complete repertoire, but it is also the option that — from size to binding — most closely resembles a real score. This binder should be used exclusively in auditions and rehearsals by the pianist. Inside pockets can be used to keep headshots, resumes and audition forms all in a common place but should not compromise the primary function of the binder.
Starting on the Same Page
When deciding to add an aria to your repertoire, make one clean, double-sided copy and prepare it for the pianist folder. I cannot stress enough the words "clean" and "double-sided." Even if every aria you sing is in the same anthology, it is still a good idea to photocopy everything.
While occasionally entertaining, extraneous written information such as a translation of the text, open or closed vowels, or notes on any number of technical adjustments are inconsequential to your pianist in an audition. Moreover, these markings can be distracting and more often cause confusion if a pianist is trying to decipher if the writing is relevant to them. Nothing should detract a pianist's attention from their job during your audition! Copy the score the way it was when it was purchased new; checking to make sure that all print is on the copy. A copy reduction may be necessary in some cases. There are some markings which should be included — these will be discussed later.
Single-sided copies are great for a singer's personal use, providing space for information that normally would not fit above or between staves. From the piano bench, it doubles the amount of time a hand has to come away from the keyboard, subtracting from our already decaying tones. Single-sheet, double-sided copies are preferable and are highly encouraged.
While not an optimal situation, single-sided copies taped together at the corners with matte finish (non-glossy) transparent tape back-to-back will work in a pinch. I must reiterate: This configuration carries the burden of feeling as though two pages are being turned at a time and should be avoided it if at all possible.
The Ever-Problematic Page Turn
Aside from not getting all the notes on the page on a photocopy, the most common problem is monitoring unwieldy page turns. Most times, photocopying pages exactly as they appear in the score is the best solution. Correct page turns are most crucial in pieces like Anne Trulove's Act I cabaletta from The Rake's Progress. Pianists generally learn this aria from the Boosey & Hawkes score and are not only accustomed to those page turns, but are also used to seeing the score laid out a certain way. Providing a pianist with a score that is exactly contrary to what is expected can be inviting disaster. If page numbers are present on the copy they should be to the outside corners, away from where the binding would normally be. Remember that when a hand has to turn a page, something will inevitably be omitted from the playing.
For any rule, there are always exceptions:
- If an aria begins on a right-hand or odd-numbered page, alleviate the first page turn by copying the first two pages as single-sided copies. Place the pages edge to edge, taping the first to the second at the seam so it folds in to the right. This allows the first three pages of the aria to be seen from the beginning. A few examples of this would be "Du bist der Lenz" from the G. Schirmer edition of Die Walküre and also "Mab! La reine des mensonges" from Roméo et Juliette in Robert L. Larsen's anthology, Arias for Baritone.
- There are a small number of arias in the repertoire which are four pages or fewer. Appearing often in auditions is the two-page aria "Va! laisse couler mes larmes," which is printed on a page turn in many editions. Copy each page single-sided and totally eliminate the page turn. In three- and four-page arias, using a "fold-out" technique similar to the point above makes it possible to have all pages visible to the pianist.
- If the opportunity exists where it is possible to place a page turn where the pianist has measures of rest or little to play, use that to your advantage. With this, one must use a great amount of caution, considering that it may complicate subsequent page turns. I do not advise this solution unless the singer is also a fluent pianist and knows well how to construct page turns.
- Da Capo arias create an unusual challenge in that a pianist has to keep turning back until the first page is found. Some arias — such as those by Handel — are lengthy, and given the unnaturalness of the left hand to turn pages from left to right, it is better to re-copy the repetition of the aria and add those pages. Whichever method the pianist prefers, both will be available.
Getting on Your Mark
Some unfortunate traditions of opera are the errors which are made over the years due to misprints in scores. When preparing a folder for your repertoire, one should bear in mind that various editions have differing errors and try to correct the missing or problematic notes or accidentals when they are known. One of the most famous is "Sein wir wieder gut" from Ariadne auf Naxos that contains a number of pitch errors both in the piano reduction and in the vocal line when compared against the orchestral score.
Another example is Eugene Onegin's Act I aria in which the third beat of the recitative section appears on first glance to be a C7 chord. Upon closer examination the chord has a C# that has carried over from the previous chord. Marking a courtesy accidental next to the C ensures a greater chance of it being played correctly.
A Cut above the Rest
In auditions, it is standard practice to cut out extended sections where other characters would otherwise be singing. Likewise, introductions and interludes should be minimized. Some pianists advocate covering the cut measures with another sheet of paper before copying, making it appear blank. Others prefer that a singer entirely black out the cut measures with a marker. While these methods work well, the safest way for a longer or more complicated cut is to create a cut-and-paste copy where the next thing the pianist sees is what is to be played. This may require more than one version of the aria if a singer has a various cuts for the same aria.
Expressing Yourself Clearly
Good news: It is not necessary to go to relationship counseling with your pianist before an audition
About the Author: Based in New York City, Tyson Deaton has gained attention as one of the busiest young collaborative artists and coaches of opera and recital literature. He is sought out by singers and instrumentalists alike who perform regularly on major opera and concert stages in the U.S. and abroad. Having performed in many venues worldwide, Mr. Deaton has garnered critical acclaim with Opera News, along with various other publications.