Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Casting & Repertoire: A Case Study

But first, the top 10 reasons I haven't been posting:

10. Running around the country left me dumb as a stump. (Or, as TL taught me, dumm wie Brot)

9. I'm enjoying the unexamined life.

8. The white boards in my office are calling to me.

7. The endless variations of repertoire and casting grids have put my right and left brain so completely at war with one another that gridlock is the result.

6. Sleep or blogging. Guess which wins.

5. I have to re-memorize all those Christmas carols and other holiday songs for this weekend. If I had a memory, I'd be really dangerous...

4. My family is so happy to see me again that they seem to want me to cook. (Go figure; I'm not even good at it.)

3. Did I mention napping?

2. Did you know that if you put an out-of-office message on your email and phone for a month and a half, when you do return, all hell breaks loose?

And the main reason I've ignored the blog for over a week?!?

1. It's tough to write about something that has to be confidential until it's over. Everything I'm doing around the clock right now can't be public until it's done.

Hypothetical Season XYZ

Right now we have about 30 Filene Young Artist candidates who are on the final short list for the summer. (How do you know if you're one of them? If you sang a callback and you haven't recently received an release email that apologizes for not being able to include you in this season, then we're still wrestling with you.)

Why don't we just pick the 18-or-so people that we want and be done with it?

Because the repertoire isn't final. We get closer every day, but there's no future in getting cocky about having it figured out.

OK, so I'm going to try to write about this using a hypothetical scenario. Feeling a little guilty/idiotic for doing this when I should be spending the corresponding amount of time trying to solve this season's actual problems, but there seems to be a lot of curiosity about how we do this. (WARNING: Do not try to extrapolate this scenario into what might happen this summer. it's a deliberate and overt red herring.)

Problem Children

The first thing we do is identify those singers on our final list whose voice types are unusual or specific enough that there are relatively few roles that would be appropriate for them. In our Hypothetical Season, we have a Rossini tenor with precocious facility and range, a male soprano, a budding dramatic soprano, a coloratura soprano, and a lyric mezzo with unusual heft and substance to the mid- and low voice. In addition, we have a couple of light lyric sopranos, a soubrette/coloratura, a dramatic coloratura, a couple of high lyric mezzos, a light lyric tenor, a couple of lyric baritones, and two bass-baritone. These folks in the latter grouping are no less fabulous than their colleagues in the first list; it's just that it's easier to find good roles for them in a larger range of repertoire.

(I sure hope you're still with me, and since I have no way of checking, I'm plowing on.)

Opera X

So we identify an opera that will accommodate the Rossini tenor, the coloratura soprano, a couple of the mezzos, a baritone, and one of the bass-baritones with a real flair for comedy. The first thing to do is to vet this choice with the tenor and soprano - the two whose roles are the most specifically challenging. This process takes a few days, for these singers must find the scores, take a look at the roles, and consult with teachers and mentors. If they get back to us in the affirmative, we then proceed with other offers for this opera simultaneously while beginning to cast Opera Y. If for any reason, Opera X is not a good fit for these specific voice types, we don't proceed; we choose another piece and start over.

Opera Y

Let's assume that Opera X is starting to look good, so we can move on. Opera Y has a great role for the male soprano, the big mezzo, the budding dramatic soprano, and the other bass-baritone. It also provides another coloratura soprano role and one more mezzo role. The same scenario plays out with these offers.


Simultaneous with these opera offers, we're trying to place two multi-singer recitals (requiring balanced casting and singers with a true flair for and interest in recital work), a possible concert project with the National Symphony (which will emerge from the singers whose offers for Operas X, Y & Z are more of the supporting role rather than the featured role variety), and (in recent years) a double cast for our Instant Opera improv project for children. Not only do we have to figure out who is going to sing in these projects, we have to make the rehearsal and performance schedules line up like a damn sudoku puzzle.

Opera Z

We're getting closer. We look at which singers on our final list haven't been accommodated by Opera X or Y. We zero in on Opera Z, with a lovely light lyric soprano role, a lyric tenor opportunity, and a featured role opportunity for the bass-baritone whose Opera Y role was small. On the plus side, Opera Z has a big cast that allows us to bring some of the featured-role singers from Opera X and Y on for some supporting roles.

