Monday, December 19, 2011

late in December....

This has been a busy month - our Studio Artists just finished their first "half" with us - and what a busy December it was - staging our kid's opera, The Three Little Pigs, three carol concerts with our great partner Alterra Coffee, (which we then recorded for later release!), and finally five performances as soloists in Messiah, with the Milwaukee Symphony, and wonderful guest conductor Christopher Seaman - that is quite a month!
I am hearing some auditions tomorrow, and gearing up for 2012! -
How is the "audition season" going for you out there? It remains difficult, but I can't help feeling there is a crack of sunlight in the optimism department in opera.....
what are your thoughts on that?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Off subject, but very exciting....

We just learned last night that our recording of Aldridge's Elmer Gantry has been nominated for three Grammy Awards! Needless to say, I am very excited.....

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A month of auditions

It has been quite a month.....started with our production of Turandot......after that went to New York for an intense weekend of new opera, plus a few auditions, then followed that with a trip to Detroit for the Met Auditions. Judged with Ben Malensek from the Met - we've done this together several times now, and Patricia Wise - wonderful soprano and voice faculty member at Indiana University - who I had not met before. We all had a grand time together and finished that weekend off with a production of The Marriage of Figaro at Michigan Opera Theatre, where we were graciously hosted by General Director David DiChiera. - No wonder I'm exhausted!!

During this month, I've gotten to hear a wide variety of singers in audition, and it has put me in mind of something that I have said before - You of course have to have the vocal goods, and you have to present professionally - vocally, visually, and dramatically. But, in addition to that, you have to say something with your singing and show us who you are - both who you are in reality, and the character you are portraying. I know that that is a bit of a cypher - how does one concretely do that? The best I can say it in this short post is that I am left with a certain feeling at the end of an audition like that - the feeling that the artist left it all out on the stage. I don't mean that they blew themselves out vocally or that they wildly gesticulated. I mean that the artist auditioning opened up their soul, and gave us a glimpse of the character - made us feel what was happening. It's as though I have experienced an entire opera within the scope of one aria.
Think about the performances that have moved you the most in your life, and I think you will agree that those performances were permeated by that sense of opening up, sharing, and intimacy with the artist.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Auditions everywhere!

Well, it has been a month! Turandot here at the Florentine, and then off to New York for the Opera America New Works Forum (where I heard a lot of interesting new opera), preceded by some auditions. Tomorrow, I fly to Detroit to judge the Met Auditions, preceded tonight by our Studio Artists Scenes Program. When I get back next week, I will synthesize all of this into some thoughts relevant to this blog.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Comment on Earlier Post

I am just getting back here after Turandot wrapping up this past weekend - we had a great capacity run, and it was exhilarating! I have a couple days here, then I am off to Opera America for the New Works Forum in New York.
In the meantime, a question was asked from my earlier post - to expand upon proper attire for auditions, etc....
I won't spend time here on recital attire, which is really a different issue. Instead, I will comment on competition and recital attire.
This is an evolving topic too. When I was auditioning, you rarely saw a male singer not in a coat and tie. Today, I would say that the majority of male auditioners do not wear a tie. Now, this is for general and young artist auditions. At competitions, I still see coat and tie quite a bit. Again, for ladies, things have changed over the years. It seems you used to see a lot of what I would call evening wear for women, which now has become decidedly more eclectic and individual - again, though, competitions, still tend to be a bit more formal.
What I would say as a bottom line statement is this - whatever you wear should fit two criteria:

1. It shows respect for the occasion, the material, the people you are auditioning for, and of course, yourself.

2. Your attire (and this includes hair, eye wear, shoes, as well as clothes) should not distract the auditioner's attention from your audition. We as auditioners, should focus on your vocal, musical, and histrionic skills, and your attire should be a neutral, positive accompaniment to that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Met Auditions

Well, there is no shortage of aspiring singers out there, and I find that exciting. Yes, it's even tougher going after a career than ever with a lot of shrinking of seasons, less companies, etc., but all of that cannot kill one's desire to express the deepest of human emotions through singing.
On Saturday, I sat in at the District Met Auditions here in Wisconsin, hearing thirty nine aspiring singers (I will be judging later this season in Detroit and Lincoln, Nebraska). A real pleasure of hearing these auditions is that I get to choose three artists for a Florentine Opera Recital later this season, and also a singer to do a principal role with us in a coming season. This season, our Elder McLean in Susannah came about through this process.
There was some fine singing on Saturday, and some really good things happening across all voice categories - (oddly, there weren't a lot of mezzos).
Some things that stuck out that singers still need to think about were repertoire (choosing appropriate rep, and being consistent with what you choose) and wardrobe (dressing in a way that is appropriate for you, and in a way that keeps people focused on what you are there for - to put across a character and situation through your vocal and physical performance).

