"What are my chances of getting an audition?" "How many young artists will they pick?" "How many singers in my voice part am I competing with?" "What arias should I sing?" These are some of the many questions singers may ask themselves when preparing for an audition.
In December 2006, OPERA America asked opera companies from around the country who held auditions in New York City to comment on their recent audition season.
First, we asked about statistics -- how many singers were heard versus positions available? How many applicants vs. number of audition slots available?
Fort Worth Opera expanded their Broadway-style screening auditions this year to include both non-managed artists and singers for their Young Artist Studio. Last year was the first time they held screening auditions, and these werefor non-managed artists only. This year, they spent two days hearing screening auditions from 100 non-managed and 100 Studio artists. From these 200 singers, 60 were selected for traditional audition spots over the subsequent two days. Overall the quality of those singers scheduled for a full callback audition was strong enough to validate the screening process as the best way to find singers, versus reviewing resumes or listening to CDs. For these auditions, they received about 300 non-managed requests (to fill 100 screening spaces) and about 250 requests from potential Studio artists (for 100 screening auditions). For managed artists, they received submissions for about 1,000 artists from various managers for about 200 slots over 3 days. Since their 2007 and 2008 Festivals were cast prior to the auditions, these were primarily general auditions to help them finalize ideas they have been considering for 2009 and beyond.
Curtis Tucker, general director of Lake George Opera, heard auditions for young artists only this fall. He heard 312 singers for 16 available positions (8 summer apprentices, 4 summer studio members, 4 spring education tour singers). 560 applications were received for 380 audition slots. They auditioned 5 days in 2 cities (New York and Philadelphia). Of the 312 singers heard, 171 (55%) were sopranos, 62 (20%) mezzos, 49 (16%) baritones/basses, 30 (9%) tenors. "Nothing surprising about that," says Tucker, "but the odds are clearly daunting for sopranos. We auditioned fairly late in the season this year; some of the companies with earlier auditions may have seen a more even breakdown."
Chautauqua Opera heard 453 singers for 26 positions in their Young Artist Program. Of 650 applications received, they scheduled 514 auditions and heard 453 (after cancellations for illness, other offers, travel problems, etc.).
Des Moines Metro Opera this year heard approximately 1000 singers (including those auditioned by CD). They hire 40 singers for the Apprentice Artist Program and 14 stage directors/coaches to work within the program. In addition, they hire about 18 principal artists, on average-depending on repertoire requirements.
San Francisco Opera had 748 applicants to fill 29 positions.
Next, we asked about repertoire -- were there arias they heard too many times? Not enough? New, interesting works that people sang?
Atlanta Opera's Eric Mitchko heard one soprano sing Mme. Arkadina's aria from Pasatieri's The Seagull. To Mitchko, this was a real treat; he says he'd love to hear it again.
Christopher McBeth, opera artistic director for Utah Symphony & Opera, was particularly impressed with and thankful for the number of artists who presented arias from the roles they were seeking to cast. Finally he offered this bit of advice to audition accompanists: "It is time for all freelance pianists to accept that the arias from Little Women are now firmly a part of the audition repertoire!" McBeth also offered his thanks to the artist managers who attended auditions of artists they represent and helped to keep the day on schedule.
Fort Worth Opera Managing Director Keith Wolfe said, "I actually think there were no arias that we heard more than a handful of times, definitely not frequently enough for them to be annoying. More people are now offering Handel arias, from more than just Giulio Cesare, and more 20th-century repertoire was offered. This made it much more enjoyable for us." While some administrators, like McBeth, appreciate hearing arias from the shows being cast, Wolfe felt differently. "We didn't list specific operas we were casting, so people weren't offering the same arias from those shows, which happens quite frequently despite our request for the artist to sing their best repertoire and not just something from our planned repertoire. Although I know this was somewhat frustrating for the managers, it really did give a better picture of their artists because of the variety of rep offered."
Chautauqua Opera's Jay Lesenger advised, "Though there are some arias we hear more than others, I think singers should sing what they do best, not necessarily worry about what we don't want to hear again." Surprisingly, singers did not offer much from the repertory Chautauqua Opera has planned this season. "Because of the new collections of arias available, we're hearing more selections from Little Women. Tenors are bringing in 'New York Lights' from Bolcom's A View from the Bridge, etc."
"Every so often," Lesenger continued, "a singer brings in rare or unknown repertoire. I like to hear something different from time to time, but sometimes the choices don't show off range well (which might be the reason the singer chose it, of course). It's nice to hear selections from Donizetti works other than Don Pasquale and Lucia. Every mezzo has 'Must the Winter Come So Soon,' from Vanessa, but they often underestimate the difficulty of singing it in pitch and with the correct rhythms."
Jonathan Dean, education artistic administrator at Seattle Opera, sent us a list of all the arias they heard in their eight days of New York auditions for Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program. Dean felt that the sopranos were far and away the most imaginative in terms of repertoire choices. The winners for frequency (in each voice type) were:
SOPRANOS : "Quando m'en vo"
MEZZOS : "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes"
TENORS : "Dies Bildnis"
BARITONES : Silvio's aria
BASSES : "Il lacerato spirito"
A complete list of singers' audition arias at these auditions can be seen by clicking here.
While there are certain universal dos and don'ts when it comes to auditions, every administrator has his or her own preferences -- and pet peeves. Michael Egel, artistic administrator for Des Moines Metro Opera, shared some personal reflections and suggestions after the recent audition season.
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