Monday, December 14, 2009

It's that time of year

We are now in December, that time of year when audition anxiety can be at its height (particularly since so many Young Artist Programs have auditions during this time)
Whether you are main stage auditioning or doing Young Artist Auditions, it's important to remember that you are in a business where success percentages are not high - this being the case, you have to take a serious look at what constitutes success - this will help you get through it a lot better.
To use an analogy, in baseball, players get multi year contracts when they are successful getting base hits 3 out of every ten times at bat. If you think of an audition as an at bat, realize that in the opera/classical music business, "success" may be more accurately portrayed as 1 or 2 times out of ten.
If you allow yourself to look at it in this way, you will feel less angst over each and every audition - you'll be able to take a "big picture" approach.
In the long run, I believe this makes for better individual auditions, because the weight of expectation will not be squarely sitting on each one.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Looking back on the fall audition season

Well, it has been a busy season of auditions and masterclasses so far, and having just finished up our production of Tosca, it's good to take a bit of a break. I have to say I have heard some wonderful singing this fall - no, let me rephrase that - some wonderful performances. What has been particularly exciting is hearing some singers who have grown, not just in their vocalism, but also their presentations.
I truly believe that integrating your physicality and connection with character will add more vibrancy and energy to the sound you make.
As I have mentioned before, the auditions I find most engaging, be it competition, masterclass, or general audition, are those that make me feel that I am encountering a character, not just hearing a vocal performance.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Good question!

The commenter to my previous post asked what I would ask for as a follow up to a coloratura aria. I would tend to ask for something that showed tempo and style contrast, as well as a different language if possible. I would worry less about trying to hit a different "era". By the end of your audition (if I'm interested), I want as complete a picture of you as I can get.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Can I jump outside my fach in auditions?

What I'm really enjoying is having post topics being driven by questions I'm asked at auditions or by e-mail. The question of who you are as a voice type being set in stone is an interesting one, and certainly a question that has implications for auditions.
To give a quick (and probably predictable) response to this topic heading: it depends.
If you look at any number of operas, you will see that there is a colorful history of different types of voices singing various roles.
Examples (with some well known singers):
Don Giovanni: Bass: Samuel Ramey, Baritone: Thomas Allen
Leonore in Fidelio: Soprano: Karita Mattila, mezzo Christa Ludwig
Figaro (in Marriage): Bass Baritone: Jose Van Dam, baritone: (again) Thomas Allen
Susanna (in Marriage): Soprano (take your pick) Mezzo: Cecilia Bartoli

Anyway, you get the idea - and this doesn't even cover the different weights of voices within these categories doing some of the same roles.

In any case, the dilemma is - how much of a limb can you go out on at an audition? If I'm a soprano, will anyone want to hear me do Rosina? If I'm a lyric baritone with solid low notes, is Se vuol ballare ok? You get the picture.

So, what should you do? My opinion on this is that the less established you are, the smarter it is to stay "between the lines". As you become more established, people who hire you are going to be more willing to take a "not obvious" chance with rep when it comes to you (they may even wind up using this as a marketing hook). As with anything I am saying here, there are exceptions.

I will say more about this in another post, but feel free to weigh in on this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More about "How much should I do?"

This is my Fall for hearing a lot of auditions. I've just finished my third set of Met Auditions (the Chicago Regionals), and next week I hear the Minnesota Districts, and also do a Masterclass the day after, so I'm looking forward to that. One of the continuing themes I encounter seems to be about how much movement is appropriate in a given audition. I've been asked this particularly regarding competitions vs. main stage or young artist auditions.
There are, of course, varying opinions, but I continue to believe that over the course of a number of auditions of varying types, your best bet is to perform your repertoire in a way that best gives any auditioner the most complete snapshot of who you are as a performer. In other words, don't change who you are to suit a particular audition. Does this mean that you may displease a particular panel because of your dramatic intensity and physicality? Perhaps. But, again, over the course of many auditions, if you constantly try to figure "us" out(meaning the people who hire or give prizes), and change your approach to fit that situation, the more you run the risk of losing sight of who you are as a performer. And being who you are (assuming you have the talent, technique, etc.) when you audition, allows you the best chance to succeed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Opera Center

Here's the loading dock side of the new Wayne and Kristine Lueders Florentine Opera Center which I referred to in my previous post.