As I said, I get the same thrill now hearing singers performing as I did back in high school at solo and ensemble never gets old!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In the the clutches of Turandot!

I have not posted for a bit, but we are in the lift off phase of rehearsals for Turandot which opens November 4. What an incredible cast! headed by the amazing Lise Lindstrom in the title role and the wonderful Italian tenor Renzo Zulian as Calaf. Apropos to this blog, one of our principals I hired through an audition, so it does in fact happen!
If you are in traveling distance to Milwaukee, this is worth experiencing!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Head shots!!

When I was in school, getting new head shots was something of an ordeal - not only getting the photos, but also getting multiple copies at a reasonable price.
(By the way, I used to hate it when professors, or people like me would say, "when I was a student...." and here I am doing it!!)

In any case, even though this is a much easier procedure these days, I am amazed how many bad, or to put it more correctly, inaccurate head shots there are out there, even with managed artists.

While a good head shot won't get you hired, a bad one might keep you from getting an audition.

I don't think it's a risk worth taking.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Mental Game continued......

So, to the third part of our Mental Game discussion.......

C. The "aftermath" - how do you deal with those feelings that occur, both good and bad, after an audition, and how do use this to build an even stronger platform for the next audition and the performances that may follow.

In some ways, this is a culmination, or summation of the first two. In any case, when you get done auditioning, assess how you feel - euphoric? Just ok? miserable? Right off the bat, own whatever feelings you may have, and know they are ok. Once you've done that, then realize that anyone of those feelings may be an accurate appraisal of how you think you did, but not how they think you did. And of course, there is all sorts of evidence to support this paradox. A seemingly lousy audition leads to a job or the best audition one has ever done leads nowhere! Since this is a reality, it leads me back to one of my original points - only worry about your assessment of how you did, and let the rest take care of itself. If you don't do that, you may miss the opportunity to grow each time you audition.
Go through your own personal checklist of how you did, and then give yourself a personal report card. You will find that this increased self awareness lets you keep your positive energy moving forward. The jobs will come as they may, and again, remember - the "results" (you getting hired or not) many times have nothing to do with how you sang anyway, so don't let that dictate how you feel about it!
I hope my own "mental" scenario for auditioning has been some help, and as I said, I would love to hear what some of you may do in this regard.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wonderful day at the Lyric

The folks at the Lyric Opera were nice enough to include me in a group of people they invite to hear the onstage finals for the Ryan Center there. I had a most enjoyable day hearing some wonderful young singers - both those that were selected and those that weren't. I really enjoy their format for this, and this along with the Santa Fe auditions this summer, afforded me most enjoyable opportunities to hear some of some up and coming young artists.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Mental Game continued......

Moving on to the second part of the mental game that I covered:

B. The audition itself - how do you achieve the most focused mental state that will allow you to show your best stuff.
This is somewhat more difficult than the first part we covered. The first part of mental preparation takes place before the audition, and you don't have to feel any outside pressure (i.e. adjudicators staring down your tonsils while you sing!). You can do mental preparation in the quiet of your practice room or bedroom.
Achieving the mental focus and calm that you need during an audition is trickier because you are attempting to, in some ways, trick yourself, into having the right type of mental focus and energy. Nonetheless, I think it's doable!!
So, how?
When I was "coming up" the stock answer to "how do I make my self less self conscious, and more confident in an audition?" was - Picture the auditioners in their underwear!! Well, maybe it's because I'm the auditioner now, but I think there are better ways to get your mind focused in the right way during an audition!
First, the assumption here is that you are completely prepared for the audition under consideration - technique, memorization, dramatic intent and execution, all must be there - if you are nervous because any one of these is not ready, no mental trickery will fix the problem, and you probably shouldn't be in the audition in the first place.
Assuming all of your ducks are in a row, I think the key to having the right mental focus during your audition comes down to one word - intent. What is your intention during this audition? Start with communication - text and character - moving your listener. Since you can only control what leaves you, and not how it is received (and this is of course true in any circumstance), this can free you up considerably. A general director or other person in a position to hire you, or give you money, is really just another version of your Aunt Jinny, who might be just as hard on you or harder as any GD anyway!!
Humor aside, the point is, you can't control others perceptions of what you do, and wasting mental energy on worrying about it will undoubtedly detract from what you do.
When you sing the Habanera, only worry about being Carmen and focus on what you as that character are thinking and being. This will create a successful audition for you. You getting hired or winning $10,000 was never in your hands anyway, so concentrate on being successful on your terms.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Mental Game continued......

