audition/performance prep

SECTION II. Repertoire for Auditions (NEW!)

This is something that you have to spend a lot of time working through, experimenting with and getting feedback about. I feel that we need help from those who can hear us as the audience hears us in terms of the fach we will assume and the repertoire choices we make.  We just cannot hear ourselves very clearly.  But not just anybody should be trusted with this "assistant decision-maker" role.  Just because your friends from your studio all get together in a practice room one night and somebody says “Oh my god!  I would die to hear you sing Aida!!” does not, I repeat NOT mean that you should take it to an audition.

Rep ideas really have to be run by teachers and coaches.  Both of whom should be carefully chosen.  How do you choose them?  Well, that’s a topic for another post!

But start here: What can you sing with out becoming terribly tired?  What doesn’t blow you out?  What feels easy?  Remember that there is no glory in singing something super hard badly.  And sounding like you have no voice left when you get to the end of something doesn't make anyone want to hire you. 

Once you and your circle (teacher, coach, trusted friend and pretty much no one else) have decided on a group of arias that work, the next step is to decide upon a strategy for offering them at an audition.  This process is daunting to me, because I have always struggled with trying to get inside the heads of the panel, and wanting desperately to be what they are looking for.  Guess what?  That is really stupid.  And it doesn’t work, and it’s distracting, and it leads to less than committed performances.  So don't do it!  Decide what feels right for you, and be unflaggingly true to yourself.  After all, you are the only you! 

What they're mostly looking for

Not that I'm hiring, but if I had to bet on it, I'd guess that

a.) Most companies want someone who sounds reliable.  Someone consistent.  Someone who doesn't make them nervous.  Someone who they're not biting their fingernails over whether the high notes are going to work on opening night.  And then above and beyond that, and especially for sopranos--because let's face it, there are hundreds of solid sopranos to choose from--
b.) Being interesting on stage has got to be at the top of the list
c.) Then, probably they might have a look and a timbre in mind for the role they are casting

Keep in mind that the only two things you can control are a.) and b.).  So, obviously, we have to spend a lot of time working on our technique to become a skillful and consistent singer whose voice works from top to bottom.  And we have to spend time creating the world of the character whose aria we're singing, and figure out ways to communicate that in the context of an audition.  Which admittedly, is daunting.  The good news is that there are copious acting coaches out there who can work with you to strengthen this skill.


So everyone always says, start with the aria you sing best.

But, presumably, you have a collection of five arias that are the best thing you sing.  So if that’s the case, how do you choose which one to start with?

I’ve heard lots of theories from various knowledgeable people on this.  Here’s a couple of them:

1.     Start with any aria that gives a very broad example of your singing—your biggest and loudest.  From there they can decide to hear something with more delicate singing or coloratura.
2.     Start with an aria from the show for which you are auditioning.
3.     Start with something up-tempo and energetic with lots of personality.
4.     Start with your normal starter, with something from the show on your list, and let them ask for it.

Do any of these make especially good sense to you?  If so, try it at your next audition. See how it goes!

For me, I rarely start with the same piece.  Much of that, however, is because many of my arias are quite new, and I am still getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t. 

My strategy for the audition is always very closely tailored to who the company is and what their season is.  Although I have given up trying to please the panel, I am not above doing a bit of research and asking others who know them to find out a bit about their tastes if I can.  While I am certainly not going to change my entire approach to an aria that has been working well for me, if I know there is a bel-canto specialist on the panel, I may choose to start with one of my favorite bel canto arias that I have received a lot of good feedback about and has been coached within an inch of its life.  If my bel canto aria is not very secure, and the style is not settled and well-coached, I would choose something completely the opposite of bel canto, like my German, for instance.  Also, I may leave the bel canto off the list completely if I am not sure it would be flawless in this circumstance. 
If I know there is someone on the panel who hates Menotti, for instance, I may switch that out for my Carlisle Floyd instead.  You can’t change anything about yourself for anyone, but you can certainly use any knowledge you can glean to tailor the audition in a way that may be favorable to you. 

Listening to your instincts

I’ve made some major mistakes in auditions this year that I’ve really learned from, which I guess is why I’m writing this.  And what I’ve learned is that I have to absolutely obey my instincts when it comes to my repertoire.  When I don’t, things can go horribly wrong.  If I am feeling less than my best, I must start with something high, fast, and loud.  My high voice is what I can rely on implicitly.  Middle can go if I am very tired or becoming sick.  I learned that the super hard way. 

Is something telling you that this aria isn’t going to be great today? Did you get up in the morning and worry about singing it? Then do not for the love of god sing it.  Or call your teacher for some advice.  Make a change to the plan—sing the thing that won’t worry you.

Keeping in mind that one of the most important things to demonstrate to the panel is vocal reliability and consistently beautiful sound, here are a couple questions to ask yourself so that you can make good decisions:

1.     What part of my voice is ALWAYS there, and super reliable unless I am at death’s very door?
2.     What do I have that everyone raves about?  What impresses people the most about my singing?
3.     Usually the answer to both of these questions is the same attribute.

Bam.  You have an audition strategy.  What aria has mostly that attribute?  You have your starter.

Why is the aria on the list?

If you’re like me, you have arias on your list for all sorts of different reasons.  I have an American aria because I love it, and because I think it shows off the American timbre of my voice as well as soft high singing.  I have a French aria because I have to have a French aria, and the one I have chosen shows both middle voice singing and acting.  My German aria is very reliable, and is one that I have no trouble singing in distressing situations.  My Italian arias are super well-known, and I will choose one or the other based on who I know I am competing with.  For instance, if there are a lot of tweety voices singing aria X, I will sing aria X, because I bring something different and more mature to it.  

