Friday, October 31, 2008

Lists and Rants

In his recent Auditions Schmauditions post, Chris Foley linked back to his recap of last year's Wolf Trap Opera aria frequency list. In reviewing it, I remembered that Chris had wondered aloud which arias were sung by the singers who ended up being chosen for this year's company.

Here you go. The first selection is the one offered by the singer; the next is/are our follow-up request(s). If you are a singer, please do not infer too much from this list. You should simply always sing what you sing best.

Soprano

  • Tower Aria, Non disperar
  • Quando m'en vo, Marzelline's aria, Comme autrefois, Deh vieni
  • Es gibt ein Reich, Come scoglio
  • Sul fil d'un soffio etesio, Scoglio d’immota fronte, Je veux vivre, Pamina
  • I Want Magic, Come scoglio, Morrai si (from Rodelinda)
  • Zerbinetta's aria
Mezzo
  • Composer's Aria, Non piu mesta, Cara speme
  • Parto, Non piu mesta, Pauline's Aria, Must the Winter Come
  • Que fais-tu, Smanie, Svegliatevi

Tenor

  • Grimes soliloquoy, Fuor del mar, Paterna mano, Lenski
  • Tarquinius’ Ride, Durch die Waelder
  • I must with speed, Salut
  • Recondita armonia, La rivedra nell'estasi
  • The Worm

Baritone

  • Yeletsky, Leonor viens
  • Pierrot's Tanzlied, Ah per sempre
  • Count's Aria, Pierrot's Tanzlied
  • Toreador, Mein Vater

Bass

  • Vi ravviso, Arise ye subterranean winds

Apologia

I'd never be a good politician. I am certainly old enough to have learned to let things roll off me; so the fact that I can't must mean that I am incontrovertibly stupid or just constitutionally incapable of doing so. Therefore, every audition season, I torture myself by reading the various singer forums on the internet. I do so ostensibly because I believe that it helps keep us in touch with the "other side" of the table. But perhaps there's an element of masochism in it, too.

Nevertheless, I respond here to the two main threads of complaint out there right now.

1. Application Fees

Are they a scam? Hardly.

We're determined to travel around the country, hearing singers who could never afford the hundreds of dollars it would take to travel to us. Doing so costs more money than we could ever bring in via application fees. Trust me; no one is getting rich off this. We're flying coach, eating on the cheap, and cutting corners wherever we can. (Wolf Trap is a non-profit, after all.)

Should we refund your money if you don't get an audition?

That would assume that processing and reviewing all of the applications we receive doesn't eat up resources. We spend most of the month of October corresponding with applicants, making sure all of the components of the applications line up, reviewing and comparing, researching (yes, we do look up some of the stuff on your resume) and more. Our interactive online process, beloved by many applicants, does have overhead. Again, we developed it on the cheap, but someone has to pay for the server space. And just in case you think there is an army of Wolf Trap personnel dealing with all of this, please consider that there are 2.5 of us. (2 full-time, 1 part-time)

Furthermore (and more controversially), anything that is completely free is too often abused. How often do you sign up for something that's free and then devalue it? If we didn't charge a modest fee, some singers would apply without giving it much thought - without really checking to see if this is the right program for them, without being fussy about whether or not they met the requirements and sent the accompanying materials, etc. And since we're determined to spend time with every piece of paper that crosses our desks, we can't sustain the hit of having hundreds more applications of the "sure, why not give it a shot" variety.

Keep on flaming. It will build my character, I suppose.

2. Incestuousness

Do all of the top programs gravitate toward the same small pool of singers? There's not a total intersection, but there's a lot. Are we afraid to make a choice that isn't validated by our colleagues? Well, no. Do many of us end up making investments in some of the same singers? Yes, because they're doing the best work. The award and competition acknowledgements, the acceptance into competitive academic and YAP programs - they often mean something real.

Yes, sometimes this is the Emperor's New Clothes. And every year we see it. A singer will surface, and the hype will be pretty intense. And the hype will often get him/her in the door. (Devil's advocate: If you just won something really huge or landed a plum assignment, would it make sense to be denied an audition?) But the hype only gets you that far if you can't deliver. And that's where the incestuousness stops.

So, to end this particular rant, here's a bit of data. A snapshot of the profiles of last year's roster. Do with it what you will.

Profiles of the Twenty FYAs from the 2008 Season
(Note: distinctions about the competitiveness of academic and YAP programs are entirely mine. Subjective but not arbitrary; drawn from about 15 years of observing these programs.)

Academic/Conservatory Background
This year's represented institutions include Juilliard (School and/or Opera Center), Curtis Institute, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Academy of Vocal Arts, Manhattan School of Music, Yale University, Rice University, DePaul University, New England Conservatory, Boston University, Oklahoma City University.

