We’ve seen and heard a lot of auditions over the past few years and would like to pass on some of the wisdom we’ve gleaned along the way. We offer this list of audition DOs and DON’Ts for singers who wish to step up their audition game – and who doesn’t want to do that?
DO choose an earlier time. We know singers always sing better later in the day, once our voices have had a chance to warm up, but agents are tired by the afternoon after listening to 15-25 singers already. Their nerves are a bit fried and it’s more difficult to listen, no matter how well you sing. Consider singing earlier when the agents’ ears are fresh.
DO dress for success. We’ve heard this a million times, and the audition dress protocol has certainly evolved in the past decade, but there are still some basic guidelines to follow. This is essentially a job interview, so dress professionally. Nothing too casual, nothing too fancy. Clothes should be clean and pressed, shoes clean and polished. I would guess that 95% of all panelists prefer not to see drastically low necklines or drastically short skirts, shirttails, or sagging trousers. Haute couture is not necessary, but please have respect for your craft and yourself as an artist. You just don’t want your clothing to detract from your audition. [n.b. European audition dress has traditionally been more casual than in North America, but this is quickly changing, and it’s obvious when people “haven’t gotten the memo.”]
DO speak loudly and clearly when you enter the room/hall. Introduce yourself confidently and cordially.
DO choose simpler repertoire that you can sing perfectly, rather than “impressive” arias that are more risky. Panelists are much more impressed with clean, beautiful, flawless singing than big, flashy repertoire choices.
DO staple your CV together. Better yet, limit your CV to one page. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit onto one page, and anything more than that the panel doesn’t really care about or read. It’s more impressive to have a well-designed one-page resume than a long, drawn out one. The best resumes we’ve seen have all relevant experience on one side with one small color photograph, and audition repertoire and space to write on the other side.
DO clearly mark cuts for your pianist. And if a previous cut was marked but now you want to sing it, recopy the music without the markings. Don’t make your pianist guess.
DO practice giving your tempo to a pianist. This is a skill in and of itself. Usually all it takes is speaking or singing one to two bars of the aria. You can do this quietly, but practice setting the exact tempo you need within those two bars. If you need to change the tempo once you’ve started the actual aria, placing the consonants exactly where you need them will signal to the pianist to play slower or quicker.
DO record your audition (if it isn’t being recorded for you) and use it for your own learning process. Listen to the recording, note what went well and what didn’t, and work on the areas which need improvement. Send it to your teacher so that they can help you improve your weak areas.
DO make an honest self-assessment of whether you are really ready to audition for major agents. Know what those agents are looking for: a finished product that they can sell immediately. The business is really tough for them as well, and they can’t afford to take a risk on someone who still needs development. Singing before you’re ready is a guaranteed way to make sure those particular agents won’t want to hear you again. Have conversations with your coaches and teachers and ask them to help you make this assessment if you aren’t sure.
DON'T be difficult during the process of setting up an audition: changing audition time request multiple times, making requests for special treatment, being rude in your dealings with the administrators, not saying thank you when requests are honored – all of this wastes the company’s or agent’s time and does not ingratiate you. Again, the agent or casting director will hear about it. Furthermore, administrators are inclined to help singers who ask nicely, and are disinclined to honor requests which are made rudely or with a tone of entitlement.
Check your writing carefully, and if you’re writing in a language in which you are not fluent, consider having a friend or translator check it for tone.
DON'T fly in on the day of your audition. If you’re going to spend money on an audition, spend a little bit more to have a comfortable night’s sleep. If you are exhausted and have a bad audition, you will have wasted 100% of the money you spent. This goes for singing when sick or suffering from allergies, too. It seems like a no-brainer and we’ve all heard it many times, but you would be shocked at how many people still sing when sick or exhausted. Don’t do it!
DON'T give a long introduction at the beginning. A greeting, your name, your first aria and a brief chat with the pianist will do. Don’t use up your own audition time by giving your life story. Same for shaking every single panelist’s hand – especially with a large panel, this wastes a lot of time.
