Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

September 29, 2014
by Kim

It’s Just the Beginning

This concludes an 8-part series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni. I was astonished that within a few days of putting out a group email request, I received messages from almost 40 singers. Clearly, this business of auditioning is not easy, and generous colleagues are always eager to share what they’ve learned.

After all of the comments about strategies, performance enhancements, what to wear, and what to sing, a few people went beyond advice for the audition day. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Remember: The audition is only the beginning. It’s not easy, and neither is the career.
  • Start a separate fund or set money aside for application fees and travel costs. You won’t believe how much those add up to over time. In this business you have to put money in to get money out. This isn’t only for auditions, it’s for your whole career. The sooner you get a handle on that, the better.
  • Have a back up plan.  You never know what will happen in your life….injury, children or you just don’t want that lifestyle anymore… Know that there is something else that you can do to support yourself.

I’ll leave you with the postscript of an email that contained wise advice from a seasoned singer:

  •  I still hate auditions.

September 26, 2014
by Kim

Let It Go.

Part Eight in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

It’s telling that this theme emerged more frequently than others among all of the advice submitted. Do not underestimate its power.

Let It Go: Say the Serenity Prayer. Then just sing.

  • Don’t go in expecting to land the job. You could sing the best you’ve ever sung but they might not be looking for someone like you at the time. People will talk about you though so other doors may be propped open. Auditioning is just another chance to get better and to gain experience.Take risks. If not now, then when?
  • Really make music. So what if it’s an audition? Make music. Perform.
  • It’s actually a quote from the late, great, Seth McCoy:  “Always strive to express, rather than to impress, because you don’t know what I like.”
  • It’s easier to not worry about the stuff you can’t control when you know it’s not going to be perfect.
  • Law of averages will have you get a gig maybe only 5% compared to the 95% you won’t land. This doesn’t mean you are bad. It can be frustrating but you have to keep plugging away. You get hired more through networking once you are established but people will only know you if you get out there and do auditions.
  • Do not try to be perfect.  That doesn’t exist.
  • Sing to express, not to impress. As a singer I find comfort in thinking of me and my colleagues as menu items at a coffee shop. Everyone has their coffee preferences and not everybody’s preference is the same. One day someone might want to order a small iced coffee with no cream, and the next day their ordering a venti spiced chai latte, extra hot. I don’t know if I will be a presenter’s preferred flavor that day, so I’m not going to worry about trying. That’s wasted energy that I could be putting into my interpretation and audition.
  • The more I’m ‘over it’ and the less I care, the better I sing.
  • I discovered that very often it’s not about how well you sing, it’s the vibe you’re in and the vibe you project! Of course you should try to sing your best, however, you can sing well and still criticize every little thing that went wrong…  Or you can just sing and commit and be unapologetic! This is who you are today! Basta! They like it? great! They don’t? That’s ok as well.
  • Auditions will always be weird and unnatural. Accept that.

Next and Final: Epilogue

September 25, 2014
by Kim

Be True to Yourself

Part Seven in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

Be True to Yourself: And be kind to yourself. If you won’t, who will?

Just because you’re auditioning for a role, it doesn’t mean you have to spend that time ‘proving’ you can sing, ‘proving’ you’ve got chops… you’ve got to stay true to who you are, and some people will buy it while others don’t.

The only way to feel good about NOT getting a part, is knowing  you sang your heart out for it, and you couldn’t have performed it any better.  (I feel worse not getting a part, knowing that I personally, could have done better, prepared better, etcetera)

Be yourself and dress like a nice version of yourself. When you start doing/acting/wearing things you think you’re “supposed to” you won’t feel good about what you do and you won’t show yourself to your best.

Be true to yourself – go into an audition with a smile on your face and introduce yourself like you would to any one else you meet (you have to show that you are a real person not a robot…)

Don’t try to be anyone but yourself, and be that in spades.  Your uniqueness is what is important.

