Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

November 11, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

End of the Road

We’re home at The Barns, and I continue to fall down on the blogging job. :(

The fatigue is increasingly overwhelming as we push toward the audition tour finish line tomorrow at 6pm! Of course, the finish line is just another term for the starting gate for the repertoire and casting process. Wish us luck as we put together the 2015 season.

A Look Back

Our Houston week came and went, and it was lovely. In addition to a strong bunch of auditions, we heard a terrific Return of Ulysses at Rice University Shepherd School of Music (featuring four former Wolf Trap Studio Artists) and a wonderful Otello (below) at Houston Grand Opera.WP_20141104_22_36_39_Pro

No matter where we go around the country, we see former Trappers onstage. This Otello was a particularly special night, with a cast that featured six WTO alumni: Simon O’Neill, Ailyn Pérez, Norman Reinhardt, Morris Robinson, Victoria Livengood and Kevin Ray.

Aria Frequency Lists

I’m running late on these, but they are on their way. (For new readers: These lists show the frequency with which arias are offered by the singers who sang during this audition tour. Go here for previous iterations.) I haven’t seen all of the data yet, but I sense that it will contain a few surprises. Anecdotally at least, there are quite a few mainstream arias that seem to be markedly absent this year. We’ll get them out as soon as we can!

Some Parting Advice

Nothing cosmic. It’s actually painfully obvious but bears repeating:

Audition every time you have a chance. Get good at this quirky little dance. Exercise the audition muscle enough so that you can do your absolutely best work in front of us. When you see hundreds of people come through the door over a period of a few weeks, you notice a marked difference between those singers who are ill at ease with auditioning and those who have made their peace with it.

It comes easily to a very small subset of people. The rest of us mere mortals have to practice.

October 31, 2014
by Kim
4 Comments

Halloween Hodgepodge

hauntedI’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.

Back Onstage

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:

Variety!

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. :)

Contemporary Rep

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!

October 18, 2014
by Kim
7 Comments

High Risk Arias!

Our Chicago week was spent in a lovely room with natural light at Pianoforte Studios on S. Michigan. The staff was terrific, the acoustics was blessedly neutral, and we were surrounded by keyboard instruments. (There’s a Grotrian Steinweg under wraps in the far right corner of the photo; it’s the twin of my piano at home!) Spending time with beautiful pianos reminded me that it was time to share the results of my recent crowd-sourcing experiment.

About a week ago, one of Wolf Trap Opera’s coaches was wrapping his fingers and brain around the aria “Do Not Utter a Word” from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. He took a break from practicing to send me a wonderful suggestion for a blog post. The prompt? Which arias are difficult or otherwise problematic enough that they can be classified as “sing-at-your-own-risk” when not bringing your own pianist to an audition?

I polled the pianist hive mind and was rewarded with a flurry of emails, Facebook comments and texts. I guess I had the expectation that I could pretty much predict what would end up on the list. In the end, I was wrong.

The list of arias that I compiled was exponentially longer than I expected. And there was a far less agreement on what was problematic than I imagined. I heard from audition pianists with decades of experience, from people who play everything from academic to YAP to company and manager auditions. What follows is my attempt to organize and interpret the list of over 50 arias submitted in answer to my question.

“Mature” Rep

Many people listed arias from roles that we consider “mature” or “heavy.” This is a predictable trend. First, the vast majority of auditions are played for singers who are in the first several years of their careers; once they graduate to big warhorse roles, they are more likely to be cast based on prior outings with those roles rather than from auditions. And second, the percentage of voices who sing this rep is a small subset of the overall.

  • Wagner arias (typical exceptions: “O du mein holder Abenstern,” Dich theure Halle,” Elisabeth’s Prayer)
  • Arias from Berg’s Wozzeck and Lulu (some pianists include “Lied der Lulu,” some omit it)
  • Most Richard Strauss arias, notably those from Salome, Arabella and Die Frau ohne Schatten (typical exceptions: Composer’s Aria, Lieben Hassen,
  • Rare Slavic and Russian rep (a little vague; best understood by common exceptions “Song to the Moon,” Onegin’s and Lenski’s arias, Yeletsky’s aria)
  • Mefistofele’s Serenade from Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust

Hard to Read (sometimes also Hard to Play…)

This list comprises thick and thorny rep that is tough to sightread and isn’t common enough that most pianists have had the chance to thoroughly learn and retain it. Many of these arias were written in the last couple of decades, with a smattering of rep from the mid-20th-century.

