I’m on audition hiatus for a weekend, visiting my son in Seattle (where the Halloween costumes on Capitol Hill are quite entertaining:)) It’s been over a month since my last day away from either audition arias or recital prep, and I am overdue for a recharge.
Many are the reasons for which I look forward to our annual fall audition tour – hearing new singers, enjoying the progress of familiar ones, catching up with colleagues across the country, and having a chance to share some of the most exciting aspects of my job via this blog. After all, it was during the audition tour in November 2004 that I decided I had to start blogging, and 10 years later, the impulse is just as strong. Unfortunately, the combination of long days and travel fatigue sometimes limit my correspondence. These last two weeks have been absolutely wonderful, but they have steamrolled me. I shall try to catch you up on what’s been happening.
First, I have to mention the wonderfully satisfying and energizing performance I did with WTO alumna Jamie Barton last week at The Barns. We took a 5-day hiatus from auditioning to go back to Wolf Trap for this concert, and although it was hard to make the transition (my pianist self isn’t usually part of my autumn persona…), it was well worth it. What a privilege to make music with such a fabulous artist and generous colleague. I don’t usually link to reviews via the blog, but this one may give you a sense of what a special night we had last Friday.
Since I last wrote about auditions, we’ve heard exciting singers in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is what’s on my mind:
We are hearing a beautifully wide range of arias. Some repeats, of course, but so far, nothing that feels overdone. I don’t know who to thank for this, but I am grateful. :)
I’m going to have a tough time explaining this, so bear with me. We love hearing arias from new/contemporary operas – it’s a terrific sign that singers are offering so many of them. I feel compelled, however, to offer one note of caution.
The most satisfying performances of 21st- and late 20th-century operas come from singers who are thoroughly grounded in classical vocal technique and are able to embrace the style from a starting point that includes beautiful legato, strong dynamic range, consistent vocal registration and textual nuance. It’s a tall order. If you are young enough in your vocal study journey, and you are approaching these arias from a musical theatre style perspective, then adding bits and pieces of classical technique, this is not so helpful. It is a natural thing for a young singer who loves singing Jason Robert Brown to want to include Jake Heggie arias an audition list. And it seems counter-intuitive for me to say that in order to do it effectively, you have to get there via Mozart or Donizetti. But it’s true. New American operas blessedly include the musical sensibility of our own time in their language, but they depend on the strength and integrity of a grounded classical/acoustic vocal technique.
The Piano is Your Friend
If you are new to auditioning and don’t quite know where to stand in the room, just position yourself somewhere within an arm’s length of the crook of the piano. You don’t have to be stuck there, but that’s the starting point. We usually place the piano with this in mind. Please don’t hesitate to give some distance between you and us: it should make you more comfortable not to be so close to the panel, and it will improve communication with the pianist. Every year, there’s a rash of folks who feel they should stand midway between our table and the instrument. (If this describes you, no worries; we don’t hold it against you!:))
Don’t Tell Us What You Can’t Do
The bel canto aria rant is a common one on this blog. But it bears repeating.
I know that not everyone agree with us on this, but we firmly believe that singers (sopranos, this means you…) within the first few years of their training do not serve themselves well by offering Bellini and other mature serious bel canto arias as their audition starters. Many are the reasons why, but here’s the biggest one: These arias/scenes tell us less about what you can do than what you’re not yet capable of. It takes a great deal of musical, dramatic, stylistic and artistic sophistication to sing these scenes. The fact that you don’t have these chops yet at 22 (or 26…) is not a problem. What is problematic is spending 5 of your allotted 8 minutes having us wonder what you do do well. More on this later.
Be All In
Auditioning is tough. The travel is heinous, the conditions are sometimes unpleasant, and anxiety is fierce. I get it. But when you are singing for us, you have to do your damndest to be all in. Everyone has off days. But for the days when you have a fighting chance to give a strong performance, you can’t hedge. I have to be able to feel the desire and the intention to communicate. It’s a challenge. But so is singing a performance when you have a cold, or you didn’t get enough sleep, or you’re angry and frustrated. It’s a reality of the career. Use the audition experience to begin making your peace with it.
That’s it for now… See you on the flip side for the last 6 days of auditions – Houston and Vienna!