DON'T start with a super long aria. Time is limited, and if you’ve blown your whole 8 or 10 minutes on one aria, you force the panel to either forego a second aria (which might have shown another side to your voice) or cut into someone else’s time later. Neither is good. Additionally, there’s very little you can show in an 8-10 minute aria that you can’t show just as well in a 3-5 minute one.
DON'T bring music that is difficult for the pianist to deal with. Examples include: loose sheets of paper (not taped together), poor-quality photocopies, books that don’t stay open, copies with notes cut off, music which has excessive marking/writing. Check with your own coaches to find out if there is a preferred edition to play from.
Speaking of pianists, absolutely under no circumstances be rude to the audition pianist. Most audition pianists are excellent at what they do, and even if you encounter a pianist who isn’t, being rude to them will not ingratiate you to the panel. It’s guaranteed that the pianist will tell the panel if you were rude to them (this goes for audition monitors/hosts as well). I have more than once been ready to contact a singer and then immediately marked them off my list upon hearing that they were rude to the pianist or audition monitor.
DON'T overact during your audition. Make sure all movement develops out of a genuine connection to the text (think like an actor) rather than from singing technique or the need to “do something.” We all know the stereotypical baritone claw or soprano choir hands – these are great for a giggle, but they are extreme examples of what many, many singers do with their hands. Make dramatic choices, then get rid of anything which doesn’t come from genuine meaning. [n.b. We realize that this is very different from what you would do on stage in a production, and that’s fine. This is an audition. It’s a different beast.] Oh, and please no referential gestures. You don’t have to touch your heart on the word “cuore.” We get it.
DON'T pace around the room as you sing. A good rule of thumb is one step in any direction. There are, of course, exceptions, but only for extreme cases when you want to make a big statement.
DON'T ask to re-do your aria or part of it if something didn’t go well. The panel may not have thought it was as bad as you do and asking to re-do it will only highlight the mistake. Do not make excuses for performing below your normal standard. Just thank the panel graciously and learn from the experience.
We wish you great success in your future auditions and singing. Please know that every agent, every casting director, and every audition panelist wants you to succeed. Every time. Be the best version of yourself you can be, and eventually you will meet the person who is looking for exactly what you have to offer. In the meantime, continue pursuing your dream, honing your craft, and creating great art.
Article by Julie Wyma for The Opera Stage
So...you've been to college, done your postgrad, and now you're out in the big, wide world where you can proudly proclaim “I am a professional opera singer”.
That's all fair and good....but let’s be clear, not all professional opera singers are PROFESSIONAL opera singers.
What am I talking about?
I'm not talking about which companies you work for, how much you earn, the number of roles you’ve performed, or if you need any other jobs to support you in your chosen vocation.
I'm talking about all the small things away from the actual singing which make a huge difference to how you are perceived in the industry.
As a singer myself who has been signed to various agents, who then set up an agency with a colleague and went on to start The Opera Stage, I am continually getting new glimpses of what it means to be truly professional (or not, as the case may be).
Many singers think that because they are artists a lax attitude can be excused. We are, after all, usually right-brained creatives, who are therefore more creative than rational. How easy it is to use this as an excuse for little things that we are careless with off the stage.
Maybe a (very) small handful of the biggest names in the world at any one time can genuinely get away with not keeping their eye on these things, but they usually have the cash to pay people to keep everything running smoothly for them. But these maverick artists are being tolerated less as communication and sharing of information increases.
Believe me – in a contracting industry with an ever-increasing number of singers on the market, the ones who are disciplined, efficient, punctual, reliable and friendly are the ones who companies want to work with.
The last thing I would want as an agent is someone who takes weeks to reply to an email, doesn't send the photos or contract through that I needed by 11am yesterday, or doesn't get back tome after the voicemail message I left.
And then there's the singers who are consistently late for rehearsals, turn up in the wrong town for a performance because they haven't read their itenerary carefully (yes, this actually happened recently to a singer I know), or turn up to their first music call not knowing their music.
With the number of singers out there now, if you exhibit these types of behaviours you will be replaced, or at the very least not booked again.
The singers agents most like to work with are:
So, there you have it. Start being a professional singer today, wherever you’re at in your career!
Post by Stephen Svanholm for The Opera Stage
Three often forgotten things that will rocket your chances at opera auditions.