Next: Let It Go


September 24, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

What (Not) to Wear

Part Six in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

The handful of comments that touched on this topic are mostly for the ladies. Do with them what you will.

The way you look does matter.

A few words from singers:

  • Make sure your shoes aren’t louder than your voice.
  • Get an outfit that flatters your figure and allows you to breathe. It’s a hard thing to find, but take the time to search for it.
  • The way you look MATTERS. Spend money on your audition outfit if you have to. You only need one, and you will get a lot of use out of it.

Bonus advice from two of my colleagues who couldn’t resist jumping into the fray…

  • If you are going to wear Spanx and add a lovely twirl at the end of your aria, please practice it IN YOUR AUDITION DRESS in front of a friend who will be honest with you.
  • Ladies: Foundation garments. That is all.

Next: Be True to Yourself

September 23, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

Look on the Bright Side

Part Five in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

The Power of Positivity: The glass is way more than half full.

  • Everyone behind that table desperately wants you to be AWESOME.  No one is judging you in the way you think.  Everyone that you will ever sing for wants to hire you.  They hope you’re the one.  So go in knowing that there is only good will aimed at you!
  • Be kind to yourself and others throughout your audition process.
  • Remember that the panelists are on your side…  They are wishing and hoping for the next brilliant singer to walk through the door.
  • We have to remember why we sing. So often I get caught up in thinking that I have to present an appealing package on audition day and forget that I’m appealing enough by just doing what I love to do (singing, of course.) If I weren’t good at it, I wouldn’t have already come this far. As a textbook overthinker I have to remind myself to “Shut up and sing.”
  • An audition is not the time to think about technique. An audition is a performance. Go out there and show ‘em why you’re the one they should hire.
  • Be as happy as you can before your audition. Get in your ‘happy place’! do things that make you feel good!
  • Have fun and sing your butt off. You are a singer for a reason, so don’t let auditions get the best of you.  Be in control of your voice and again HAVE FUN, it is what you do!
  • The people sitting “behind the table” are actually on your side! They want you to do your best! Of course, they’re listening critically, it’s their job, but in essence a panel of adjudicators casting for a role or a young artist program want you to do well. It makes their job easier!
  • Remember that they have something special to offer, and present it with CONFIDENCE!  Young Artist audition time is so competitive and stressful, and it will cause a person to doubt themselves and their abilities.   Put the stress and competition aside, and find joy and satisfaction in your daily practice, lessons/coachings, and in auditions.  Approaching auditions that way might just get you the job.

Next: What (Not) to Wear :)

September 22, 2014
by Kim

Audition Day: The Social Dynamic

Part Four in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

Today, some thoughts on interacting with other singers at auditions.

Navigating the Colleague Waters

A few separate short bits of advice:

  • Be leery of colleagues who offer unsolicited advice.
  • Be well-prepared, polite, kind, courteous and a good colleague.
  • Don’t spend too much time at the audition space before your audition! Arrive as close to your audition time as possible, it’s healthier. Leave right after!

And a bit more detail from someone who has thought a lot about this:

I love singers. I am a singer. But I do everything I can to minimize my interaction with other singers when I go to auditions. Not because I don’t like them, or because I wouldn’t enjoy a drink with them later. But because many singers, in the default-nervous-before-singing-neurotic-robot mode will launch into the following questions: “What are you doing these days? Who are you singing with? Have you sung for company XYZ? Have you done competition XYZ? Who do you study with? What are you starting with? Do you have management?” etc. and so forth. I find this rather aggressive and neurotic line of questioning to be maddening and distracting, and I can’t help but feel that it comes from a very dark place singers can get into of needing to compare every single thing they do to those around them. When you go to an audition, how anybody else sings has nothing to do with you. Your purpose is to show the best of yourself, and no one else. Most of the time I know this, but in a crowded hallway at a cramped audition space, this line of questioning from singer after singer can very easily drag me down into that neurotic spiral.

