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As founder and Artistic Director of the OperaWorks program, Ann Baltz hears hundreds of auditions each year. In her program and in master classes across the country, she teaches performance skills and improvisation technique. This experience, along with her background as an accompanist, coach, and conductor, gives her a unique perspective on what makes a singer stand out. We spoke about auditions from both sides of the table, and tried to get to the core of what makes a lasting impression to a panel.
Can you give us singers a little perspective on what auditions are like from the other side of the table?
Holding auditions is a necessary part of this business. As an auditor, hearing hours upon hours of auditions in different cities is exhausting. In a very short amount of time, we must identify which singers would fit what we’re looking for — vocally, musically, dramatically, physically — and if their stage presence and personality will fit with the rest of the cast.
Given those parameters, it is important that singers bring their authentic selves into the room, perform as if they were on a full stage in costume with sets, be gracious to everyone in the room, and leave knowing they gave 100% of themselves for those five to ten minutes, on that day.
What things stand out to you as making an especially successful audition?
The auditions I remember most over the years are those in which singers performed as though they were in the middle of an opera on a big stage, and those in which singers took risks to perform in a profoundly deep, emotionally expressive way. In both of these kinds of auditions, the singers were totally in the moment and seemed to forget about the audition panel, and the courage to offer that vulnerability in the audition room was breathtaking.
What can singers to do ensure they have that kind of memorable audition?
Make bold choices. Too many singers come in and sing their pieces without having made any musical or dramatic choices at all. Those are the auditions we don’t care about or remember. I want to hear your point of view; I want to know what you think about the music and the words you are singing.
What are some ways singers hinder themselves in an audition situation?
Your audition time is an opportunity to show the panel your professionalism, attention to detail, and attitude in a work environment. It’s fair to assume that what you show us in your audition will carry over into your preparation and performance on the job.
Some things that stand out in a bad way:
- Speaking too quickly, or not enunciating.
- Mispronouncing the title of your aria.
- Saying “For my first piece..” This assumes that we will ask for another! Instead say, “I would like to sing _______.” or “This is _________.”
- Performing in a generic manner, e.g. making no dynamic changes, not knowing what everyword means, gesturing without a reason, not making musical choices.
- Not starting with your strongest aria. At least 50% of the time when I’ve asked for a second piece, it turns out it is the one the singer should have started with.
- Not showing enough contrast in your aria package. Don’t offer all one type of aria; be sure your offerings demonstrate a vocal and dramatic range.
Other than our voice and performance, what makes a difference in the audition room?
Don’t try to shake our hands! Coming up to the table to greet the audition panel is inappropriate and can make you look like an amateur. Mostly, it takes valuable time away from your singing. When you step in to the audition room, the panel is most likely writing up our notes from the previous singer’s audition. Let us finish up as you head to the piano so that we can then give our full attention to you and your performance.
Some singers enter an audition seeking validation. Instead of hoping that everyone in the room will think, “This is The One we have been waiting for", try to view the audition as an opportunity to perform and make music in front of new people. If you can accomplish this attitude shift, you will perform better without feeling like you have to prove something, and we on the panel will feel more open to what you have to offer.
If you are about to offer an especially long aria, something with a cabaletta, a da capo aria, etc., you may want to acknowledge that and ask if we would like you to start in a different place, for the sake of time. This does two things: it tells the panel that you are aware of our time constraints, and it shows that you are confident in your preparation and knowledge of the piece to start anywhere and perform well.
Do you have preferences or advice when it comes to our printed materials?
Your name should be on everything you submit. And when everything has a cohesive design look, with the same font, color scheme, etc., it all looks much more professional. It’s all part of your brand.
Your résumé should be one page, and formatted so that in ten seconds I can see the information I need. The faster I can do that, the more time I have to focus on your performance! Resumes that stand out are the ones where the name is at least 18pt font, some color or design element is included, and a headshot thumbnail is in an upper corner. These design elements say, “I’m invested in this career and I have taken the time to make my materials as interesting as my performances.”
Your headshot should look like you and help us remember who you are after hearing 70-80 singers throughout the course of an audition day. If you have long, curly hair in your headshot you should have long, curly hair at your audition.
A repertoire list of what is being offered for the audition saves a lot of time. It should include your name, the date, and the name of the company for which you are singing.
Any other bits of advice as we head into audition season?
- Start preparing earlier than you think you need to, and...
- Be overly prepared. It cuts way down on the nerves.
- Practice staging your pieces as if you were in the opera so you will have that kinesthetic sense to rely on when you are standing at the piano in an audition room.
- Make a list of all the things you already do well, and read that before your audition.
- When, not if, mistakes happen, recover and finish the piece with no apologies.
- It all comes down to, "You do your job and we will do ours.” Come in prepared, show us your best, and then let it go.
This post originally appeared on the website Sexi Soprano, here.
I have a busy season ahead of me! I'm heading up to New Hampshire on October 22nd as a semi-finalist in Piccola Opera's third annual vocal competition, where I'll be debuting some new arias from my audition package. I'm looking forward to singing up in New England, and checking out the beautiful fall foliage while I'm there!
Next, I'm thrilled to be joining the Washington Master Chorale this season, under the direction of Maestro Thomas Colohan. I've long admired the Chorale for their artistry and exciting programming, and it's so much fun singing with them this year. Check the "Schedule" tab of my site for performance information; our first concert of the season is coming up on October 30th at the Church of the Epiphany in downtown D.C.
I have two fall concerts planned with the Music in McLean concert series, at St. Luke Catholic Church. In November I'll join the St. Luke Festival Choir for a concert, Remembrance and Resurrection, where I'll be performing both Mozart's Laudate dominum, and Exsultate, jubilate. Then in December I'm returning as the soprano soloist for Music in McLean's Messiah Sing concert, a perennial favorite. I'm happy to be back singing such an incredible work!
Lastly, I want to highlight my new gig as a writer for the website Sexi Soprano, a lifestyle magazine for the modern singer. I've been reading the site for a while, which provides great content and a community for emerging opera singers such as myself, and am so happy to have joined the team. I'm focusing on food, career advice, and will be doing some fun video posts as well, so stay tuned!
If you'd like quarterly announcements like these, with performance information and bonus content (behind the scenes pictures, video, etc..) delivered to your inbox, you can sign up to be on my mailing list on the "Contact" tab of my site, here .