So, to pick up where we were on the last post....the first part of the mental game I referred to was:

A. The preparation of the audition - (those aspects outside of technique, languages, memorization, etc.) - in other words, getting yourself to the best state of mind for your audition or auditions.

I am sure that you can point out things that you do to prepare yourself for auditions, competitions, etc. and I would love to hear from you what some of those might be. In the meantime, here are some of mine:

1. Think of the audition as a performance, an end result in itself, not the means to an end. Too often, we treat auditions like sporting events, as though we're being judged in a diving competition. While to some extent this is true, the reality is that most of us do much better performing than auditioning (I know I did!) Therefore, get yourself to a frame of mind that equates to performance, and as an adjunct, think about preparing to please yourself, first and foremost.
2. Make a mental checklist of things that you want to accomplish in the upcoming audition. Often, all we think about in an audition is "am going to win/am I going to get hired? While, of course, this is true on one level, it is also true that you should have a list of things you want to do better each time you audition. Sing a particular phrase more expressively, have better breath control on a certain aria, use your body better to express character, etc. If you can leave an audition having checked some of those things off, you will feel successful, and feel mentally prepared for the next challenge.
3. Think like a baseball player. OK, I know this one sounds strange, but I always found it useful. A baseball player is considered highly successful if he bats .300. There are a number of players who have nicely successful careers who bat .250. What this means is that for every time ten times they go to home plate to bat they are only successful between 2 and 3 times. Imagine if it was defined the other way around - that they were defined by the 7 times they weren't successful. Yet, this is what we as singers do - feel like failures every time we don't succeed! Try this as you look at your next group of upcoming auditions - the average success rate for opera auditions is probably closer to 1 or 2 per 10 auditions. Think of your auditions in groups and realize that there will be some misses, but the successes will come, and that a .200 average is pretty darn good!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Mental Game

I am just getting back to this after the holiday weekend. It's hard to believe the Fall season is here, and with it, new ideas and opportunities.
I want to take some time over the next several posts to delve in to the mental aspect of auditioning.
In my mind, the mental aspects of auditioning, break down into the following components (I have been pondering this since I have been rereading A Soprano on her head, the book I referenced in an earlier post):

A. The preparation of the audition - (those aspects outside of technique, languages, memorization, etc.) - in other words, getting yourself to the best state of mind for your audition or auditions.

B. The audition itself - how do you achieve the most focused mental state that will allow you to show your best stuff.

C. The "aftermath" - how do you deal with those feelings that occur, both good and bad, after an audition, and how do use this to build an even stronger platform for the next audition and the performances that may follow.

I will deal with each of these in separate posts, but feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts on this.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Almost September!

And you know what that means.....
Performances to sing
Performances to attend
lessons back on a regular schedule
coachings back on a regular schedule

A lot to talk about.....and looking forward to it!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Bookshelf

I have only occasionally talked about books on singing, etc. on this blog, but I am starting to reread one that is excellent, and is particularly germane to the purpose of this blog.
A soprano on her head by Eloise Ristad is really good. Unfortunately, I believe the author passed away some years ago, and I frankly don't know if its still in print, but if you can find a copy, snatch it.
It is all about throwing out the box you might find yourself in to find a new way to approach performing - of course, this is doubly appropriate for auditioning, where the nervousness can be kicked up a notch from a public performance. The title of the book refers to a soprano who was having a mental block on a Mozart aria, and the author's way of opening things up, was to have her sing it while standing on her head. The very bizarre nature of that act caused her to look at the aria in a completely different way - literally and figuratively!
I hope you can find this little book, but even if you can't, try breaking the mold you may find yourself in on any given aria.
For instance -
Sing a slow aria quickly
Sing loud passages quietly
sing a static piece walking backward
sing a passage where you have a mental block on text with the stereo blaring to focus your concentration in a different way

You see my point...none of the above deals with technique or diction, or staging, but it does have to do with shaking up your viewpoint, which can aid mightily with technique, etc....

Try it....and look for that book!

Friday, August 26, 2011

the eyes have it.......

There are various viewpoints on this, but especially for an audition, be very clear what you want to do with your eyes......
many singers do a lot of eye closing for dramatic effect, and there is no doubt that this can be a very effective tool, but......
at the same time, in an audition, you want to make sure that you have the maximum amount of time to connect with the people hearing your audition - too much eye closing can cut you off from the people you want to have hire you.
As your preparing your audition arias, make sure that you have a clear idea of what you're doing in this area.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plans are in the works......

for some audition workshop(s) here in Milwaukee at our Opera Center - I will keep you apprised of developments!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Checklist time

So, summer is coming to an end, and the audition season is going to unfold......grad school, main stage, young artist, Met auditions, various competitions, artist manager auditions....etc. etc.