An epilogue from yours truly: You’re all under a lot of stress on audition day. Be kind to one another and to yourself.

Next: The Power of Positivity!

September 18, 2014
by Kim

The Package…

Part Three in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

Your Aria Package: Argh… What should I sing???

Be Yourself

Start with something that shows off something unique you can offer.  For me, this was often the aria that I was the most comfortable with anyway, and helped get me grounded and comfortable in the process.

I learned in graduate school -and having just sung an audition yesterday I am still implementing this rule -that you must not feel guilty about singing “the same old arias that they’ve heard before.” You must sing what best represents you. The audition panel is educated enough to hear your voice and hear its capabilities. Arias that you’ve sung a bunch of times and are most likely what you sing best. Every aria needs a first time out in the open and sometimes it has to be at an audition, but those circumstances should be chosen carefully.

Sing the piece you absolutely love and can sing from your soul, rather than what someone told you to sing. Taking ownership for your Art will always make an impression.

Be Ready

I am alway prepared to sing at least 3 of my 5/6 audition arias in a row, including “Der hölle Rache,” at 9 am.

Be Current

Only offer arias from roles that are appropriate for you to sing immediately.

Don’t Be Stupid

If there is an aria that you “hope they don’t pick,” ask yourself “Why is it even on my list of offerings?”

A Bit of Very Personal and Specific Advice

Make your audition package unique. In other words, I think it’s essential to find way in which you are different, unique… “marketable.” I know my career has been unlike a lot of folks and as crazy as it might sound, it’s taken me a while to embrace that. Part of the reason is that coming out of school and young artist programs, I was trying to do all the lyric mezzo stuff and have every favorite mezzo aria in my bag… but there was really no point in that. I am slowly more and more embracing how I am different and especially the fact that my ‘different-ness’ has been the means of my having a career, making a living, etc. SO I think it’s wise to encourage young people to do the same. I was working with two young (amazing) singers in the Santa Fe program who were to do a scene from Dr. Atomic in the scenes program. I told both of them to definitely offer those arias in audition – it sets them apart and makes people sit up and listen. Not everyone must be Mimi or Cherubino. What’s wrong with entering the music business as Alcina or Lulu or Dinah? It’s about finding what makes you excited and what you have to share that maybe everyone else doesn’t… I think it’s vital. I recall Matthew Epstein talking about offering songs in audition… or maybe even a concert excerpt. I, someone who does a lot of both, still haven’t ever done that in audition but for the first time this season, I’m making a point to make my package unique!

Next: Navigating the Colleague Waters

September 16, 2014
by Kim

Audition Day Strategies

Part Two in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

Half a dozen singers responded to my call for advice with comments on how to deal with the little (and big…) things that can and will go wrong during audition season.

Audition Day StrategiesPlan Ahead

Be Ready for Anything

To prepare for auditions, I try to imagine every type of situation. Bright lights, dark lights, the pianist has never heard your piece before, there is nowhere to warm up at the audition venue. Then I mentally go through how I would deal with each of those situations. Then when or if something happens, you are calm and collected and you have a plan. This allows you to focus on your performance and connection to the piece.

Always have a spare resume, bio, head shot package, and pressed audition clothes, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The Pianist’s Notebook

Be clear on cadenzas and cuts in well-organized scores, as you will probably not be able to work with the pianist.

If you have a new anthology, make sure the pages are creased so your pianist doesn’t have to take time out of the audition to do it for you.

On Dealing with the Inevitable

If something goes wrong musically, word slip, whatever, just keep going, and if you need to stop and restart a section, it isn’t the end of the world. We all have moments when our minds go blank. I think it is better to restart something than to continue stumbling and getting frustrated. Just take a breath and go!

