Monday, October 20, 2008

More Aria Questions and Audition Guidelines

Catching up with some more questions from the comments section of previous posts - answers from yours truly and my colleague CameraMan:

Recently in an audition (where I offered Tu che di gel, Je veux vivre, Ach ich fuhl's, and Sul fil d'un soffio etesio), I was chastised for offering both the Juliette and the Pamina arias because "everybody sings those [pieces]."I realize that these arias (esp. Pamina's) are sung very often, but I wouldn't categorize either of them as easy and I put a lot of thought and work into picking arias that really show me off. What is your take on this matter? Are you so sick of Ach, ich fuhl's that if someone really sang and acted it well - it still would be an unwise choice? I'm so curious.

These arias are sung a lot because they show a lot. Both can be a minefield of breath control and intonation but can also highlight that you do those things really, really well. That said, because they are done so often, you have to work that much harder to distinguish yourself from other sopranos. Every voice type has its own national anthem, but sing it stunningly and we won't notice. Continue to explore other audition repertoire, though. You may find something that fits equally well that will add more interest to your package and that you can embrace as your own.

The biggest problem with Pamina's aria is not that it's overdone, but that it's far more difficult than most young singers believe it is. We hear it so very often sung under pitch, and without the requisite beautiful legato and sensitive phrasing it demands.

A side note: the arias that actually stand out on this list are Tu che di gel and Sul fil which typically aren't sung by the same voice type. If a person can sing Sul fil well, they probably don't have the heft for Tu che di gel.

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As a lyric mezzo, my struggle is in finding an excellent piece in English. When I am Laid in Earth is currently my English selection, but I feel I could benefit from something more modern. I just haven't found an aria that speaks to me.The rest of my audition package looks like this: Una voce poco fa (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) / Fatime's Aria (Oberon) / Ah! mon fils! (Le Prophete) / Ombra mai fu (Serse) OR Ah, se a morir mi chiama (Lucio Silla)

I don't know what kinds of things speak to you, but here's a start. This is a particular soapbox of mine, because having Must the Winter Come So Soon as the hands-down default English aria for mezzos is just overwhelming.

  • Scorned! Abused! Neglected! Baba the Turk's aria from The Rake's Progress - a wonderful character piece, but sung by mezzos with real vocal chops (in Boosey American Arias anthology
  • Things Change, Jo from Little Women - sweet, lyrical (Perfect as We Are is also lovely, but so long for an audition) (in new Schirmer anthology)
  • I Was a Constant Faithful Wife from Walton's The Bear - good comedy
  • Estella's Aria from Argento's Miss Havisham's Fire (in the Boosey American Arias anthology)
  • Waiting from Harbison's The Great Gatsby (in the new Schirmer anthology)
  • Stay Well from Weill's Lost in the Stars - slightly crossover, but shows true legato, line, and honesty (in new Schirmer anthology)
  • Where is the Son I Never Knew from Musto's Volpone (particularly biased in favor of this one:)

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I also have a question about filling in the French hole in my audition package. My current rep is: Dove sono (Le Nozze di Figaro), Father I beg you (Tartuffe), Tu che di gel sei cinta (Turandot), and Klänge der Heimat (Die Fledermaus).

A few standard suggestions:
  • Micaela's aria
  • Jewel Song
  • Elle a fui from Les contes d'Hoffmann
Slightly less conventional:

  • Invocation a la mort from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld (short)
  • O toi qui prolongeas mes jour from Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride - too long with the recit, but the aria itself is plenty

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  • I know you've posted about this before, but I get confused about how much moving and gesturing I should be doing and whether it's ever okay to just be simple and still. I do pretty well when I'm acting on stage, but auditions are so weird and artificial. I know this is something I need to work on on my own, but I'd love guidelines or warnings.


    Auditions are a separate beast from doing an actual production, and I would equate it more to a recital or concert experience. Always keep proximity to the piano (and your pianist!) and make gestures purposeful. Showing us what the aria is about in your voice and face is always preferrable to having it mimed for us, and being simple and still can be extremely powerful during certain arias.

    Don't feel straight-jacketed, though - just remember that the amount and intensity of the physical gestures need to be in sync with the intensity of the communication from your voice and your face. If you're bouncing all over the place, and your vocalism is pale, all we will notice is the physical movement.

    If you have doubts, sing for friends and colleagues and ask for their feedback or videotape yourself. Are your gestures and movements purposeful (as opposed to random and/or nervous), and are they completely integrated both in quantity and quality to the rest of your perrformance?