So, are you taking an inventory of where you are at this point?

a. Is your rep list updated, refreshed and ready to go (vocally, musically, languages, physical presentation)?
b. Do you have contacts, or the means to make those contacts lined up?
c. Wardrobe??
d. Resume?
e. Headshot{s)?

That's a good starting list....I'm sure there is a bit more to make it truly comprehensive....if you have additions that you think make this even more solid.....please write!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Watch this!!

OK, be honest in answering this question.....Do you know how you look when you audition??
I know, by this time many of you have had to make an audition dvd, which you probably stole a glance at, winced, and sent out. Or, you've seen video of a live recital or operatic performance. But...have you used these clips as tools to improve??
Recording one's voice for study purposes is common, and I daresay most of use that resource on a regular basis (though, back in the good old days of cassette recorders, it may have been a little more common than with the digital recorders of today). Nevertheless, critiquing one's sound is fairly standard practice.
But, how often do you use a mirror to see if you are really selling your pieces (there's a lot to be learned on the technical end of things with a mirror as well). Also, with flip video and all manner of digital video recording devices, video recording yourself as part of your audition preparation is something that you should consider doing.
I think we all have experienced that moment watching ourselves when we say "I do that when I sing that aria??"
As I have mentioned many times, the one thing that seems to be left to chance or inspiration in auditions, is the physicality, the staging, etc........
In a world where there can be a paper thin margin between voices being considered, you owe it to yourself to use every tool in your toolbox to make your sure you have the very best shot at that job.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Your audition arias have to inhabit a "world"

I have been getting back to my audition coaching lately, and speaking with singers, I am reminded again that one of the important things you have to do is actively "create" the world in which each of your arias resides.
This of course is easier if it is a role you have done, but even if you haven't done that, work on mentally creating the context for the aria, and then staging it as part of your preparation - this can prove to be as important as diction, pronunciation, technique, etc. As a matter of fact by having your physical presence in your audition take center stage (sorry for the pun!), you won't be thinking of your voice all of the time, which, at least for me, was one of the pitfalls of most of my auditions.
As I have said before, even though you will stage the aria, that doesn't mean you have to use all of that staging in the audition - but the "residue" from that staging work is going to make you more physically aware and comfortable in the audition itself.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Back from Santa Fe

Hello again!
Just getting caught back up after some time at Santa Fe Opera, where I heard some really nice singing from their Apprentice Artists over two days of auditions.
I will have some late summer thoughts to share as I get back into the swing of things!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thought for the day......

Achieving your goals should entail being the best that you can be.
The rest to a large extent is fate, and one should neither take credit for the positives, nor curse fate for the negatives.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A diversion

I have to take a moment and share some exciting news: The Florentine Opera has just had its first commercial recording released on the Naxos label (also available on iTunes): Aldridge's Elmer Gantry, recorded at our performances in March of 2010. This is a fantastic opera, that premiered at Nashville Opera in 2007. I think it is destined to be a part of the standard repertoire. Note to mezzos: Sharon Falconer's 1st act aria is quite beautiful. There is a recording with piano on Youtube with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson doing it from the early 90's when the piece was still being workshopped.
In any case, we are quite excited and honored that the project came to fruition.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A response:

I had this query to my recent post:

This blog is very interesting and helpful, I'm glad I found it! But I'm curious about a couple of things - if you were a featured/solo member of the chorus, should that be noted or left off? and why do you suggest leaving off "in preparation" roles? i've always been told it is important to put them on. i understand it's subjective, but i can't help but wonder! i look forward to your response and future posts!

To the first question: Your hunch here is correct in my opinion - being a featured/solo member of the chorus should most certainly be listed.
To the second question: I admit this is only my opinion - I've never understood the importance of listing roles worked on, and here's why: At most, they show you are working on appropriate stuff. But, if I want you for a role, the fact that you have or have not studied it will play no part in my deliberation - if I want you for it, and I hire you, I'm assuming you'll learn it. If I don't want you for it, the fact that you're studying it, won't change my mind.
On balance, it hurts nothing to put this down, as long as it is not at the expense of listing more important things!
Thanks for the question.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Resume info

When I see resumes at auditions, there tends to be a wide range of information provided. I will say up front that what I might like to see (or not see) on a resume, may vary from what my colleagues like, so please take that into account.....

Some random things I prefer.