Don’t be afraid to mess up!! Often, a panel learns more about you – as a person, as a musician, as a performer – by how you handle mistakes than by how perfectly you can sing your arias. At an audition this past spring, I sang an aria that ends with an ascending scale, and I sort of “fell of the rails.” I stopped and – before I knew what I was doing! – said with a smile, “That wasn’t very good. Can I try that again?” I did, I nailed it, and then walked out of the audition TOTALLY EMBARRASSED but with my head held high. I was mortified. But imagine my surprise when I got a call a few months later – and I GOT THE JOB! :)  Embrace your mistakes and show your resilience and sense of humor. You never know!

Tomorrow: Your Aria Package!

September 15, 2014
by Kim

Be Your Own CEO

Part One in a series of posts containing audition season advice submitted by Wolf Trap Opera alumni.

I had intended to kick off this series with some nuts-and-bolts advice, but the podcast I heard on this morning’s commute changed my mind.

It’s Not the Product, It’s the Person*” aired on This American Life last week. It’s full of thought-provoking reminders that no matter how we may protest that our art should speak for itself, we must accept that fact that we are its personification.

A take-away from the podcast: “People are just excited to invest in other people.” That’s why audiences love singers even more when they know their back stories. It’s why artists who telegraph a strong sense of self and a firm grasp of their strengths have an advantage over those who are less self-possessed. The dirty truth? All other things being equal (or roughly equivalent) – technical facility, vocal timbre and size, grasp of languages and style – an audition panel is more likely to throw themselves behind a performer who signals that she is serious about her career.

Be Your Own CEO: Run your company and your reputation like a business.

Professional Image

You are your own brand. You are selling yourself. Make sure you are putting product out there that companies want to buy. If you are put together professionally in your dress, appearance and preparation, you will see rewards. It’s not just about how you sing. You are the CEO of your own company.

Web Presence

Remember to clean up and revamp your websites before setting into auditioning.  It’s good to have something easy to navigate up and running in case casting directors want to follow up with website media.

Email Address

When I began auditioning for YAPs, I had a somewhat silly (punny, actually) email address.  It was actually very helpful at first, as it was eye-catching and an ice-breaker at auditions.  But, as I moved into out of the “young artist” category and more into real professional work, it became more of a setback; so I switched to a straightforward address that was essentially just my name.  Keep in mind that your image as a very young artist will be different than as a professional, and what may help you as the former may hinder as the latter.

It’s About Relationships

Be nice to everyone you come in contact with, whether it’s the doorman, the person checking people in, or the singer next to you. You don’t know who they are – their interaction with you could mean more than you think!

Tomorrow: Audition Day Strategies

* If you have time to listen to part of the podcast, go with the Prologue and Act One. But if you go for the whole thing, you won’t be sorry. Act Two will make you laugh (probably ruefully…) and Act Three will demonstrate that there are even quirkier career aspirations than that of opera singer. 

September 12, 2014
by Kim

From the Horses’ Mouth(s)

singing horseEnough of me writing audition season advice. (Well, not really… I will weigh in eventually…) This year you’re going to hear from those who have been there: working singers who have learned things the hard way. I’ve asked Wolf Trap Opera alumni to send me audition advice that they’d like to share with young artists, and so far I’ve heard from over 30 singers who were members of our roster over the last 20 years. I’ve compiled their comments and sorted them into the following loose categories, which reflect the content of blog posts to come over these next couple of weeks:

What (Not) To Wear: The way you look does matter.

Be Your Own CEO: Run your company and your reputation like a business.

Let It Go: Say the Serenity Prayer. Then just sing.

Life: The audition is only the beginning.

The Power of Positivity: The glass is way more than half full.

Your Aria Package: Argh… What should I sing???

Navigating the Colleague Waters: Don’t let the crazy bring you down.

Audition Day Strategies: Little things can make or break you.

Be True to Yourself: And be kind to yourself. If you won’t, who will?

Check back in for these posts, starting Monday. (Or sign up for email updates in the column at right.) I’ll also update this master post with links once the individual pages go up. Happy weekending!