A new season - and a preview

I am quite excited about tonight - Our Studio Artists (there's the tie-in to an audition blog!) will be doing selections from Tosca, an incredible new American opera, Elmer Gantry, Rigoletto and Messiah at the new Lueders Opera Center. Why oratorio? The Milwaukee Symphony is using our Studio Artists as soloists for that piece in December, which we're quite excited about. Our Studio Artists are soprano Sarah Lewis Jones, mezzo Julia Elise Hardin, tenor Aaron Blankfield, and baritone Scott Johnson.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The New Frontier

So, the past few months have taught me some lessons about the new paradigm in which we all live.
While my comments here are not specifically about auditioning, they do have to do with being assessed by a whole new group of people. I'm speaking of course now about what we call "social media". Milwaukee had some interesting times this summer with our other opera company, and much of it was played out through blogs, e-mail, comments on newspaper online columns, etc. Having just completed directing a show, I noted that not only does the review show up online, but also comments to that review. In addition, all types of bloggers will comment on performances that you may be involved in as well. I bring all of this up to say to you as singers that if you believed you needed a thick skin before to survive being assessed in auditions and in newspaper reviews, you now have a whole new frontier of commentary on your singing - and in many cases, the qualifications of those people making comment may vary greatly.
I bring all of this up not to frighten you off, but to let you know that those of us who audition you and hire you are well aware of this phenomenon, and I think in most cases, know how much weight to give it.
I would be curious to know of any experiences that you have had in this "brave new world"!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More auditions and a production

I am back home, having just directed Pagliacci, and judging the District Met Auditions in Washington, D.C.
Competition Auditions are somewhat a different animal than house auditions or young artist auditions, and while it is inappropriate to comment on specific auditions, I did find talking to the auditionees one on one for both these and the Wisconsin district auditions very interesting. One of the most frequent comment/questions I got had to do with whether or not a singer should do things different presentationally in a competition vs. a company audition. In other words, in a competition, should a singer back off doing too much acting and focus on "the voice". This is an interesting question, and one that may be answered differently, depending on whose answering. Certainly for a competition, you will have a variety of people listening - most recently for me, it was me (a company director and a stage director), a voice teacher and a coach. Obviously, we're all going to have a different take on things. I always want to see a person engaged dramatically (this doesn't mean that a teacher or coach don't by the way). But, in the end, I will return to one of my basic themes: You have the best chance to be successful, no matter what the circumstance, when you do "your performance", and don't worry about getting into the head of the person hearing you.
You will never be able to know what will please who, and if you try to do that, you will probably please no one - including yourself!
On the other hand, if you sing what you sing best, and do it with musical and dramatic intensity you may not get every audition or competition, but ultimately at some point what you do will resonate with a panel or a General Director, because it is authentically who you are.
This of course, doesn't mean, that you shouldn't take advice, and try to improve, but it does mean you should try to chart a steady course that leads consistently on a path that takes you where you want to go. Let me know what you think.

For my next post, I'm going to comment on "blogs" of all types, having just had some interesting experiences related to that.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Busy Times!

Thanks for some great responses to the last post. I am directing Pagliacci and haven't had a chance to post for a bit. I also had the opportunity to judge the Met auditions last weekend (and have three more coming up), and had some good conversation about auditioning with my fellow judges, and will try to post some follow-up thoughts to that over the next couple of days. I should also add that there was some really fine singing at those auditions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


This is an interesting question, and recent auditions have made me think about it in a more active way - not sure if I have an answer for this question yet, but anyway, here goes.....
If you find that you dramatically, temperamentally, and vocally suited to a certain genre, is it advisable on the front end of your career to try to guide yourself toward that, or is it safer and smarter to be a "generalist" and let being more specific wait?
I have some ideas on this that have changed over the years, but I would be curious to read other's thoughts.....

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A big thank you!

I want to thank all the folks at the University of Michigan School of Music for a great time this past week. I heard some wonderful young singers, and everyone was very welcoming. I want to particularly thank my good friend Professor Stephen Lusmann for inviting me!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Here's a one page audition "cheat sheet".

While I have been working on a book about auditioning, I've also been preparing for masterclasses I will be doing. In preparation for a class at the University of Michigan that I am doing this weekend, I have prepared an Opera Audition Cheat Sheet, a quick guide to auditions, that hopefully can help you ask and answer some important questions - let me know what you think!

The Opera Audition “Cheat Sheet”

I. Who am I auditioning for?
a. General/Artistic Directors
b. “Pay to Sings”
c. Young Artist/Resident Artist Programs
d. Agents/Managers

II. What am I singing?
a. What is the right repertoire
b. Does age play an important factor
c. The physics of the physical side of singing
d. The “mundane” side – have your music ready to go

III. How do I look?
a. What to wear
b. What not to wear
c. The Beatles should not have still been together when your photo was taken
d. Does it really make that big a difference?