1. Most recent events first
2. Please list where and when you performed the role.
3. Make sure that your listed covers, were official covers with the company, not personal study covers (I've seen this on numerous occasions).
4. Be reasonable about how far back you go. The more you've done, the less far back you will go, unless it's a very important gig that you want your auditioners to see.
5. List teachers, coaches, and institutions where you have studied.
6. List important concert work and competition wins or places.
7. Height and hair color are fine
8. A recent photo that is reasonably close to what I see when I hear you.

Some random things I don't:

1. Listing roles "in preparation".
2. Listing college roles, unless you are at the Young Artist stage in your career (or, if that's all you've done).
3. Listing semi-finalist finishes. Really, I think you should only list placing, but certainly nothing less impressive than finalist.
4. Photos that look nothing like you do now.
5. Listing chorus work (unless you're auditioning for a chorus).
6. Listing your age and weight - if you look 30 why tell me you're 50, when that may affect how I think about you? Also, if you carry weight really well, there is no sense in letting me know that you're 40 punds heavier than that - when I go back and look at your resume, that will affect how I remember you.
In today's world, the ease of word processing, etc. should make it easy for you to customize resumes for concert work, chorus work, academic positions, etc.

My list above really refers to auditioning as a solo opera singer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Make sure you pack the right things for the trip......

I often think back to when I was doing auditions, and try to recall what I was thinking about during those auditions. And in a related way, what should I have been thinking about?
When I really break it down, and if I'm honest with myself, my brain was crowded with a bunch of not particularly helpful stuff, which didn't leave much room for what I should have been thinking about!
So, here's a partial list of what I remember thinking about (in no particular order):

1. Am I going to hit the high notes in this piece?
2. Am I going to hit the low notes in this piece?
3. Am I going to forget the words?
4. Are they going to criticize my pronunciation of foreign languages?
5. Will they ask for a second piece?
6. Are my clothes alright?
7. Am I going to feel lousy after this audition?
8. Are there singers outside the room criticizing my singing?

As you can see, there is not a worthwhile thought to be had above.

Now, what should I have been thinking about?
1. I am this character.
2. I am living these words.
3. I am filled with joy and confidence at being able to express myself like this
4. I am focused on communicating with my audience (after all, auditioners are just another type of audience).
5. I am feeling the connection of my breath to my body.

I only occasionally lived in the second list (mostly in performances, not auditions or competitions). I wish I had spent more time that way, because it obviously creates a better chance for success. If you've truly prepared, there is no reason to waste brain cells on things that are either irrelevant or out of your control. The other thing you will note (and this is very important), the first list is all questions, the second list is all statements.

So, what's in your brain during an audition? I'd love to hear.......

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Returning to a topic I've long harped on......Individuality

As this is summer, you may be sifting through your audition "stuff", deciding what needs to stay (repertoire, a great outfit, your confidence, your network), and what needs to go (jaw tension, whining, an aria that just doesn't work). Please, please, please make sure you keep the following - the unique you - no matter how much technique you gain, how much confidence, how many connections, etc, etc..... the one thing you should keep is the thing that got you into this - who you are and what you have to say. Take a moment and think of the great opera singers, past and present; then think about what they have in common - great talent and that certain something that immediately identifies them. It doesn't matter if you're talking about Pavarotti, Hunt Lieberson, Bartoli, Callas, Christoff, Bjoerling, or Warren - all of these people were immensely talented, and also immediately recognizable. Of course, all of them will also usually start a heated discussion between advocates and detractors, and that's ok, and as it should be.
At the end of the day, if you practice and technique your way out of losing your original "voice" (in every sense of the term), you will have won the battle, but lost the war.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I'm back!!

Sorry I have been away for a while - we recently closed a double bill of Blow's Venus & Adonis and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas, that I directed, so I'm afraid I was a bit distracted!
However, I am back, and will be adding some posts in short order!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Should the present climate scare you off?

I have been giving this a lot of thought. I'm sure that you are aware of what is happening in the world of the arts today.
Whenever the economy is in trouble (perceived or real), the arts are seen as the most expendable thing out there. In addition, even though arts funding from public sources in this country make up only a tiny fraction of our budgets, they are an easy trophy to take out. Cutting arts funding can make it seem that frivolous fat is being excised. Never mind, that dollars spent on the arts generate revenue dollars far in excess of those spent. We live in a world where perception is at least equal to reality.
So, against that backdrop, should you still jump into this field, and do the auditions that we discuss here?
Of course, a career decision that has profound financial implications is ultimately personal, but be sure of the reason you decide to forego it.
What I am referring to here is the fear that we all have that somewhow what we do is "going away". While it is true that many companies have scaled back, and others have closed, the art form has been with us for 400 years, and the people that produce it will adapt to changing economic and social realities. How you prepare, how you are hired, and even what that means, may change, but I feel confident that opera will persevere.
In the meantime, you as a performer, are the best ambassador our art form has. Every recital, benefit concert, church gig, and other event you do, helps keep what we do in front of the public.
Talking about the intrinsic value of art seems to be a discussion that has gone underground, but I believe it is true, and together we will move things forward.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Favorite arias have changed over the years

As I was listening to our Studio Artist Auditions this Spring (excellent again this year), I was struck again how certain arias have their heydays as favorites, and then drop off, and then come back.
For instance, in recent years, Be Kind and Courteous from A Midsummer Night's Dream has become quite the favorite with sopranos, while mezzos seem to have replaced Must the Winter Come So Soon from Vanessa with Things Change Jo from Little Women.