-It’s all about knowing yourself and your strengths very well. Which is something you can’t know until you have begun auditioning.  You can’t know how your voice, body, psyche will react until you have done it.

- You also have to recognize the ideas that are floating around about the arias you sing.  This is where keeping current with who is singing what, checking out Youtube, reading all the publications can really come in handy. For instance, “Caro nome” has basically a cult following, as does Violetta’s first act aria.  It’s like 9/11—everybody knows where they were the moment they first heard it.  They remember the singer, they remember the details of the melismas and the phrasing, and nothing will ever be as good as that first one they heard, and it was probably Anna Moffo.  If you sing these arias, you have to be very aware of the trends in style and tradition.  For instance, right now, conductors aren’t giving people a lot of rhythmic liberty.  Learn it with a metronome.  You sing that orchestrated recit at the beginning of “Caro nome” out of tempo and take all kinds of time and it will annoy people.  You also have to sing it really, really well, and everything has to be right there.  Or else you should pick a different aria that shows the same stuff.  Which is hard, because it’s so perfect and the length is so right for an audition.  Which leads me to...

- Do not pick things that are really long. 
I rarely think “O quante volte” works in auditions even though it is spell-binding when fabulously sung in concerts.  I used to sing it and pretty much always got the feedback that I should reconsider having it on my list because it was too long.  There are a couple of fachs, however, that pretty much ONLY have long arias.  Like dramatic coloraturas, for instance.  Their lives are tough for many reasons.  However, the solution to their problem is cuts.   I always start “Sempre libera” from “Follie…” and it works very well because you get most of the major stuff.  If someone asks for part of something, I always have a very clear couple of starting spots to offer them.  You could even write that on your rep list: 

Ach ich liebte 
by W.A. Mozart from Die Entführung aus dem Serail
With possible cuts:
from B section “Ach ich liebte”
the repeat of “Doch wie schnell schwand meine freude”

This gives them options and keeps them from feeling like they can’t ask for a second piece because it will take too much time and they may not know the piece well enough to suggest a place to start.  Do not assume the panel would know!  Make it easy for them!

Testing out new arias

Now, I’ve found that my auditions always go best when I have had lots of chances to sing the arias for audiences before offering them in an audition.  There is always a first time to sing something in public, however, and sometimes it has to be in an audition.  However, whenever possible, try them out for someone.  Sing through them for a trusted friend.  To be more specific, it should be some one who is not doing the same audition and who is not in your fach.  Trust me on this one.  It could be a pianist who has had a lot of experience with singers. Really, it could be anyone who is knowledgeable enough to make you nervous enough to simulate an actual audition situation.

One thing I’ve discovered is that I can almost NEVER predict what a panel will ask for as a second aria.  I always think I know, and then they always surprise me.  So I have to be ready for absolutely anything.   And so do you!!! Now go practice!

Next post…picking teachers, coaches, and the afore-mentioned trusted friends!

SECTION I:  Musical Preparation

Okay, now, not that I know how to do this any better than the next soprano, but hey, sometimes, it’s nice to hear how others do things just to keep it fresh.

1.     I always start by listening to as many recorded interpretations as I can find, just to see if the piece seems like a good fit for my voice.  Youtube is my very best friend for this!
2.     Translate
3.     Speak text til it is comfortable and flows
4.     Speak text in rhythm til it is easy (this can take a while)
5.     Speak text in rhythm with the metronome—this is the part that is really crucial for me, if I hope to not sound like a hack.
6.     Play melody with metronome til it’s learned and in my ear
7.     Sing melody on a random vowel with metronome (if its high, an octave down) – I do this more with standard rep than with new music and things that are very text based.  Sometimes it is easier to learn things with the words than just as a line of melody. 
8.     Last stage, sing melody with words and metronome

-I’ve found I can’t stop using the metronome until the music is REALLY learned and in my ear.  I cannot skip the metronome, or everything just gets very wonky and sounds like…well, basically…slow. 

-When I use this method of learning, I find that things are practically memorized by the time I’ve had my first coaching on them.   Of course, It takes a long time to get something REALLY in your voice, so that it is reliable for performances and auditions.

-When I am learning something new, and I am at the point where I’m singing through, I always sing at full voice.   Marking when I am trying to get something into my voice is absolutely counter-productive, so if I have to save for another performance, the best use of my time is speaking the text in rhythm.

Text memorization:

We have all had to learn things very quickly for a last minute performance, and at those times, I write out my text and work on memorization at every point during the course of my day.   It make sure it is with me all day long—in my pocket or purse, and I pull it out and take small chunks.  I walk to work, going over each verse until I can kind of remember them, and people on the street think I am nuts, but who cares!  They are not the ones who have to memorize an operatic role and work a full time job. 
This sounds so weird, but in the shower in the morning, I do a lot of my best memorizing, just going over and over the text and melody in my head or softly singing.   My brain is clear then and I’ve got plenty of energy to focus.  The problem with this method is that you have to have it to a certain point so that you can remember it without a printout of the text to remind you.   So there is a lot of walking around town looking like a crazy person learning the text with the print-out before I get to the shower stage. 

Dramatic Preparation

Coming soon…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is great advice- I do most of it myself, but never thought of using a metronome to set the text properly before singing it in, great idea! I always drag where I shouldn't!

More please!