IV. How do I find out how I did?
a. Is it appropriate to contact the company/manager, etc?
b. If so, how do I approach them?
c. How do I fix a train wreck?
d. How many times do I go back?

V. How do I make it better?
a. Do I go all the way back to the drawing board?
b. Whom shall I run it by?
c. How do I re-sell it?
d. When is enough enough?

VI. Good resources
a. Musical America Yearbook -
b. Opera America -
c. New Forum for Classical Singers -
d. Yap Tracker -
e. Classical Singer -

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Remember your materials

I heard some auditions in New York this past weekend (on Sunday morning no less!!), and I must say they were very good. But it put me in mind of something - materials - with the Internet, it is true that I can copy off a digital press kit, but I might forget, and if you have an agent, they might forget, see where I'm going with this. Always make sure that you arrive at your audition with a set of materials - they will be my road map back to you or your manager if I am interested. Any number of things can turn into your "edge", even something as simple as a set of your materials.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'm back!

Well, a little thing called opera has kept me from the blog, but I just returned from NY, and Opera America meetings, and some very good auditions, so I will be back with a post tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Do degrees matter?

I was recently interviewed along with some of my colleagues in Classical Singer magazine about the issue of degrees, and some of the pros and cons of advanced degrees like the DMA, etc. There is a wide range of viewpoints on degrees for singers. On the one hand, some feel that a doctoral degree may indicate that you either lack talent as a singer, or are not serious about your pursuit of a serious singing career. Some people feel you shouldn't even list them on your resume because of that. I don't have any prejudice against a particular degree from any particular institution, and I am proud of the degrees I earned. At the end of the day, my belief is that it is your audition, and not what is listed (or not listed) on a piece of paper, that will get you hired.
Back when I was doing university teaching, there was a companion belief that you shouldn't let anyone know you had a teaching job, because that would weaken the impression you made in an audition. For the record, I never hid my teaching position either.
I guess where I land on all of this, is that everyone has a story to tell of why they are where they are, and how they got there. Your life story and musical journey may be such that a DMA program is perfect for you. On the other hand, you may have a chemistry degree, and you've become a wonderful singer purely through private study. The point is, only you know what is the right path for you to take. An no matter what path that is, nothing can replace having to produce the goods when you get to the audition.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Opera Center

I have not been posting for a few days, and that's because we're about to open the Wayne & Kristine Lueders Florentine Opera Center later today. We are very excited about the fact that we will be holding rehearsals, AUDITIONS (I guess that's how I can tie it into this blog!) and other activities in this space (as well as renting it to other arts groups. I will post some photos on here - we are very excited about what this will do for our company. I should also mention how grateful we are to my Board President Wayne Lueders, and his wife Kris, for helping to make this happen!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The party's over.....or is it?

When do I say "I'm done trying" or should I even think like that?

This is perhaps the most personal question there is. And I guess to begin, I think it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If your inwardly stated goal is making a living as professional classical singer, and you are not getting at least some movement in that direction, and you are in your forties (this will of course vary greatly depending on your voice type, etc.) then you may want to take a look at whether to continue. On the other hand, if you have made peace with keeping a "hand in the game" singing an occasional gig, teaching, and generally feeling a part of the singing world, there is no reason to not continue. What will be important to know is what auditions to pursue or not pursue, depending on what decision you have come to. In my next posts, I will break this down further, but suffice it to say, that I come down squarely on the side of "chasing your dream". I just hate to see it when people put themselves in audition situations that are not appropriate for where they have landed - in other words - "know thyself".

Friday, August 14, 2009

on a break....

I will be on vacation, but will be back on Wednesday!
Do I make a mistake switching rep, because I think it fits me better (looks, age, body type, etc.) even though my voice still is more appropriate for different (lighter) rep.?

Since we are still talking opera here, at the end of the day, you can't be untrue to what you are vocally. this can be tough if you're body type doesn't exactly fit your voice, particularly in today's world of casting visually as well as aurally. If the issue is weight, that is of course, something can be addressed, but if it is height or age, this becomes trickier. It is important that you continually get feedback to see if your self-perception is correct. A trusted coach, director, or someone in a similar position whose opinion you trust cam make sure you are pointed in a realistic direction.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

a slight pause

Do I make a mistake switching rep, because I think it fits me better (looks, age, body type, etc.) even though my voice still is more appropriate for different (lighter) rep.?

