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!