Get there a while before your audition...aim for about 15 minutes or so, UNLESS they have specified particular time for you to arrive to work with the accompanist or pick up a sight reading test. Getting there early gives you a chance to breathe, to relax, and to get acquainted with the venue. There may be a room available for a little pre-audition warm up, but just as often there isn't. A cardinal rule is, always come to the venue warmed up already. If you are staying somewhere where you can't, then do gentle pianissimo warm ups as you travel to the venue, imagining you are singing full voice. Even these can be remarkably efficient at getting you warmed up and will engage all the correct muscles.
Being friendly is something most singers realise they have to do as they enter the audition room, but many forget due to over-thinking the formality of the occasion. Have a little mantra that you say to yourself: “smile, warm, friendly” or something similar. These things can be difficult when the nerves kick in, but every company wants to cast people who they see will be fun and easy to work with.
Equally important is how you are with the person manning the audition desk outside. This person may just be standing in for the day, but they MAY be one of the panel taking a break from listening to singing for an hour or so, or someone from the company involved in decision making. It is also very likely that the greeter will be asked for feedback from the panel at the end of the day about who they felt was pleasant and light-hearted, and if anyone was particularly rude, obnoxious or otherwise unpleasant.
To be friendly and communicative with the pianist also goes without saying too. They are often also asked for their impressions, and if you brusquely just hand them your music without so much as acknowledging them as a human being, you already have one person against you in the room. I've heard horror stories of pianists playing stuff at deliberately impossible tempi to rile a singer who was unfriendly with them. This is unlikely to happen at bigger houses but you have been warned!
Being informed isn't just about looking at the BBC News website every morning. Before you go to audition check up a little bit about the company. Even if it is a small company, get a feel for the repertoire they have put on in the last few years. Do they have a leaning towards big grand opera, or more towards refined baroque and classical? Are they modernist and daring in their approach, or conservative and traditional? Find out whatever you can about what they have coming up.
Also, if the audition panel's names have been supplied, check up on who they are, their roles within the company, and their experience in opera. This will give you a feeling of knowing who you're signing for. They won't feel quite so much like strangers. When choosing your rep you can gear it towards both the company's and the panel's leanings. Some singers offer up totally the wrong rep, going to a small, experimental company and offering Handel and bel canto rep. Look at this and plan it well in advance and you can get your preparation done.
So, think of these three things for your coming auditions and you will already be giving yourself a substantial leg-up.
Post written by Stephen Svanholm for The Opera Stage
Exclusive guest blog post for The Opera Stage from international mezzo-soprano Stephanie Weiss.
Many singers in the US are not very familiar with the art of the jump-in, as we don’t have as much opportunity to do this in the US. In my time in Germany, I have become an expert (if one can call it that!) at jumping in, or doing an Einspringer, which I have turned into my German-English (or Denglish) word: Einspringing!
My first Einspringer was at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the house where I was a young artist (or Stipendiatin) through the Opera Foundation. It was my first season there, and they were going on tour to Baden-Baden to perform a concert of the second act of Parsifal and the third act of Die Walküre. One week before the tour, they asked me to be the cover for one of the Blumenmädchen in Parsifal, so I learned it. The night before they were leaving, I got a call from the opera house. I thought they were going to tell me that I was singing in Parsifal. But no, they had a problem and needed someone to sing Gerhilde, one of the Walküren. I had never even heard this music (except for the Bugs Bunny clip), let alone sung it. So, I ran back to get the score before the office closed and raced up to the practice room to bang out my pitches and get it in my voice. I borrowed a recording from someone and listened to it and sang along all night.
The next morning, I had a rehearsal at 11am alone with the coach, with the rest of the girls at 11:30, and then we got on the train at about 1pm to head to Baden-Baden. The next morning, we had rehearsal with Christian Thielemann on the podium. I had never sung with him and was extremely nervous because I had the first entrance in the 3rd Act. It came off without a hitch and I even got a thumbs up! That evening we did the performance which went really well, and I survived my first Einspringer!!!! It was a total adrenaline rush not only to sing this amazing music with the unbelievable Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, but also to have sung this monumental piece having learned it in less than 24 hours. This one was concert version, so there was no staging and I was able to hold my music. The next ones were not so simple!