Today has been a bit crazy, but I will tackle this one tomorrow....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The other side of age.....

When is "too young" for certain roles, etc.
This is the other side of the age question....What if vocally and dramatically you feel like Marcellina, Katisha, Berta, Quickly, etc. but people want to cast you as Cherubino, Pitti-Sing, Rosina, and Meg Page? Well, you may have to face that fact that you are those lighter roles, or, you may have to hope that a perceptive director, conductor, etc. will see that you really are that character singer, and the fact that you are 30 shouldn't be an issue. You will notice that I gave a female example. It does seem like there are more examples of young tenors and bass-baritones doing "older" character roles than women. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, and unfortunately this can be a steep hill to climb. Unfortunately, it seems like the only people who can make this work are those who are considered to have a "quirky" look, or are of stouter build. This is unfortunate, because make-up and costuming can create the same effect.
An amusing counter-point to this is running into (particularly male) singers who are having incredibly busy careers that most people would kill to have, but who are nonetheless unhappy because they've been pigeonholed in character parts!
To get back to my original point here, if your interest lies in character parts, and you don't fit the classic profile, you will need to do some PR and promotion work to be seen in that light. However, if you can pull it off, you may find a rich career path that many don't consider.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Should I lie about my age?

In a word - no. also don't have to advertise it. Obviously for some programs and competitions, you have to provide proof of age. But for most auditions, if you look 25, but you're 40.....let them think you're 25. Don't put your date of birth OR weight on a resume. Different topic, but - people carry weight differently, and if you leave a number on a piece of paper for people to ponder, that's what they will remember.

Monday, August 10, 2009

So, when?

At what age should I leave pay to sings, Young artist programs, graduate programs behind?
This is a complex question, because before it is answered, you have to have a pretty clear road map of how you got to the point of asking the question. For instance, if you are a soprano singing soubrette roles, and you started vocal study seriously right out of high school, and you are now 35 years old, and still trying to get established, most young artist programs will be not possible, and a pay to sing will not help your resume a bit. On the other hand, if your are a budding lyric tenor, who didn't discover you had a voice until you were 30, and just started study at 32, you may find yourself answering this question differently. Graduate programs are a different story. We should also dilineate here between Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts, and Artist Diploma programs. Age will not be a big factor in M.M. or D.M.A. programs. while with Artist Diploma programs you might have to do a bit more research to find the correct answer. However, it should be noted that entering a D.M.A. program at an older age may help you with securing higher education employment, but will probably have no impact on you getting hired for professional work (unless you have the good fortune to get associated with a graduate program, where one of the artist faculty also has hiring responsibility with a professional company).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Men vs. Women in "age" parts

This may not seem like an audition topic on the face of it (sorry, couldn't resist a small pun), but in fact, it is. This is from the first bullet point I mentioned yesterday. If you are a young singer, will you be considered for Quickly, Berta, Marcellina? Conversely, if you are more mature, will you still be considered for Susanna, Norina, Pamina, etc. I think this is a fair question, particularly in light of the fact that we regularly see male singers in their 30s and early 40s cast as Bartolo, Falstaff, the Sacristan, etc, and also see male singers in their 50s and 60s even, singing Rodolfo, Nemorino, etc.
One could argue this problem exists in the world of film as well - Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford and others are often still cast as leading men with actresses in their 20s and 30s, whereas an older woman with a younger man is usually seen as "quirky". I think there is some bias in this regard, but like anything else, try to get good advice from people who know, before "putting it out there". In theory, there is no reason, a young singer with good acting chops, and the right vocal quality cannot pull off Marcellina or Berta, or Quickly. And if you truly still look and sound the part, why not Susanna?
Of course, another element here is the theatre itself. In this case, I'm not talking acoustics, I'm talking visuals. A 2500 seat house makes make up much more effective at producing the desired effect as opposed to a 350 seat house.. A General or Artistic Director will certainly take this into account when hearing auditions.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


This is an interesting, and sometimes contentious topic, that has many facets- to whit:
  • Do men have an unfair advantage (i.e. - they get to play old when they're younger, and play young when they're older easier than their female counterparts)
  • At what age should I leave pay to sings, Young artist programs, graduate programs behind
  • Should I lie about my age?
  • When is "too young" for certain roles, etc.
  • Do I make a mistake switching rep, because I think it fits me better (looks, age, body type, etc.) even though my voice still is more appropriate for different (lighter) rep.
  • When do I say "I'm done trying" (or should I even think like that?)
All of these bullet points are worthy of their own post, and over the next couple of days, I will comment on each.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A blast from the past