In any case, the breadth of style and language that we hear in auditions has grown so much, and certainly outstrips what we were doing when I started auditioning......

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Comment on recent comments

I very much appreciate the comments to my last post. The last poster mentioned that it is perhaps too disheartening in today's world for singers to get out there and try to make it.
Two points:

1. People will never follow their dreams based on the practicalities of those dreams. They may adapt them based on the realities they encounter, but that doesn't change the need to follow the impulse.

2. As frustrating as I know this profession can be, and as limited as opportunities may be, keep in mind that there are more opera companies and more Young Artist programs today than there were 50 years ago. I don't think even with increased numbers of people trying, the odds are worse than they used to be.

Keep those comments coming!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A look back, and a rare editorial on the arts in society

Last week was an interesting week - auditions for our Studio Artist Program, and then a Masterclass with high school students this past Sunday.

I am going to digress from talking about auditions per se, and instead talk about the wild disconnect that I believe exists today between"society's" perception of the arts, and the reality of it (the arts).

I had the opportunity of hearing some very talented young people, who are between conservatory training and a career. Meanwhile, I also heard some talented young high school students, most of whom are planning on pursuing careers in music, or some other branch of the performing arts.

What I find remarkable in this, is the fact that in today's world, these young people are fully aware of the fact that the arts are being devalued on many fronts - everything from the National Endowment for the Arts to Arts in the Schools are being seriously defunded. And if that weren't enough, anyone involved in the arts is, at worst, accused of having a political agenda, and at best, accused of being a non-productive leech on society.

Even if all of those factors weren't at play, there is no guarantee of riches and fame, by following this career path - indeed, it is sometimes quite the opposite.

BUT, in spite of all of that, these young people are still pursuing the dream of devoting their lives to artistic expression - because, as all of us who are involved in this know, when the spark is there, you have to follow it.

No amount of defunding, politicizing or devaluing will ever quench the need for humans to express the artistic impulse. And, if the rest of society is honest with itself, they know that.

How can I say this?

When we excavate ancient cultures, what do we look for? What do we display? What do we try to analyze? Beyond knowing how they survived, we look to know how they expressed themselves - everything from cave paintings to drums and flutes to earthen bowls - these are all the footprint of a society. And you cannot legislate that out of anyone!

Instead of being derided for following a path that doesn't offer a large financial portfolio, these young people deserve praise for the courage to pursue the dream of artistic expression. In a world where we spend a lot of time blowing each other up, attacking each other, poisoning the atmosphere, etc. etc., the last thing that should have to be defended is adding even a small phrase of beauty to the world.

And that, for today, is more important than any comment on posture, bad vowel formation, or publicity photos I could possibly make.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I have not posted for a bit, since we just closed The Italian Girl in Algiers, which went splendidly!

I'll be hearing two types of auditions this week:

First, we have auditions coming up for our Studio Artist program this week, and then on Sunday, we have our annual High School Masterclass, where I will work with some talented high school students on vocal and audition matters.

I look forward to reporting on my experiences this week!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Will "obscure" rep help you or hurt you?

This is a fascinating question, and one that has been debated since my student days (though interestingly, some of what was considered obscure when I first started auditioning, is now quite standard!!)

Here are the two opposing arguments:

Arguing for less known rep in an audition:

You will not be compared to well known singers who sing the particular arias you are doing; you will show musical, vocal, and linguistic range and skill; you will knock the cobwebs out of the ears of your auditioners who have listened to fifty Deh vieni non tardars that day.

