Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

While for many people, this time of year is about relaxing with family and reflecting, I know that for many singers it is audition season, and multiple solo singing jobs.  With all of the anxiety and stress that this can bring, allow yourself time to reflect upon what the past year has brought you.

Your year will have undoubtedly brought accomplishment.

it might have been something as obvious as securing a manager, landing a big contract, winning a competition, being accepted into a grad program or training program OR it might be something more subtle like finally nailing down a tricky aria that now feels ready for audition, tackled Russian successfully so your range of audition pieces is expanded, found just the right teacher or coach, etc...

Whatever the accomplishment this year, allow that to be a counterbalance to the stress of auditoning, singing Messiah when you have a cold, or any of the other stressors singers have!

I hope that the new year will arrive finding you refreshed to jump back into this wonderful thing we call singing!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Take Time to see what is really happening!

I should have probably put the word really in bold italics.
When it comes to how we really come off to an audience both visually and vocally, there can can be a wide gap between our perception as performers and the perception of the audience.
This is of course important in performance, but equally as important in auditions, when how you sell your piece or pieces can play a big part in determining whether or not you are hired!

So....and I have said this before, use every means at your disposal to make sure you are putting across what you want to put across.....

Colleagues, teachers, coaches, mirror, video recordings - all are good ways to find out if that is happening!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Voice Factory

I am very excited that here at the Florentine, we are having our second "Voice Factory" tonight.  This is an opportunity for singers from our chorus to work on pieces with me and Scott Stewart, our Chorus Master and Associate Conductor.
It is great to have singers, some of whom are avocational, and some of whom are working toward a career in music come together to try to make the experience of performing better......there's nothing more rewarding than that for me!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What a treat

I just had the pleasure of directing La Traviata here at the Florentine, which I am happy to say was a big success.  Our principal artists were fantastic, and I was so pleased that our Studio Artists were able to perform important supporting roles AND see their more experienced colleagues (Elizabeth Caballero, Rolando Sanz, and Mark Walters) in leading roles. 
I think this is such an important part of the learning process - seeing what it takes to do a difficult role like Violetta up close and the physical, mental, and emotional effort it takes to do it well.  Also, working with our guest conductor, Maestro Mechavich was another important opportunity for artistic growth.
Any time you can take the opportunity to observe artists up close in a performance setting  - do it!
It will be an important adjunct to your other training, and will aid immeasurably in your growth as an artist.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Titles please!!

Having heard a number of auditions over the past couple of weeks, I am reminded of a very under rehearsed part of the audition - saying the name of your piece, pronounced correctly, and the correct name of the composer.  I have heard some real problems with this, and while you might not think that this could play a big part in the outcome of an audition, but it could.  If every part of an audition is roughly equal, it could possibly tip the balance.......why take a chance - be prepared.

An while on that subject - know the name of the character singing the aria!  I will, and some other judges will ask for piece by saying something like  "let's hear the Posa" (Don Carlo).  I have seen more than a few blank stares when I or another judge ask for a piece in that manner.

So, prepare every part of your audition - you never know what will be the difference maker!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I have been a bit lax!

I have not been good about posting.....

A few reasons......we got our season kicked off with our new class of Studio Artists, and there have been a number of exciting events coinciding with their arrival!

First, our brand new Kate and Don Wilson Casa di Opera, which is adjacent to our offices and Opera Center.  this wonderful new residence is the final piece in our opera "campus".

We had a housewarming concert and shower, which was quite exciting.

We also participated in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's "Fall into the Arts" concert, where our Studio Artists sang the Brindisi from La Traviata (the opera that will open our 80th Anniversary season!)

In addition to performing as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival, which has screened the film Becoming Traviata (highly recommended), they sang at our Annual Meeting, and just this past weekend were the centerpiece for our Season Sampler!!

It has been great welcoming Julie Tabash, Erin Gonzalez, Aaron Short and Pablo Siqueiros to the's gonna be a fun year!

I am off to judge the District Met Auditions in Chicago this weekend, so that should produce some thoughts on the Fall audition season!

Friday, September 13, 2013

How are you feeling?

Audition season is happening, and I am beginning to get requests for recommendations for auditions, so its a good time to check the audition "inventory", and see where you are:

  • Audition rep
  • attire
  • Bio
  • Resume
  • headshots
  • Contacting or recontacting references (this is very important!!)

That's just a basic list, and of course, having the repertoire ready to go is the building block that has to be there - otherwise none of the rest of it means much!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I don't care whether you like it or not!!

Okay, that's a bit harsh, but to a certain extent that's what you have to do when you audition for someone.  It's a fine line - you want to pull the person hearing you in, just like with any audience member, but at the same time, you can't worry about whether or not they like it.