There's a fun little book called Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing, and I have no idea whether it's still in print. But it's fun to see how ideas about singing have changed (or not?) over the years -

Here's a little nugget from Signor Caruso's section:

"Others, who have keen and alert minds and voices of fine quality, yet lack that certain esprit and broadness of musical outlook required in a great artist. This lack is often so apparent in the person's manner or bearing that I am tempted to tell him it is no use before he utters a note. Yet it would not do to refuse a hearing to all these misfits, for there is always the chance of encountering the unknown genius, however rare a bird he may be".

Interesting take, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How obscure can I get with audition rep?

This is a fascinating question, and one worth discussing. There is no doubt that what is "standard" for auditions has expanded greatly over the last several years. I think there are several reasons for this. All opera companies are doing more adventurous repertoire, the opera anthologies contain a broader spectrum of arias, and new work is quickly available (We just completed our local/chorus auditions, and one of our singers came in and did a very credible job on an excerpt from Elmer Gantry, a new opera we are doing next season). I think, and I would love to hear my colleagues weigh in on this. that it is almost always a good idea to have some well known standard rep from your fach, or voice category, to show how you handle that. There can sometimes be the sneaking suspicion that out of the way rep is an artful way to cover up some vocal or musical deficiency. While I don't necessarily think this is always the case, I think it's safe to cover all of your bases. There will of course be exceptions - if you are being asked for something specific, or if you are singing for a company or festival that specializes in non-traditional or new repertoire. Perhaps the most germane question of all is: What constitutes standard rep today, and there is no doubt that this is an ever broadening category. I will weigh in with some specific ideas on this in another post, but in the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts on this.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Should I stop?

This is a common question that is based on a common occurrence. Things grinding to a halt during an audition can be the result of a variety of factors. Your pianist takes off an a tempo that is extremely difficult for you to navigate. You blank out in the middle of an aria you've done 500 times before. Something throws you off (a person barges in the room by mistake for example). You get the idea. My take on this is that there is nothing wrong with stopping, and either resetting either to the beginning of the piece, or to a logical starting point if you're already mid-stream. In my listening experience, this almost always yields superior results to forging ahead and hoping for the best. It also gives you an opportunity to show poise and control in difficult circumstances, which, after all, is a subtext of your audition.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hydrating in an audition

I am fascinated by the omnipresence of water bottles in auditions. No matter how short the aria (i.e. O mio babbino caro, Lieben hassen), it seems that more often that not, the singer will ask if the audition panel minds if he or she gets a drink before their next aria. In addition to this taking a bit of time away from your singing, it always makes me wonder what you will do in the middle of a long scene on stage (i.e. Susanna, Act II finale, Figaro). I know, I know, you can plant a bottle behind rocks, etc, but let's face it, that's usually not practical. I am fully aware that this is a case of me saying "back in my day, we didn't have water bottles - we sang twelve arias in a row and were happy to do it!!" In any case, just an observation......

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Will I get more auditions if I have a manager?

Well......that depends. Getting a manager is not a silver bullet for your career. The old adage is "there has to be something to manage". It's a real catch 22 - it's easy to feel that "I need a job to get a manager, and I need a manager to get a job". In many cases, this isn't true. If you find that a manager is anxious to sign you, and you really don't have any credits yet, put on the brakes - and do some home work. The internet and social media has made these things easy to check. Look at the roster of the person who wants to sign you - where are the singers' credits on the roster. If they are predominantly in pay to sing programs. or companies that you've never heard of, etc., it should be a warning sign. Ask colleagues directly or check the many social media sites about the manager in question. I won't weigh in on this right now, but you will also need to address the issue of retainers.
But to stay more to the side of this that I deal with....We always hold spots open in our auditions for unmanaged singers, and in reality, you have a better shot at getting an audition with me (and I know with some other companies as well) as an unmanaged singer, than you do if you are submitted by an unknown agency that we don't generally deal with. If you have just completed an artist diploma or a young artist program, don't be afraid to use the contacts you have developed to obtain an audition. If any number of my colleagues call and say "you really need to hear this singer", I will. And I will do the same for young singers as well. Don't be afraid to ask for those kind of recommendations. You stand a much better chance of getting an audition that way, than you do if you simply send your materials in blind, or if you sign with an agent, who may in fact, put you even further back in the pack.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why do I hear about singers doing rep they "shouldn't"?