Arguing against less known rep in audition:

What are you hiding? (this is the classic - your choice is based on trying to cover up a vocal, musical, dramatic, or linguistic deficiency; you will be perceived as not being grounded in the core rep of the operatic tradition; some less well versed auditioners will not have a point of reference for your performance, thus weakening your chances;

As with many things about auditioning, the answer is individual, but a couple of suggestions (based purely on my own biases, and those of some colleagues I've spoken with):

1. Mix it up - If you want to do a number from a fairly obscure work, pair it with something better known, so that you can show your "chops" on the standard canvas.
2. If you have audition rep that is more obscure, have an accompanying resume that explains that - in other words, if you have a number of credits doing off the beaten path rep, your audition choices will make sense.
3. Make sure that you are not choosing this rep to cover a weakness - make sure that it is a proactive choice.
4. Vett it - with colleagues, coaches and other professionals you respect - don't rely purely on your own judgement for this one!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The secret of what you share

We have begun rehearsals for L'Italiana in Algeri, and we are blessed with a cast boasts many examples of "that certain something" that makes them riveting as performers.

As always, I am trying to translate what I see and hear in my own experiences into tangibles that you may perhaps use on your own journey.

One way to try to get to the core of what gives certain performers an x factor that makes them successful is to try to break down their component parts objectively.

For instance: he/she sings with tonal intensity, and moves on stage with great fluidity, and always maintains eye contact with colleagues. While all of that may be true, I don't know if you really get to the answer of what makes a performer irresistible by breaking it down like this.

At the end of the day, I think really successful performers give the impression of showing you (audience, artistic director, etc.) just enough, so that you are pulled into wanting to know more.

Of course, every one has a different way of creating this allure, but I think however it is achieved, this quality plays a big part in being a successful performer.

I, of course, am not suggesting that this "quality" takes the place of technique, work ethic, musicality, etc, but when all is said and done, all of these things are purely the platform to put across what the artist wants to share.

In our coachings and lessons, I think we sometimes pursue the tools and forget the message!
The "message" is that unique spark that made you choose this art form in the first place.

Please, please, please, hold onto that, because it will play an important factor in doing successful auditions, and indeed, performances.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's times like this when it feels worth it.

We had our first music read through for our production of L'Italiana in Algeri yesterday, and hearing our wonderful cast, including three of our Studio Artists in important supporting roles, reminded me that these moments make it all worth it. But more importantly to our discussion here, I noted that two of our leading artists had gotten their starts in Young Artist Programs. While there are no guarantees, in a world where we are inundated by a lot of negative news, in a lot of different contexts, artists combining their talents to create something of beauty is something to be celebrated.

Friday, February 25, 2011


A question that is often asked is:
What produces more jobs, auditions or networking?

Well, I don't think there is a cut and dried answer to this, but I do believe that keeping contacts active, "connecting dots" as it were, and generally letting people know what you're up to, undoubtedly helps your chances.

A caveat I would add to this, is that you need to know what is considered proactive and positive, and what is considered obtrusive. Making that distinction can be difficult because what is considered proactive by some is considered obtrusive by others.

My next posts will go into this in more detail, but I think this is a good place to begin thinking about this subject.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Follow up to your audition

I start this by saying that I know there are a number of different forms of feedback that general/artistic directors like and don't like.

I will also emphasize that good follow up doesn't guarantee a job, or make up for a bad audition.

However.....thoughtfulness is always noted, and I interpret it as a harbinger of good collegiality, punctuality, and preparedness. do you demonstrate thoughtfulness after an audition?

A note thanking your auditioner(s) for hearing you makes a positive impression.

While you certainly can do this by e-mail, I am of the opinion that a hand written note sent the old fashioned way will help cement a positive impression (assuming you have made that with your audition)

Why mail over e-mail?

It shows more thought and creativity - an e-mail can be whipped off quickly, and certainly is not a negative, but it can also be perceived as intrusive and pushy (I don't interpret it that way, but I know some people do).

A hand written note shows decorum, thought, creativity (your actual handwriting!!!), and professionalism.

I would be interested in hearing any one's experience with feedback......

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Outside the audition....

I am going to post over the next couple of weeks some ideas about those things outside the audition proper that nonetheless play apart on being hired, hired again, or hired in the future.

I will start with Follow-up after an audition.

Stay tuned......

Friday, February 11, 2011

An audition run down for the day......

Quick, without analyzing, what operatic aria do you enjoy singing more than any other?
  • Why?
  • Do you feel it's good for auditions?
  • Can you take what feels right about that aria and carry it over into other pieces you sing?
  • If yes - why?
  • If no - why not?
If you can answer these bullet points, without singing a note, you will have made progress in your audition life today.....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Florentine Opera Studio Artist Program

Just a reminder for any of you who might be interested, we are in the last week of accepting applications for our 2011-12 program.
Information is available here:

Monday, January 31, 2011


OK, here is the deal - I am appealing to any of you who might not be Pittsburgh Steelers fans to go to the Florentine Opera's facebook page, and become a new friend and help us support the Green Bay Packers. We have a little wager going with our friends at Pittsburgh Opera, and the company that has fewer new friends by Friday has to take a group photo in the opposing team's jerseys.
Can you imagine the humiliation????????