  • 9 participated in the most exclusive, highest-profile university and conservatory programs.
  • 7 participated in other highly-regarded academic training.
  • 4 did not go through the highest tier of undergrad or graduate programs.

Young Artist Programs

  • 15 participated in "big-house" YAPS, including the Met, Houston Grand, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, LA Opera, Seattle Opera, Dallas Opera, Pittsburgh Opera.
  • The average number of summer apprentice-type YAPS (not pay-to-sings) was 2.5. Three singers had done no summer YAPs.

Competitions/Awards

  • 9 had won either significant awards/acknowledgements from the biggest competitions (MONC, London, Sullivan, Cardiff) or top awards from other competitions (Licia-Albanese, Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Eleanor McCollum, Lotte Lenya, and others)

WTOC Audition History

  • 16 of these singers had auditioned for us before. Of those, this was the 3rd (or more) WTOC audition for 11 singers.
  • 4 were new to us.

And Finally

The last volley in the series of audition questions/comments. I probably won't be able to answer any more for a while.

I'm wondering about what repertoire choices show about "holes" in a singer's package. For example, I often sing "Come un'ape" from La Cenerentola (it fits me really well both musically and dramatically), but a colleague told me, "The panel will wonder what's wrong with 'Largo al factotum.'" Likewise I avoided "Hai gia vinta la causa" for years because I knew I didn't sing it as well as other baritones (now I do, HA!), so I listed any of the other main Mozart baritone arias. Will a panel draw conclusions based on exclusions from a rep list, or will they pay attention to the assets of the arias listed?

Not everyone needs to sing "Largo." Not everyone sings it well. Same with the Count. We do draw conclusions based on single exclusions, but only if the exclusions point to a pattern. As in, nothing that includes anything higher than an F above the staff. Or nothing with legato or long line. Or nothing that's anything but ponderous. You should address all pertinent questions about basic technical and dramatic viability, and at the same time you should feel free to skew the material in the direction of your strengths.

Like many singers I've only just recently come into my full voice in my early 30s and know a stellar young artist program could really boost my career, but I wonder if it's still appropriate to be auditioning for young artist programs. Obviously, some programs are more appropriate than others -- ones that only focus solely on masterclasses and scenes and don't afford roles or at least covers won't be terribly helpful to me now. If I feel I have something to gain from a program and a company doesn't list an age limit, how can you tell if you're too old? I feel one is NEVER too old to learn, especially from the best, but I know I'm reaching a point of "If you don't have a career by this point, you probably won't" and that most programs are targeted to singers in their 20s. Thoughts?

We are, none of us, ever too old to learn. So placing a cap on these programs is dicey. However, finding a way to zero in on some sort of demographic group is essential - if not, you end up trying to be all things to all people and doing none of it well. So, we're focused on singers who are no more than a couple of years past the intensive full-time academic or YAP part of their careers. If you finished a grad degree, artist diploma, or lengthy (not summer) YAP within the last 2 years, then you're not too old, no matter when you were born. If, however, you finished all of that more than 3 years ago (even if you've done an annual summer program or gone back for a DMA after many years off), we aren't designed for you. It doesn't mean you won't have a career. Don't give programs like ours that much power. As far as whether or not you've reached the jumping off point, well, we certainly would never have enough information to weigh in on that. Such a distinction is only drawn by you, your mentors, and those professionals who have the benefit of the long view regarding your development and your prospects.

See You from Texas

We arrive in the Lone Star State on election day. The singing begins on November 5. I'll be back then, and daily until it ends on November 22.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim! I have a question regarding the monologue requirement. Is it acceptable to bring a Shakespeare monologue as opposed to a contemporary monologue?

Gert said...

I'm surprised that you're getting people from the YAP at places like the Met. I would have thought that such a programme would take them to a place beyond your YAP.

I see singers graduating from the YAP at ROH, and to a large extent ENO, into contract positions at German houses, or doing the rounds of provincial and seasonal companies as fully fledged artists - and in some cases doing major(ish) roles with major companies.

Kim said...

Answer regarding the monologue: We strongly suggest that you bring a contemporary monologue. I'll explain why later :)

Kim said...

Answer to the YAP question:

Most of the singers who finish at the big-house YAPs do go on pretty quickly to working in international houses. We often work with these singers during a summer during or immediately after their YAP residencies.

A number of them come to Wolf Trap because we offer our singers the ability to sing featured roles in full productions , with both visibility (critical coverage by major media, attendance by visiting artistic colleagues) and significant support (roles particularly suited to them and an optimal rehearsal/preparation environment ). Even though their experiences in the large house YAPs are extraordinarily valuable, the nature of those programs is that they rarely allow these singers to do more than supporting roles on the mainstage. Not a criticism; just an observation - All of these different types of experiences balance and complement one another well in the development of an emerging singer.