Perhaps because of the following. This question also serves as a point regarding auditions. Remember, when a General Director hears you, he or she is thinking in terms of what will work in his or her particular theatre. My last theatre was 500 seats, so I was able to cast certain shows in ways that I can't here where the house I usually perform in is 2200 seats. Smaller houses usually mean smaller pits, which mean smaller orchestras - which means that singers who might not usually sing a certain role may actually get to do it in that smaller house.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Repertoire - Musical theatre and operetta - yay or nay?

This question often comes up. For a company that regularly does Gilbert and Sullivan, other operetta or musicals, this is, of course, not an issue. Also, there are certain pieces from the world of operetta that seem to be universally acceptable - pieces from The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus, Candide (particularly Glitter and be Gay) and Street Scene. After that, it becomes a little more hazy. Perhaps the best advice is - try to find out what a particular company's attitude might be before diving in with repertoire you're not sure about. Some other examples of musical theatre, operetta rep. that has shown up in auditions I have heard:
  • Various G & S
  • Ice Cream from She Loves Me
  • Soliloquy from Carousel
  • One Kiss from New Moon
  • Meine Lippen from Giuditta
  • Various non Hoffman Offenbach (i.e. La Perichole, Grande Duchesse)
It would be interesting to hear other folks' views on this subject.

Monday, July 27, 2009


One of the questions/complaints I get from singers with whom I meet is about feedback from ADs/GDs. I know from conversations that I have had with colleagues that there is a wide range of attitudes about feedback. Some feel, with some justification, that the sheer volume of answering feedback questions, even with today's e-mail is very daunting. Therefore, the most equitable way to approach it is to not do it all. I think this is certainly fair, and I understand that. I have usually said that I will give feedback, and I try to do it in an expeditious manner. But there are times when it feels daunting, based on sheer volume.

If you do request feedback, be very clear about what points you are asking about, such as:
  • What was the general impact you made in the audition
  • What vocal work do you still have to do
  • Did the rep you sang seem well suited to you
  • What should you work on?
  • Next steps - i.e. another audition for this person in the future, etc.
Your goal with feedback should be to give you further tools for your next audition - either for the same company, or another one.
You need to go into feedback with a strong sense of self - otherwise, you will find yourself turning somersaults every time you get a suggestion that varies from a previous idea. This is the difficult part - taking what is useful, while maintaining your core.
There will certainly be more about this as we go along.

Clothes comments

Well, those were some interesting comments, and ones I will digest a bit. I don't know if there is a different psychology to color, etc. in a musical theatre audition vs. an opera audition, but I will muse on that. And of course, things change. Back in the dark ages when I was auditioning, most every male wore a coat and tie. Today, while that is still common, one also sees open neck sport shirts, turtle necks, nicer colored tees with sports jackets, etc.
The comments regarding female issues are appreciated, and I confess that they might not have occurred to me!
In any case, we will retire attire as a subject for the time being, and I will be back with a new topic shortly.

Friday, July 24, 2009

About those clothes......

Well, it's Friday, so why not open a real can of worms - clothes and hair for auditions - an interesting topic to be sure, and one that shouldn't be minimized.
I'll keep it basic to start:
  • Your outfit should be neutral - I should remember you and your singing, not your clothes.
  • Your hair should be out of your face, so I can see how you use your face expressively.
  • Coat and tie are not necessary, but you should dress in such a way as to be respectful of the situation - and no jeans!
  • If you're a mezzo or soprano, you don't have to dress androgenously to sell Cherubino, Octavian, Oscar, Seibel, or any of their brethren.
  • Don't underestimate the comfort factor - being comfortable - clothes not too tight, shoes that allow you to balance, etc. - all are important in letting you do your best work.
Well, that's my starting list - please weigh in with questions or comments!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Off Topic