  • Arias from Nixon in China
  • “Batter my Heart” from Doctor Atomic
  • “Do Not Utter a Word” and “Outside this house” from Vanessa
  • “Non monsieur mon mari” from Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias
  • Fire Aria from L’enfant et les sortilèges
  • Baba the Turk’s aria, Nich Shadow’s arias, and Tom’s “Vary the Song” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress
  • Britten arias sit in a vague and ill-defined area of this list. Some pianists feel that almost all of these are standard enough not to cause concern, but there are quite a few experienced and respected players who feel that they should still be sing-at-your-own-risk: “How Beautiful It Is (Tower Scene) and “Miles” from Turn of the Screw, Tarquinius’ Ride from The Rape of Lucretia, Peter Grimes’ mad scene, almost anything from Albert Herring, Hermia’s aria from A Midsummer Night’s Dream .
  • Sweeney Todd’s “Ephiphany”
  • It is unfair to bring open score or figured bass arias into an audition. All excellent opera coaches can play from open score or figured bass, but this skill is appropriately exercised in the rehearsal room, not in audition when a significant part of the pianist’s attention is diverted to collaborating with a brand new partner.

Hard to Play

This is different from the previous list in that these arias are pretty straight-forward on the page – simply harmonic structure and easily read melodies and rhythms. The problem is not one of interpreting the printed page, it’s rather one of getting your fingers to execute an aria that isn’t often encountered.

  • There are baroque arias that run the gamut of impossible to slightly problematic. This rep is too wide-ranging for me to name specific arias; suffice it to say that if it’s marked something like Vivace or Allegro molto, there’s a good chance that your pianist will sacrifice some of the notes. And if the composer is Vivaldi or Scarlatti (instead of Handel), this effect is even more pronounced. :) Common exceptions: “Svegliatevi,” “Tornami a vaggheggiar,” “Arise.” (There are others.)
  • There are a few early Mozart arias that fall into this category. Examples are “Fuor del mar” (extended version) and Idamante’s “Il padre adorato”
  • And finally, we have all internalized “Mab” from Romèo et Juliette. But depending on the phase of the moon and path of Mercury (and your preferred tempo) it may or may not go well.

Borderline Arias

There wasn’t general agreement on these, but they were mentioned more than once. A mix of technically difficult things and arias that aren’t often sung.

  • Strauss – “Wie du warst,” Presentation of the Rose, Zerbinetta’s aria, “Es gibt ein Reich
  • Stravinsky – Anne Trulove’s scene, Rakewell’s arias
  • Floyd – Arias from Cold Sassy Tree
  • Starbuck’s aria from Moby Dick

Jamie_Barton_insert_by_Sean_Davis_courtesy_Wolf_TrapOff to Philadelphia tomorrow, then back to Virginia for a few days of prep for my Friday  concert with the inimitable Jamie Barton. :)

Rachmaninoff! Ives! Brahms!

Chocolate cake!

 

October 13, 2014
by Kim
0 comments

Our Box

A silly post, to occupy us as we try to escape Cincinnati. (Booked on one flight, standby on another, delayed on both, waited on the tarmac, now have been banished back to the terminal…)

Having failed at trying to get here by plane, we embarked on a 8-hour road trip. Tried to rent a small car but were forcibly upgraded to a lovely silver Ford Flex – a vehicle which we came to affectionally call our Box.

We are wishing we had just kept a-driving the Box to Chicago instead of trusting United Airlines to whisk us there. And so, we submit this ode, with apologies to Gian Carlo, Amahl Boxand King Kaspar. Because it’s becoming obvious to us that we actually never travel without our Box…

“This is our box, this is our box.

We never travel without our box.

In the first door we keep our favorite things. One umbrella against all clouds and rainy skies. One suitcase with equipment. One rain coat to keep us warm. One video cam’ra to remember your face. One EZ Pass to get us through tolls. Three sunglasses to soothe our eyes. One GPS to protect us from b’ing lost.