    We'll stop one step short of actual guidelines that enumerate how many steps you can take or what size and type of space your gestures circumscribe. For that sort of description can backfire. I've seen plenty of kick-a** auditions that go much further than I would think, and I've seen other unsuccessful auditions that fall well within what we would consider normal limits.


    Photos courtesy of Carol Pratt, from WTOC's 2008 Tales from the Vienna Woods recital.

    9 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you for the mezzo aria suggestions. There are so many fantastic choices.

    Anonymous said...

    First off, thank you so much for answering all of these questions publicly. As a young singer, you're really providing invaluable amounts of information. That being said, I have a question of my own.

    I'm thinking of auditioning with Peter Quint's Act I finale aria "Miles!" from Britten's Turn of the Screw. My only concern is the difficult ensemble aspect of the song. I'm worried that if something big goes wrong with the tricky piano part, that it may throw me for a loop or break my focus during an audition. What are your thoughts on bringing in less common arias with extremely difficult orchestral reductions? On one hand I'm worried that it could fall apart if the pianist isn't familiar with the aria, but on the other hand I'd love to present it at auditions.

    Kristin said...

    An answer to anonymous #2 above, if he wants my opinion in addition to yours.

    I've seen "Miles" (as well as the prologue) work amazingly well in auditions. And yes, Britten (and other modern repertoire, among other things) can be really tricky. When in doubt in mainstage audition situations, I always advise folks to bring their own pianist when offering something off the beaten path that might not be easily sighreadable. Yes, some provided accompanists are amazing and can definitely play anything, but it's not always the case.

    I don't know if WT provides an accompanist or not. However, I know that singers are rarely forced to use the provided one. If a strange aria is your calling card, it might very well be worth the extra bucks that bringing your own pianist would cost for peace of mind.

    MG said...

    I can't tell you how happy I am to see "I was a constant faithful wife" (The Bear) appear on your lists - with the circulation and attention that singers give your blog recommendations, I have no doubt that this aria will start appearing more often, which makes me very happy!

    I've been using it as an English for years and absolutely love it, but because its so seldom done I don't get asked for it as often as I'd like. A lot of people don't know it, and when it has been requested it's usually been one person on the panel "prodding" the others into hearing it as a curioisty.

    I'm happy to say that I've always had a good response to it when I've used it, and I'm happy to be remembered as the singer to "introduce" it to somebody who might not have previously known it..... but having it be more widely known and used can only be a good thing for all of us!

    Now if we could just get the opera done more often too.... :)

    Anonymous said...

    As long as we're all looking to you for the meaning of life..

    I'm a young lyric soprano.. maybe a full lyric but it's too early to say. I'm offering Mi chiamano Mimi, Ain't it a Pretty Night, the Jewel Song, and probably Song to the Moon (because I can't find a great German aria). Can you suggest a Mozart piece that fits that package?? My teacher doesn't want me singing Countess yet.. I know the inas/ettas but they don't fit the rest of the package.. I'm not a Fiordiligi or any of the other dramatic coloratura types.. my coach thinks Ilia might be slightly too small for me too. The closest I've come to a good fit is Elvira, and that's a stretch.

    Any ideas?? This is my first season auditioning for things as a soprano, so I'm basically starting from scratch with rep.. and I want to choose the "right" pieces!! Thanks

    Elizabeth McDonald said...

    I am just discovering your blog today through the Collaborative Piano Blog. Thank you for this fantastic resource for young singers and teachers alike!

    Remind me, does WT accept Canadian singers or do they need a student visa or greencard?

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks Kim for being so helpful.

    I was wondering, what do you listen for in a young singer? Obviously, you're not expecting to hear Sherrill Milnes's voice out of a 21 year old Baritone or Ruth Anne Swenson from a 22 year old Soprano, so when casting for your opera studio what are the most important qualities in a young singers audition? Further, when one auditions for any YAP what should one expect in terms of accompanist and how should that, note previous question, effect ones choice of literature!?

    Anonymous said...

    Question:

    I have been in search of the aforementioned aria for Walton's "The Bear" for some time now and have had no luck. As far as I know, the aria has never been available seperately and the piano/vocal score is out of print. Any suggestions on how or where I might find this???

    Most Sincerely!

    Kim said...

    In response to the comment above regarding Walton's "The Bear." - please contact me at wtoc@wolftrap.org. If you have information that the score truly is out of print, I should be able to get you a copy of the aria.