Of course, you are always walking this line when you sing.  However, when you sing for an audience, this is diffused across a larger number of people, so it is easier to imagine that the crowd is "pulling for you".  When you are just singing for just one or two people, it is easier to feel that "I'm being judged".

When you audition, you are, of course, being judged, but nevertheless, most of the time, those of us hearing you, want you to do well, so try to concentrate on that! That may help that audition feel like a performance, which in turn, will make it a better audition.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The thing is......

....that auditioning in some ways is the least natural thing you have to do as a performer.  Any time you perform, you are, at a certain level asking for acceptance.  But communication is what really comes to the forefront when you are out in front of an audience performing.
Conversely, when we audition, the need to be accepted tends to push to the front.
The problem with that, of course, is that most of us show our best side, when we really communicate with our music and our voices.
I think we all know people who audition very well.  I have quizzed the people I know like that over the years, and what they all seem to have in common is the ability to treat that audition like a performance.
There are various ways to achieve this, some of which include "tricking your brain".
I would like to explore some ways to do this over the next few posts.....

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer stuff

A lot of things coming up!
This Thursday, I will visit the Steans Institute program at the Ravinia Festival and hear their young artists in audition, and then next week, I will hear four operas at the Santa Fe Opera, along with twenty five of our donors.

It has been a real pleasure hearing so many young singers this summer, and no matter what happens in the world, people with a desire to share to share with the world through the arts does will do so.

Over the past five years, whether one is talking about an arts organization or an individual, it has become even more important to think of news to thrive.  I know that it is already a difficult path if you are a singer, but finding ways to market yourself is now imperative.  This is an audition blog, but in reality, what constitutes "auditioning" has expanded and enlarged, and those people (and organizations) who are thriving, are the ones that have developed ways to make challenging circumstances work in their favor.

I will expand on this as we head into "audition season", but in the meantime, enjoy what's left of summer - and plan!!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Back from Brazil

It has been quite a summer of hearing young singers - I just returned from the Inaugural season of the Festival of International Opera of the Americas, where I directed The Tales of Hoffman with two casts of young singers.  It was great to work with young talent who are eager to grow vocally and dramatically.  Certainly producing that opera in two weeks with two casts is challenging, but we got it up and running and they have three more performances.
Even with all the challenges - particularly having multiple assignments in different shows, the singers really came through.....
More observations to come!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Masterclasses in interesting locations

I got back last week from doing master classes on auditioning in Novafeltria, Italy at La Musica Lirica.  I did two days there with singers with a wide range of experience, and it was great to hear singers on their various career paths.  It's interesting to see that some of the same issues tend to be universal as challenges -

1.  Having a good grasp of what the "right repertoire" means for auditioning
2.  Being fully ready to present the audition - meaning being comfortable with those presentational elements of an audition that go beyond vocal technique, musicality and correct pronunciation.

This week, I am off to Brazil to direct The Tales of Hoffman for the Festival of International Opera of the Americas.  I will also be doing some master classes there as well, and I hope to report "on location".

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An interesting summer

In addition to taking a group of our Opera Company's patrons to the Santa Fe Opera this summer,  I am looking forward to a couple of experiences that have a direct relationship to this blog.
I will be in Italy, conducting master classes at the La Musica Lirica program in Novafeltria, and then soon after, will head off to Brazil to direct The Tales of Hoffman and also conduct master classes at the inaugural season of the Festival of International Opera of the Americas.
I look forward to sharing some thoughts and reflections after my time at both of these programs.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Repertoire, repertoire, repertoire

Before you go to do your next audition, you should in conjunction with your coach and teacher, spend time making sure that your audition rep, in addition to being absolutely right for where you are as a singer, shows all of the strengths you have as a performer - not just the voice itself, but what a particular piece allows you to show dramatically and interpretively.

From giving feedback over the past several months, I have learned that this does not happen enough.

Choosing your rep is a very important, strategic part of your audition - it's not just your "current five"
Keep that in mind!

Friday, May 31, 2013


We just heard some really fine general and chorus auditions here at the Florentine Opera - perhaps the best overall group of chorus auditions I've heard in my time here.
I always try to be aware of things that are worth bringing up in a general sense about auditions that might be helpful to point out here.

The winner this time around is - Hair.
Whatever your preferred style in everyday life, please keep in mind when you are auditioning, we want to see your whole face.  In addition to your voice, how you are expressive facially can play a big part in whether or not you are cast..

If one of your eyes is covered, or if both are partially covered, you have taken away one of your potential selling points!!