My next Einspringing adventure was at another opera house, where I was jumping in for the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte. I had sung this role many times, but at each opera house, the dialogue is different. They did the dialogue with almost no cuts and the ladies always interrupt each other. I had one night to learn the dialogue. I got to the rehearsal and they thought because of my name that I was a native German. They quickly learned I was not, but I made it through. There were two lines I could not remember quick enough to cut the others off, so the other two ladies were nice enough to just take them for me. It was an amazing cast and they were so nice and helpful to me by getting me to the right place on the stage and with the dramatic energy. I was so grateful to everyone for being so nice.
Over the years, I have had countless other jumping in experiences. I jumped in for a symphony concert and learned a song cycle overnight. I jumped in for Der Rosenkavalier in two different productions in different cities. In one place, the assistant stage director didn’t know the show and had a hard time telling me when and where to go. Luckily, I knew the show so well that it was not problem. At the other house, they were supposed to have sent me a video to watch in order to learn the staging but the artist office never told me that and it never came. I arrived at the opera house 5 hours before the performance. The assistant director was amazing, knew every detail, and was thrilled to know that I did too. We only had a 45 minute rehearsal. Talk about fast rehearsing!
I also once had heard about a Walküre that was happening at an opera house about an hour away. I was having dinner with some friends, and one said, “Ha, wouldn’t it be awesome if they called you tomorrow to jump in for that?” Well, guess what? They did! It turned out that one year before, I had been called to jump in for three rehearsals of this production because the singer had physically (not vocally) hurt herself and could not walk the staging. So I went and did the rehearsals, and it happened to be with a conductor I had worked with before. The singer recovered from their injury and sang the production. However, in the next run of the production, there were some illnesses in the cast, and I got the call in the morning to sing the show that night.
The greatest jump-in to date for me was for a role that I once covered and never imagined that I would sing again in my lifetime as it is a rarely performed opera. I got a call while I was in the USA to jump in for a show in Germany. I was on the plane 4 hours later and flew over, score in hand! It was amazing to revisit this piece after 8 years of not looking at it. It was a title role, and a big sing. This was definitely the furthest I had ever traveled to ‘spring ein’. It paid off to be only one of 4 people in the entire world who knew the role.
The most important thing about Einspringing is that if you are healthy and have your wits about you, TAKE THEM!!! They can lead to future work. Of the stories I just related, I was rehired at each house for either another jump-in or for a planned engagement. If you do a great job, those companies will keep you in mind for future work!
My advice for Einspringing:
1. Know your capabilities!
Do you have strong nerves? Can you remember a role you sang years ago with barely any notice or rehearsal?
2. Learn your roles well!
That means musically, with regard to language, and ideas of characterization.
When you jump in, you have to adapt quickly to a new interpretation of the score and story. If you are well-prepared and have a clear understanding of your character, it will help you learn the production and deal with the rapid rehearsal process. It is important to be musically exact and well-studied, because you probably won’t meet the conductor until shortly before the show or, sometimes, even only from the stage the second you open your mouth to sing!
3. Be flexible!!
You will be getting quickly on a plane or train, and running into a rehearsal and to the costume fitting and then to makeup very quickly. Go with the flow!
4. Stay calm!
In the midst of unexpected travel, lack of familiarity with the house, and last minute minimal rehearsal, you have to stay calm! It will be a crazy day and you have to keep your concentration to sing well.
5. Make sure you eat!
This sounds silly, but you will be running all over the place and might forget to eat! Make sure you eat something to keep up your energy!
6. Have fun!
You are probably singing one of your favorite or most well-practiced roles, so have fun with it!
Stephanie Weiss is a mezzo-soprano based in Tempe, AZ and Berlin, Germany. She is an Assistant Professor of Voice at Arizona State University and a free-lance singer. This season she will sing Grimgerde in Die Walküre with Oper Leipzig, as well as the world premieres of new song cycles by Daron Hagen and Jonathan Stark. In addition, she is on the voice faculties of the summer programs AIMS in Graz (Austria) and COSI in Sulmona (Italy).