I am going to take a moment to talk a bit about regional opera in general, and not auditioning per se. I am moved to do this, because recent events here in Milwaukee have created a lot of commentary - one of the side streams that has arisen on the blogs has to do with the theory that somehow producing regional opera today is some sort of instant exercise - opera in a box if you will. It has been contrasted with theatre, where supposedly there is much more care taken with production and casting. I have no doubt that this was indeed the case in past days, but the theory simply doesn't hold much water today. Regional opera today is a fertile breeding ground for new work, new productions, inventive casting, and ground breaking use of technology. I need only mention such companies as Glimmerglass, Santa Fe, Houston Grand Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Ft. Worth Opera, Nashville Opera, and the Florentine to point out some examples. These companies regularly hire exciting singing actors, premiere new work, and make use of the latest technologies. For instance: Ft. Worth Opera did the world premiere of Pasatieri's Frau Margot, and then followed that up with Angels in America, and will premiere Martin's Before Night Falls next season. Nashville Opera gave the world premiere of Elmer Gantry (which we are doing this season), and they will do Glass' Fall of the House of Usher this year. In 2010, we are doing the world premiere of Don Davis' Rio de Sangre (Mr. Davis wrote the music to all three of the Matrix films). The examples at Houston, Glimmerglass and Opera Theatre of St. Louis are too numerous to list. Opera in a Box, Instant Opera and Cookie Cutter opera are fast becoming things of the past. And I guess in a round about way that has everything to do with auditions.

Your Music and Audition Time Management

Jamie Johns, a frequent collaborator and I were having a discussion after a coaching session the other day, and the topic of singers' music and how they have it prepared for the pianist came up, so I thought I would touch on this seemingly rudimentary, but important topic. (Jamie, since I know you read this on occasion, feel free to weigh in with other points - others please comment as well).
The below points are important not only as a courtesy to the pianist, who in some instances you may be meeting for the first time as you walk in the room, but also for you, so that you spend the maximum amount of time singing, and the minimum amount of time explaining things to your pianist.
  • Have your music in your binder, so the pages are easily turnable by the pianist.
  • If you're doing an aria that can have several cut versions (i.e. Glitter and be Gay), xerox each of the versions, and tab them - and if you have pages that you will not sing in a particular version, take them out, don't leave them in and cross measures out.
  • When giving a tempo to a pianist who is new to you - DON'T conduct the intro (I can't tell you how many times I've seen this done) - in almost every instance, the singer conducts the intro in a different tempo than he/she actually sings it. Instead, just lightly sing the first few bars - that tempo is in your body, and you're far more apt to give a correct tempo.
  • Always make sure that every piece you are prepared to sing is in the same binder, and that you are consistent with how you have paginated, marked, etc.
  • Be very clear with how you mark cadenzas, alterations, etc, that vary from the printed score.
I know there are more, but these are a few of my favorites. Having these details correct for your audition, will give you a sense of calm and order as you begin your audition, which will of course lead to a better performance by you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

staging continues...

Mr. Johns' comments pick up on something I was going to say, and that is that you will probably run into a wide variety of viewpoints on how much movement should go into an audition. In hearing auditions, I have even had people ask me if they can use props! I am of the opinion that staging a scene before the audition is an excellent way to prepare. I say this because I always felt more comfortable with the audition arias I did that came from operas I had already performed onstage. And now, I can often tell the difference between an aria that is presented by a singer from an opera they have done and one they have not. This does not mean that I am seeing a completely blocked aria - it means I am seeing a whole body awareness of the character who is singing it. So, along with meticulously preparing your arias vocally with your teacher, and musically and linguistically with your coach, take the time to prepare them dramatically with either a dramatic coach or director you trust. Then, when you are in the audition, you will be left with a comfort level with your body that will allow you to sing your best, and not cause you to do meaningless gestures that feel and look awkward. By having this level of body awareness, dramatic focus, and relaxation, I think it is safe to assume that you will be able to please those people who want to see dramatic presentations, as well as those who want a fairly static presentation. The added benefit of course is that the relaxation you will feel in your body will undoubtedly allow you to sing better!

To stage or not to stage.....

I have a fairly busy day lined up in front of me, but I wanted to get this topic offf the ground at least. "How much staging of my aria should I do in an audition?" is one of the most frequent questions I get when doing masterclasses. This, like so many audition questions, has no pure, objective answer to it. The short, obvious, frustrating answer is: "well, it depends". I will not hide behind that easy out, but will try to put forward my take on it, that I believe will hold you in good stead in most situations. Of course, an important caveat for any of the opinions I'm putting forward is that anything you do has to be grounded in who you are as a performer - regardless of any other opinions. I will be back with more on this a bit later, but in the meantime, feel free to weigh in!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The "Defensive" Audition