Before you do your next audition, make sure you have maximized everything that will help you be successful...including how you wear your hair!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Stay connected

I am writing this because I am trying to make sure that I follow up with phone calls to singers that I have asked to stay in touch with me, or who have asked for feedback from auditions.  It is taking me some time to get back to them, and I will!

My point really is that if a GD has asked you to stay in touch, and you don't hear back within what is a reasonable time, I think there is nothing wrong with dropping an e-mails and saying "I am just following up about staying in touch"......etc.

This is in no way obtrusive, and will be a great way for the GD in question to remind him/herself about the corespondence.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Nothing could be more about auditions than this....

Here at the Florentine Opera, we have been blessed with a fantastic group of Studio Artists this year, and I wanted to take a moment to thank them for their fantastic work with us this year:

Alisa Jordheim, soprano
Kristen DiNinno, mezzo
Kevin Newell, tenor
Carl Frank, baritone

Thanks for all of your great performances!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


So, I mentioned in my last post that I noticed some things that seem to remain consistent across auditions, regardless of level.
And I thought I would talk about that a little bit.
I want to preface this by saying that I have heard and seen some wonderful performances from all levels of singers over the past weeks, and I find this all very encouraging for our art form.

What I would like to see more of, all this time is.......

1.  Take chances dramatically and musically
2.  Show more of who you are
3.  Don't be afraid of making mistakes
4.  Own the room, and don't audition defensively.

As I told a group of students at Rutgers University;

Generally speaking, you probably have a 10% chance of getting hired at any audition.  Given those odds, why not let the real you come through?
The reality is, the best chance you will have of getting hired will happen when the authentic you, the one that has something to say, comes through in your audition!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What a week!

This last week was one of the most vocal music filled I can remember!

Thursday - conducted vocal masteclass at Rutgers University
Friday - concert performance of new opera, The Judgement of Midas
Saturday Morning - performance of Little Red's Most Unusual Day at our Opera Center
Saturday Afternoon - judged the Regional Artist Auditions for Bel Canto Chorus here in Milwaukee
Saturday Night - attended the Rising Stars Concert, presented by the Ryan Center Young Artists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
Sunday  - conducted High School Masterclass here at the Florentine.

With such a wide variety of experience levels, you would think there would be some commonalities to comment on, but in fact, there are some - in my next post, I will talk about that.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Off to Rutgers

I am looking forward to conducting a Masterclass this week at Rutgers University with students from their voice and opera program.  It is always a pleasure to hear students as they work toward the next phase in their careers.
I try to concentrate on identifying things that the singer is presenting that might or might not be helping in securing the next step, be it a job, apprentice program, or placing in a competition.
This doesn't mean that I won't say anything about purely vocal matters, but the other things that go into an audition don't get mentioned as much, so I feel that this is where I can be the most helpful.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


We've just had our Studio Artist Auditions this week, and it was great to hear some very promising young artists again.
If I was going to pick out a couple of things that people might want to think about (and these are not new points), they would be:

1.  Having a resume that completely and clearly lays out what you have done.  I saw examples of not enough being listed, and too much being listed that didn't really mean very much.  Always keep in mind that you want to impress someone with your resume, even if they are only taking a cursory look.  If you can imagine someone taking a fifteen second look at your resume, that might give you some clarity in putting your resume together.

2.  Headshots.  Make sure your headshot looks like you do now, so that whoever you are auditioning for, will have a good visual reference to remember you by!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thought for the day

The temptation is to think of your auditions as a means to an end, and there is no denying that this is true.
However, another way of viewing auditions is to think of them as another performance.  You never know how many times you will get to sing in your life, and every opportunity you get to sing is a part of that finite number.  The audition is indeed a means to an end, but it is also another opportunity to perform - looking at it that way can take some pressure off!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Upcoming auditions

We will be having our live auditions for our Studio Artist Program next week, and as always, I am excited to hear young singers at the start of their journeys.
This puts me in mind of a point that I try to make when I present master classes - those of us who hear you want you to do well.
This may seem like an overly obvious point, but the reality is, when I talk to young singers, or if I think back to my own audition experiences, I find that there is a fear in auditions, that the people hearing the auditions are a negative force. 
I am not being naive, and I know that there are negative auditioning experiences, but the reality is, that in the vast majority of cases, your auditoners are pulling for you to do well.  Many of us have been in your shoes, and know what you're going through.
A recognition of this on your part, can take away at least one stress factor in your audition!

For those of you auditioning for us, and for those auditioning elsewhere,  I send you all good wishes for an audition that you will feel great about.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Albert Herring....and auditions!

We are now about to have our third performance of Albert Herring, which has been exciting for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that all four of our Studio Artists are singing leading principal roles in this production!
Right on the heels of that we will be holding our live auditions for next year's program.  We had a wonderful response this year - over 180 applicants from 29 states and Canada!!
I look forward to hearing these auditions, which never fail to get me excited about the next generation of singers.....

