Monday, March 14, 2016

Audition wisdom (or something like that)

Last week I had the opportunity to chat with a young singer about auditions. Based on our discussion that evening, but expanded greatly, I have a few tips specific to singers at the young professional level in the U.S. This is all my own opinion, based on my experience behind the table. There might be customs and requirements in other situations and locales that contradict what I say here. If there are specific instructions for any particular audition that contradict my recommendations, follow those instructions.


Photo courtesy Cie Peterson (
Know for whom you're singing and why. I think it's a much better plan to present yourself as a total package than as a candidate for one specific role, even if the organization states it's hearing singers for one show only. (But if they do make such a statement, make sure you are appropriate for the opera they're casting!) You want to be considered for all appropriate roles in the next several seasons.

Have all of your audition repertoire in top condition. New arias mustn't look and sound like you've just learned them, and old arias mustn't look and sound like you took them out of moth balls just yesterday for this audition. Plan and practice how you'd present them to a team behind a table five feet away or to a panel in a darkened auditorium.


I'm a big fan of using hit-parade repertoire for auditions. You want to be remembered as the best "Voi che sapete" they heard that day, not as the aria no one knew. If you're not confident you can be the best "Voi che sapete"--or any other default aria from your fach--maybe it's time to rethink some things.

There could be room for an aria from an opera that's not as well known. This is usually reserved for the obligatory aria in English, but if you have an aria from L'Amico Fritz or Edgar that suits you well, use it, and open with it. But make sure every other aria on your list is very well known.

Your repertoire should be appropriate to the roles you can sing today. If you can't sing the entirety of Calaf today without doing yourself a mischief, don't include "Nessun dorma" in your audition rep. Sing it in concerts and at parties all you want, but recall that auditions and performances are two different animals.


Presentation includes everything that affects what the auditioners think of you, from how you walk in to how you dress to how you answer their questions. Remember that questions should get a succinct answer--which should be well rehearsed, because most questions are predictable--but advice from the table should get "I'll talk about that with my teacher/coach/medium/priest/cleaning lady/etc." Remember their job is not to offer you feedback (unless they have stated otherwise), and you rarely gain anything by trying to explain or discuss anything they bring up. They're on a schedule. Just move on to the next aria or a graceful and confident exit.

Some young singers have resumes that look cramped and difficult to read, and include things that aren't useful--older roles, non-opera gigs, irrelevant listings. Remove those and any roles you don't want to sing again, unless there is another reason to keep them (presenting organization, conductor or director, etc.) And remember that the opera world is small--you will be caught in a lie or an exaggeration. Please check your printer to make sure you're not printing your materials on re-purposed paper with other things printed on the back!

There is more than one school of thought about audition wear. I think a singer should wear what makes him/her look good and feel confident and comfortable. Something flattering from all angles and distances. Women, wear pants suits if you like, but I don't think it's necessary to wear pants if you want to be considered for a pants role. Men, wear a tie if you like, but it's not necessary. Nice pants and a blazer are the best option if you skip the tie. (Try to avoid a suit without a tie--it just looks incomplete.) Men and women both, make sure your shoes are appropriate and in good condition. Women, wear makeup that a sane woman executive would wear. You're not Elektra yet. Invest in one or two nice outfits, but don't spend a week's salary on anything.

The smallest things matter. Know exactly what you're going to say when you enter the room. If you have to pay a fee on site, have it ready. Have your audition binder ready. Include only those arias you want to sing today, and have your first selection first in your binder. (There are several different discussions to be had about choosing editions, how audition pianists want to see your book, etc., but that's for another article.) If you're presenting resumes and other materials, have those ready, too. Don't assume you are free from evaluating eyes and ears until you are well out of the building.


The question of nerves often comes up--how to handle nerves during the audition. This is a very individual question, and I can only share what sometimes works for me: Act as if you've already got the job. Earn an Oscar for the performance you give, from beginning to end, as a very confident opera singer who is sure he/she is the very best candidate. Much easier said than done, but it does become less difficult with time.

No matter how you think you did, never let them see you sweat. Keep your composure whether you nailed everything or not. And then forget about it. Move on to the next audition or performance or life experience you are preparing, and don't worry about the audition you've just done. Not so easy, but when you learn to act that way you'll find the process easier.

All of these ideas are the result of interaction with lots of opera singers and opera producers. On many of these points there are differing opinions. I present the viewpoints that make sense to me, and encourage singers to learn of other viewpoints as well. In the absence of specific instructions, make a well-reasoned choice and move forward confidently. 

BONUS: Here's a link to something I published a few years ago after observing a musical theater audition master class.


Unknown said...

Seth Rudetsky comments in auditions for Broadway not to sing what everybody knows OF RECENT VINTAGE. If I was a Baritone I'd walk in with "One More Walk Around The Garden" from Carmelina prepared. Do you think there are any different strategies for musical theater auditions...?

Taminophile said...

Here's a link to something I published a few years ago after observing a musical theater audition masterclass: