You have applied for an opera studio / an ensemble / a place in an agency / a specific role
and – bingo – you’ve been invited to audition. Die deutsche Fassung ist hier
Three seconds of joy and then, „Oh no, audition; what if I mess it up!“
I have now come to the (not at all overly clever and very late) realisation that we isolate the audition process far too much from the rest of the profession: we practise technique for hours on end, build up a repertoire, sing concerts and perhaps even performances, but auditions are something we prefer not to think about at all. Yet auditions are a very important part of our profession, as 90% of jobs are achieved through auditions, at least in the first ten years of our careers.
How can I prepare myself?
It goes without saying that you need to be perfectly prepared for your audition. This includes having the notes for the accompaniment clearly legible and stuck together in the correct order.
Apart from that, as is so often the case, the right mindset is super important. Suppose I’m looking forward to showing my skills in person. In that case, I go in with a positive attitude instead of imagining that „everyone“ (the famous „everyone“!) is just going to criticise and put me down anyway.
Know that theatre and agency managers are also happy about a good audition; nobody is out to sacrifice their lunch break / come to the theatre early / leave late to talk someone into the ground after the audition.
I don’t think it helps to imagine the commission in underwear, as we were sometimes told 40 years ago when mental training was still a foreign concept. Because then we’re only focussing on the Commission again, and that’s exactly what we don’t want. Good mental training can be very helpful here. Classic mental trainers specialised for musicians: Petra Keßler or Magdalena Zabanoff; Sharon Kempton, with her „success coaching“, can also be helpful; you find them all on Google.
We sing the arias best that we have already „felt“ well on stage, where we know exactly why we are singing which phrase. Conversely, this means that I have to prepare my audition arias so that I know at every moment what emotion the phrase carries and where it comes from. The deeper I can immerse myself in the story I want to tell, the less room there is for „wild“ nerves. Besides, there are always places where I have to stay technically cool and concentrate – but you don’t necessarily have to see that in my writing 😉
„Fake it until you make it!“
Just as an aside: in auditions for dance, the candidates are given numbers; in our field, it’s at least by name, and casting from outside the field, as in drama, is impossible in singing. So we are privileged – who would have thought it?
Once you have completed your own preparatory work, the next step comes, and that is my main concern in this article:
AUDITIONING CAN BE REHEARSED!
But no institution has the time or the capacity to schedule enough time for this „event“.
Practice with others
Form a „peer group“ with two colleagues from different vocal disciplines. This group can work together for several weeks, even months. You organise a room for an hour, ask for and pay (!) an accompanist and sing to each other. Every singer gets 20 minutes of attention. Those who don’t sing form „the other side“. Don’t worry that you as Musetta can’t judge a Rocco and vice versa: you will see that this works very well. After all, singers are not only judged and hired by experts…
What can the peer group look like?
- At the university: fellow students you trust
In the opera studio: fellow singers you trust
At the theatre: colleagues who can be discreet
If you don’t belong to an institution: Sing to friends or family. You don’t have to be an expert to realise whether the communication during the performance is good.
Suggestions for the first meeting:
The auditionees introduce themselves by name, just like in the audition. They sing their first aria, and the committee chooses the second aria, possibly another piece and dismisses the candidate. Feedback will be given after the audition.
The criteria for feedback are
- The quality of the voice
Balance of the registers, the vowels
Text comprehensibility / correct pronunciation
EXPRESSION – did I feel addressed? Did I stay with the song or quickly think of something else during the performance?
Suggestions for the following week:
Take the same pieces (at least the same first piece) and make the performers aware with a small hand signal if something is „disturbing“ without interrupting the performance. Make a note of what it was and communicate it afterwards.
At the third meeting:
Take the same repertoire, but this time, you only make hand signals if you lose interest in the performance; the singer then stops and gives feedback on whether he/she can understand the hand signal and tries to fill the piece with more exciting content.
You will quickly realise what is actually essential in the audition. And we all know it takes more effort to sing to people you know well (why?) than strangers. So it’s like jumping in at the deep end and is very helpful to prepare for the „emergency“.
Of course, you can change the way to work with your peer group – the main thing is to start REHEARSING AUDITIONS by getting used to singing for a small group of people.
The day of the audition is here; you have been given the exact information about the time, place, and whether it is a general audition or an audition for a specific role.
If possible, book an overnight stay in the audition town or nearby so you can arrive in peace and quiet, warm up in the hotel and quietly prepare yourself. If you absolutely have to travel on the same day, leave enough of a buffer – delays, especially with the German railway, have made precise planning almost impossible for some time now.
Introduce yourself at the stage entrance, where they should know where the audition is and give you further instructions.
Outfit: „normal“ good, as for a somewhat formal invitation. The dress/suit should not hide your figure but also not overemphasise it. Avoid flashy patterns and big jewellery – it’s about you, not the decoration. Good jeans/Chinos and a good jacket are also possible; it doesn’t have to be a black suit for the gentlemen. High heels: If you can walk well in them, they are okay; otherwise, go for ones with a 4 cm heel.
Hair: Leave your face as accessible as possible. The eyes are the mirror of the soul; during the audition, they should not be covered by strands of hair.
General (informative) audition:
Take your five best arias with you. They should be different in character (i.e. not just slow pieces for lyric sopranos;) and cover different styles and languages. In Central Europe, especially Germany, Austria and Switzerland, people would like to hear Mozart (Gluck can be an alternative for mezzi). Start with an aria in which you feel confident; the commission will choose the rest.
Audition for a specific role:
If you have already outgrown Mozart, they will probably want to hear you for a specific role. You should have at least one aria/scene of the role in question prepared by heart and be able to sing the rest from a score. For roles where there are no arias (Magic Flute ladies, Salome-Jews, Don Carlo-Deputati, Valkyries…), the same „rules“ apply as for general auditions. Try to find an aria that fits the character of the role you are looking for.
After the audition: If an agency organised it, call them and tell them how it went from your point of view – the agency is eager to get your impression.
Even if we sometimes feel our lives depend on this special audition – I would like to cite my dear colleague Kim Begley: „Guys, it’s only opera, not brain surgery“ – the next audition will undoubtedly come up.
Have a good time with your new peer group,
Toitoitoi and see you soon,
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