This is our box, this is our box. We never travel without our box. In the second door we keep all our food. Oh, how can we love to eat great food, all kinds of food.

This is our box, this is our box. We never travel without our box. In the third door… in the third door…Oh, my dear friends!…Oh, my dear friends!…In the third door we keep…coffee…coffee… black, sweet coffee, black, sweet, coffee…

Have some!”

October 13, 2014
by Kim
0 comments

‘Nati Road Trip!

Cincinnati auditions came and went, in a whirlwind 2.5 days. Our 5:30am departure for the airport on Saturday morning (following this absolutely beautiful Friday night concert that Lee Anne booked) turned into the beginning of a road trip, as our flight into CVG was cancelled, and no others were available to get us into town before auditions began. 8 hours and 500 miles later, we were seated in Watson Hall at CCM (below), getting our daily RDA of opera arias.

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2014 Studio Artist Nicolette Book in audition at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s Watson Hall

After a full Sunday and a partial Monday, I write this at the airport, trying to get on an earlier flight to Chicago (with hopes of avoiding the delays and cancellations that are mounting with the advancing line of thunderstorms!)

Two things are on my mind as we close this Cincinnati chapter and head to Chicago.

First: Audition hall acoustics.

In recent years, we have bounced back and forth between two very different locations at CCM. Werner Recital Hall is beautiful in all ways. Visually appealing and spacious, and acoustically flattering. The result is that singers usually feel pretty comfortable and are able to turn in strong auditions, but we are always left with a bit of suspicion as to whether the truly beautiful things we hear are inherent in the voices or are partially manufactured by the hall itself. Results in a lot of internal debate, and a tendency to discount assets that may have nothing to do with the space.

The other space we’ve used recently is the black box space, the Cohen Family Studio. It is one of those halls that singers fear. Honest, dry and naked. Singers often don’t trust their instincts and start pushing for more sound. And we have to work pretty hard to extrapolate what the voices will sound like in a more generous environment. But the good thing is that I always find myself in a state of mental addition; as in, if someone actually sounds good in here, just imagine what she’ll sound like elsewhere!

So imagine our pleasure when we tried out a new hall this year (Watson, above), and it seemed to be a lovely compromise between these two extremes! We spent our two full audition days in Watson, and it was lovely. (I wanted to bust a move and try out the Bach d minor on the pipe organ, but I restrained myself.)

Wouldn’t it be lovely if each audition space came with an acoustical diagnosis? To let us know which overtones and partials are amplified and which are suppressed, which frequencies are boosted, how the bounce affects diction, and which voice types are favored. (Every hall has voice types that it loves and hates, no matter what they tell you:))

What’s the second topic? We’ve been having an animated discussion (in person and on social media) about which audition arias are so problematic for pianists that singers should offer them only at their own risk (or hire and bring their own pianist.) It’ll take another day or so for me to organize the responses I’ve gotten. It’s been fascinating so far… much less clear than I had anticipated! If you are a singer/pianist/teacher who would like to weigh in on this question, head on over to our Facebook page and tell us what you think!

October 7, 2014
by Kim
2 Comments

NYC Days 3 & 4: Short List! Food!

Today, the first look at the operas that have ended up on the first iteration of our “short list” of possible rep for 2015.

But first, doughnuts!!!

Screenshot 2014-10-07 09.56.01

These landed in our room this morning, thanks to our every-thoughtful auditions monitor. The Doughnut Plant is just a few blocks south. (I’m so sad that I know that now…) We shared them with the front desk and the singers, of course!

Now, as I promised, a list of the operas that are currently at the front of our consciousness as we listen to prospective singers for next summer. Alpha, by composer. This list will morph significantly as we continue to hear auditions; the voice types represented by the singers in whom we are the most interested will dictate which of these operas end up on the 2015 season.

Britten – The Rape of Lucretia

Cimarosa – Il matrimonio segreto

Corigliano – The Ghosts of Versailles

Donizetti – La fille du régiment

Dove – Flight

Floyd – Susannah

Gassmann – L’opera seria

Glass – Orphée

Gluck – L’ile de Merlin

Haydn – Il mondo della luna

Haydn – La vera costanza

Keiser – Croesus

Massenet – Cendrillon

Mozart – Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Mozart – Il re pastore

Mozart – La clemenza di Tito

Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro

Rossini – Il barbiere di Siviglia

Rossini – La cenerentola

Rossini – La pietra di paragone’

Sullivan – The Gondoliers

Tchaikovsky – Eugene Onegin

lsAnd just so you don’t despair that our Manhattan stay was completely consumed by things like doughnuts, we want to recommend Westville in Chelsea. More fresh, interesting and healthy vegetable sides than I have ever seen. I may have eaten beets, squash, plantains, broccoli, brussel sprouts and leeks all at one meal…

We’re off to the midwest this weekend – see you in a few days.

October 5, 2014
by Kim
0 comments

NYC: Day 2 (Monologues!)

theater_masks_silhouetteToday, some advice for singers who are in the position of choosing and delivering an audition monologue. Our prospective Studio Artists must do just this. And we’ve had some really good ones come through the door over the last two days!

Do you ever wonder why in the world singers are required to prepare monologues? We all know that we’re not auditioning you as a straight actor. So what could our motive be, and how can you hack the situation to your advantage? In Monologues, Friend or Foe?, Lee Anne Myslewski, Director of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio, demystifies this part of the audition process and shares some of her favorite scenes.

Today was a wonderful Sunday in Manhattan, with crisp autumn air, beautiful singing, and just enough time for a walk on the new part of the High Line before dark. Tonight I’m working on the repertoire short list for 2015… perhaps it’ll be blog-worthy by tomorrow…

 

October 4, 2014
by Kim
0 comments

NYC: Day 1

2013-10-08 18.48.09-2I am constantly amazed by how different it is to do auditions in New York now that the National Opera Center is here. A room with true acoustics, a place for singers to relax (well, as close as one can get to relaxing before a job interview), a warm-up room, a few vending machines…. It’s positively civilized, and it’s a complete departure from most of the places we’ve been over the last several years.

Today was a terrific start to the 2015 Audition Tour. A fair amount of nerves in the room, but that’s no surprise. Most folks shook them off quickly and proceeded to make music. We heard our first 48 arias, with only one repeat.

The good news? There’s a lot of talent out here. That means that some really good singers don’t end up on our short list, and that’s tough. But there are lots of summer program opportunities, so spread the net as wide as appropriate, and persevere.

Armed with the knowledge of the kinds of voice types we’re about to hear as well as the profile of the artists who are eligible to return for a second summer at WTO, we are working on the first list of possible operas for our 2015 season. It’s coming your way within a day or two!

September 30, 2014
by Kim
0 comments

Audition Season, A to Z

overpackingTomorrow will be spent packing, in preparation for the WAS-NYP-CVG-ORD-PHL-LAX-SFO-SEA-IAH-IAD 8,000-mile/1,000-aria adventure that is the next 6 weeks.

As I get ready, I’m aware that many of you need to get your heads in the game for your own audition odysseys. To that end, here’s a look back at various bits of audition season advice and ruminations from the last ten years of the blog. Click through at your leisure. I’ll see you in a few days – notes from the road start on Saturday in New York!

(Above: Not my suitcase, sadly. No flip-flops and scuba gear on this trip. But a girl can dream.)

Acoustics.
Blocking. Gestures. Staging.
The Compulsories
Desire
The Equation
In the Fach Box
Playing the Game (Guest post from Mr. Winograde when he was just Josh:))
Humor. Spontaneity. Energy. And lots more.
Introductions and Other Protocol.
Just Fix It: The Resume
Koloratur. Intonation. Text. (Three Soapboxes)
Stay Loose.
Where the Music Finds You. Poetry, Hums and Winnie the Pooh.
The Notebook
Opinions
The Pianist: Your Partner in the Audition Room
Q&A
Rejection
Behind the Screen Door
The Toolkit
Expect the Unexpected
VersatilityBlessing and Curse.
Waiting.
X-Rated Raw Comments: What We Write
Fight Your Way Through It
Zen, Courage and Focus