If you are a Steelers fan, I do understand..........

Who are you singing to?

I know, I know, it's to the 1 to 3 people on the panel who are there to perhaps hire you or award you money, but that's not what I mean.

I mean, in the specific aria who are you singing to?

Depending on the aria, it could be yourself, your lover, your sibling, the crowd (onstage), the crowd (in the audience), or some combination of the above.

The point is to remember where your character's is when you are auditioning - it will make it feel more like the performance you want it to be, and less like a gymnastics competition, which you definitely don't want it to be!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

What you do matters

I am well aware that our profession is one that can that can be soul and ego defeating at times. I have lived through those moments where I have asked myself "why do I keep trying to do this?"

All of us at various times experience the following:

1. Explaining to relatives, family, and friends what it is you do (i.e. no, Josh Groban is not an opera singer Aunt Mildred, what I do is different).
2. You scratch your head and say, how did I live on that much money last year?
3. An adjudicator or artistic director makes you feel two inches tall after hearing you sing, thus rendering, with a single phrase, the last 10 years of your life, futile.

I could go and on, but I'm sure you get the idea.

I completely support when someone says to me that they are getting out, because they can't live through that anymore. There is no shame in having fought the good fight and moving on.

If you decide to stick with it, and continue to try to make a living with your voice, that is also OK.

No, as singers we don't cure disease, end war, or feed the hungry......


Opera Singers do add a glittering bit of light to the world as we know it. That is a noble endeavor - we visit museums today to view the creativity of human kind over the centuries - there is no more cherished footprint of any civilization than its creativity. Luckily, since the invention of the phonograph, the human voice can now be captured in the same way a Renoir is captured.

So, when you are in that practice room trying to spin out a phrase of Mozart, Monteverdi, Rorem or Puccini, know that perhaps you will end up inspiring one person or millions....and that's a good thing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ask yourself this question....

When you are in the midst of auditioning, do you feel like you are in a performance or in some hybrid situation that isn't really the same as being on stage in an opera, concert or recital?

I think many of us feel the latter.

When I think back to my most successful auditions that I sang (and alas, there were not enough!!), they were the ones that felt the closest to a stage performance. Perhaps you have had that same experience.

The question of course, is how to capture that feeling so that you can unleash it in every audition and competition.

I will try to lay out some ideas over the next several days, and I would love to hear any ideas that some of you may have come up with in this regard.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The next time you are getting ready to audition, and you are nervous, and you are asking yourself why you are putting yourself out there to be judged, picked apart, and potentially humiliated, remember:
  • you are singing because at some point back in high school or before, there was something inside of you that had to come out, and your vocal chords let you do that.
  • the first time you heard an opera or an opera singer live, and how you felt transported and changed by the experience.
  • the person at a free concert or a retirement home who came up to you and told you that hearing that much beloved aria or song again made their day (or perhaps week or month).
  • that success in this business is all about the journey, not the destination. Every recital, supporting role, church gig, chorus part, leading role, etc. is a moment in time that you have been given to share the very special gift that is singing. Whether it's the Met or an outdoor free park concert, it is a special privilege to share what we do.
If you can keep at least a couple of those bullet points in your head before you go out there to be picked apart by someone like me, perhaps it will make it just a touch easier.......

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A busy January

It has been a busy January of hearing auditions in a variety of circumstances:
Auditions for my own company in New York City (40)
District Met Auditions in Buffalo (56)
Shreveport Opera Singer of the Year Competition (36)

It is one of the real pleasures of my job to hear young singers, and I heard some wonderful voices this month.

Hearing these auditions has produced a lot of food for thought, but before I post any of those thoughts, I just want to say that I am reminded each time I hear an audition, how much perseverance and drive it takes to pursue this career! But if previous generations hadn't produced young artists who went after their dream, we wouldn't have the Pavarottis, Sills, Merrills, Flemings, and others.

It is heartening to know that it is still happening.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Driving home a previous point - and a new one!!

I've just heard a number of auditions (somewhere around 100 total), and the first thing I would say, is that I heard some wonderful singing and performances.
The other thing I would say is that for me a piece that is still often missing is inhabiting the character that is being portrayed. This doesn't mean a completely staged out performance, but what it does mean is: singing with intent, and knowing what you want to do with your body throughout the audition.
As I mentioned to one singer this means spending as much time physically rehearsing your entrance into the room, your exit out of the room, and everything else in between.

My new point is, rehearse pronouncing the names of your arias and the operas they come from!
I heard some mistakes on that front, and that is part of the impression you are making.