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


After doing a spate of auditions over the winter, I have been impressed by singers following up when I have asked them to do so.  In the past, this was not always the case, and not doing it (when requested to do so), results in missed opportunities more often than not. 

So, to reiterate, if you sing an audition, and you have feedback sessions with a judge or adjudicator, and they ask you to follow up with them by e-mail or phone - do so!

If you are asked to do that, it means there is interest.  And that is when possible employment gets cultivated!!

Monday, February 25, 2013


My previous post produced this question:

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the quality of recordings...what things you listen for, if overly compressed recordings go right in the waste bin, how much the sound quality itself affects your ability to judge a recording, etc. This is a topic that I feel pretty hazy about when giving advice to young singers. What do people who cast hear in recordings? What should young singers avoid? How much is too much to spend? Thanks!

This is an excellent question.

First, yes, overly compressed recordings are not a good idea.
Second, the sound quality plays a HUGE part.  If volume, distortion levels, etc. are bad, you will have undoubtedly hurt your chances.
Third, make sure that each selection presents you as you are now.  Acoustics, recording quality, when the recording was made all make a difference.
Fourth, having a recording with orchestra is not an advantage, and it becomes a disadvantage if the recording quality is not good.
Fifth, I don't know what all people hear, or listen for, but I would say that I am listening for a great sounding instrument, for excitement to come through the recording, and also, for all the mundane things, like diction, musical accuracy, etc.
Sixth, avoid anything that will not give the first impression that you want to make!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Some post audition and listening to recording thoughts

I have just recently heard a lot of auditions and competitions, including regional Met Auditions, as well as listening to a lot of recordings for our Studio Artist program.  In no particular order of importance, I thought I would share some thoughts, both positive...and less so.  Some of these thoughts I have shared before, so I apologize for repeating myself.

The good......

1.  There is a lot of talent out there!!  This may seem pandering, but it truly is not.  As I get further away in age from the "starting out" demographic, I am heartened by what we have to look forward to in our art form.  While our "business" has all sorts of challenges - some artistic, most financial - the young performers who will give us a reason to meet those challenges are still out there, working to express themselves through the art of singing.

2. Singers have not let the challenges of our business deter them from pursuing the thing they love.  To me this is most heartening, because young singers will not only populate the stage in the years ahead, but they will also be organizational leaders. 

The "still need to be worked on".......

1.  Some singers still don't play to their strengths in competitions.  I still hear a fair amount of singers "trying out" arias in high pressure situations, which is not the time to do that!  A variation on this is doing aspirational repertoire.  In my view, a singer should audition with repertoire that shows where he or she is now, not where they want to be in five years.

2. Singers sometimes don't realize that they can't ease into making a great first impression.  When you audition, hit the listener between the eyes with your best stuff......assume that you won't have that much time to make an impression.  Imagine that you are a musical singer, and that you only have sixteen bars to make your point.  That may give you a better sense of urgency!

3.  make sure your recording is the quality it needs to be.  I am am amazed how often that doesn't happen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Go with your favorite

After hearing some auditions recently, where I was not adjudicating, I had singer lamenting to me that they didn't get the opportunity to sing their favorite aria (since the judges didn't ask for that one).
My question to the singer was - why didn't you offer that one???
The simple point here is that always assume that "they" might not ask for your favorite tune.  The way around this is to OFFER it. 
I have said this before in different ways, but never, ever leave your best stuff on the table - assume you'll get one shot, and give them your personal desert island aria.  Don't worry about what you think they might want to hear, or what they might be casting, etc.....
Your best chance to win a competition or to get hired is to sing what you do best!!

Monday, January 14, 2013

In Memoriam.....

All of us who are on this journey of being professional singers, have had people in their lives that have inspired them and led them on their way.
This past week I lost the person who was my first inspiration, and my high school choral director.
Sam Shie, who was also my first voice teacher, passed away last Monday.  I was lucky enough to be able to drive to Ohio for his memorial service and visitation.
I feel very lucky to have had this man start me out in my career all the way back in high school, and I'm happy to say we never lost contact, and I was proud to call him friend over all these years.
I share this to say that if you have past mentors or teachers, and have been meaning to give them a call or drop them an e-mail to tell them again how much they have meant to you - do it!
None of us knows when this journey will end, and thanking those who have made it a worthwhile trip is an idea to not put off.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

I hope you all had a restful holiday, and are ready to jump back into the fray!!
I wanted to let you know that applications for the 21013-14 Florentine Opera Studio are now available at YAP Tracker.
Looking forward to sharing some more ideas about auditioning this year!!