I take a back seat to no one in enjoying recordings. In fact, we still have a basement full of vinyl recordings of great operas. In fact, if Youtube and iTunes had been around when I was in college, I probably would have flunked out. As it was, I spent most of my time in the music library comparing versions of arias sung by my favorite baritones Leonard Warren and Piero Cappuccilli when I should have been in class piano or music theory. So, what does all of this have to do with my post title? Well, here's the thing. Because of "perfect" studio recordings, where every blemish and blip can be edited out, we have a couple of generations (at least) of singers who feel that a great audition means singing without any blemish. What this has caused, in my view, is a situation where people audition, hoping to not make a mistake. This is really ashame. If you think back to why you got into this business in the first place, you'll remember that it probably has something to do with an unstoppable urge to express yourself with your voice - pure and simple. We (meaning teachers, directors, coaches, artistic directors, etc.) take all of that energy away in pursuit of a clean, get the idea, audition. Some of the best auditions I've ever heard contained blown high notes, word slips, a breath in the wrong place (Oh horror!!). Why did I consider these flawed auditions so good? Because the singer hit me right between the eyes and ears with communication, and a desire to really "speak" with their singing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, most of the auditions you will sing are crapshoots at best. Since you know that going in, why not leave it all out there. Really express yourself - remember your first high school voice lesson, and the pure exhilaration that you felt. If you combine that with all the hard work you've done since, you will leave that room feeling successful, whether you get the job or not.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Own your audition

My father (who was a businessman), gave me a piece of advice that was intended for dealing with interviews, but I think it works equally well for auditions. He said "take care of the 50% of the interview (read: audition) that is on your side of the table. How true that is. When I used to audition, I would be so concerned about what "they" thought, that it often unraveled what I was doing. Never give away that power. For the 2, 6, or 15 minutes that you are accorded to sing an audition, you are in control. You cannot determine the outcome, only the output, so control it. When you do that, whether or not you get the job, you will have taken a step forward. If, on the other hand, you let "them" get inside your head during the audition, you will be back to square one the next time out.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The third part..

Who to sing it for....I've touched on this a bit, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, brand new rep is great to try out for friends, colleagues, family, etc. Your core rep that is ready to go will be appropriate for companies, programs, or managers. A further caveat here (and any manager that wants to jump in here to either agree or disagree would be great) - A GD or AD will be listening in a vastly different way than a manager. For instance, a GD is listening for what will work with his or her company. A specific example: With my last company, my hall was 500 seats - now my main performing venue has 2200 seats, so how I might cast a show now as opposed to be then will be different. On the other hand, a manager will be listening to you with a view for how you might be sellable across a wide spectrum of the industry. Luckily, today, with the internet, there are a great many more ways to find out specific things about companies, managers, etc. your homework to find out what to sing, when and for whom.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The second part..

where to sing of the reasons I want to address this is because this is a not uncommon scenario - a singer will say when I ask them what they have - "well, I just started working on Zerbinetta two days ago but I could sing some of that". That's a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is you have to know where you can sing certain things. An aria that you are just getting off the ground is not what you should sing in an audition, unless you are asked specifically to work something up, and the auditioner then knows what to expect. Obviously, trying out something brand new for a goup of trusted colleagues, friends, or family is a great idea, but not an audition that will leave a lasting impression as a snapshot of you. Knowing where to sing certain repertoire not only shows your voice in a good light, it shows good judgement on your part, which is one of the "sub-auditons" that is happening when you sing for an opera company or program. More on that point later.....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The first part..

What to sing...... Over the years, (and I say this from my own experience as a singer as well) I have found that many singers try to figure out what the particular entity (manager, general director, conductor, young artist program, etc.) who they are singing for, might want to hear. I feel ( and I have found that many of my colleagues feel the same) that what you should always sing is what you feel best singing at the particular time you are auditioning. The obvious exception to this is when the auditioner asks for a particular excerpt. Otherwise, your best chance to make the impression you want to make is singing the aria that you can sing in the middle of the night if you have to. Most of the people you will sing for can make the leap from what you are singing to what their casting needs are. I will say more about this another time, but there is way too much "defensive" auditioning that happens. If you start out with the knowledge that cold auditions have steep odds, it should free you up to go ahead and really "perform" in the audition, instead of "auditioning" in the audition.

A starting place

I want to choose a random topic just to get my feet wet, and I will give some thought to writing an extensive post, but as a starting point, I want to tackle a real elephant - "choosing what to sing, where to sing it, and who to sing it for". Sorry, I know I ended in a preposition, but you get the idea!

My first post

Well, I am up and running and look forward to sharing thoughts about auditioning in general, and specifically about auditioning in the world of regional opera. I look forward to a good give and take, and sharing thoughts on this interesting world of which we're a part!