Hurry Up and Wait

Every one of these steps involves communicating an offer to a singer, then waiting a couple of days (we don't sit around for long, but it's rude to not give a young singer even 48 hours to try something on), then starting in with someone else. Any given singer might receive a series of phone calls or emails as we define each stage - first with a featured role, then with confirmation of a supporting role or a concert/recital, etc.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

So, several weeks have passed, and we're closing in on things. Time to breathe a sign of relief. Uh, no...

Remember the Rossini tenor in Opera X? He just got a call from La Scala. Seems that he might not be coming to Wolf Trap for his second season after all. Is that inconvenient? Yes. Is it equally clear that this is what we hope will happen for our artists? Of course. So, with our blessing (and a little bit of good-natured grumbling from me just so he doesn't get too cocky), we start over.

We decide against uprooting Operas Y & Z - can't think of a new trilogy that solves the same puzzle as well for those people. But we no longer have one of the key voice types for Opera X. So Rossini becomes Donizetti. Another tenor fits well into the new role, the soprano, baritone, and bass transfer over pretty cleanly into their new assignments. The mezzos get the short end of the stick, for we can't find anything equally good for them. So we beef up their other assignments as best as possible, and give them the choice of accepting the revised offer or choosing to wait until the next summer.


OK, so it wasn't hypothetical. I'm not that smart these days. It was 2002, when a planned Comte Ory morphed into Don Pasquale, then was followed by Xerxes and Street Scene.

Either I've shed a bit of light on what we do in December, or I've completely confused my gentle readers. I've left out dozens of corollaries, contingencies and details, and I've oversimplified the sequence.

This little dance we do is maddening and fascinating. I do look forward to its peculiar combination of creativity and limitation, but there are moments in the process during which the obstacles seem intractable. I go into it wanting to make everything work out perfectly for everyone, and that's simply not possible. My persistent naiveté can't retain that lesson from year to year, though, and I have to relearn it the hard way.

It's the disappointments that weigh me down.

I want everyone to have the perfect role. I want there to be no crazy crunch times in people's schedules when they're performing one opera and rehearsing another. I want there to be no one on the short list to whom I have to write in mid-December and give bad news. But as neatly as this puzzle will appear to fit together after we've finished, I will see the ragged edges and glue that holds some of the pieces together. And I will regret not getting to know some of the artists to whom we had to say no.

So, here I am, somewhere in the middle stages of Opera X & Y, and playing around with options for Opera Z. The extracurriculars are resisting falling into place. Some responses are coming in, mostly in the affirmative. We're starting to move into the less-specific voice types. It looks as if we might have between 50 and 60 assignments among all of the different projects to apportion across 18-20 singers. No 11th-hour surprises, but then again, it isn't the 11th hour yet...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2008 Tour: Vienna - Over and Out

Good to be back on home turf, but as Rahree says, it carries its own set of liabilities. There's a singular focus on the road, but back here there are many other responsibilities chipping away at our depleted reserves of energy and attention.

It's all about the tenors today, somehow. Funny how that happens, that a specific voice type ends up gravitating to a day on the audition tour. 5 tenors this afternoon. Go figure.

Audition Tour Bookends

Two of my absolute favorite arias started and ended this tour:

10:20AM in Houston on October 28: Prince Yeletsky's aria ("Ja vas lyublyu") from Pique Dame.
2:20PM in Vienna on November 2o: "Cara sposa" from Handel's Rinaldo.

Blog Envy

Lately, as I catch up with blogs of colleagues who do a lovely job of integrating their work with their lives, I'm envious. As much as I've tried to be open and honest with my writing in this space, I feel keenly the responsibility of writing a blog that bears the title of the organization for which I work. The filters are many and dense.

We've all seen the well-meaning performing arts blogs that are nothing but another form of marketing. Clearly that's not what this medium can do best, and blogs must have a point of view. Finding a way to give a distinctive and readable voice to a vehicle that represents an organization is sometimes an act of futility, for each paragraph must be written then reread knowing that it reflects not on just me, but on an institution. Lately I'm having fantasies of writing whatever I want, with the only filter being the common sense one (there are some things that one should simply never put on the internet:)

Sing for This Lady. I Dare You.

My colleagues have had a little too much fun trying to capture my photo with various instruments of digital torture. We've given an off-color caption (that I dare not reproduce here) to this one. Sing for her if you dare. (I don't really look this peeved in the actual audition room.)

Catching Up

I owe responses to various questions and comments that I haven't addressed. I promise to do so next week. In the meantime, I plan to have some turkey and let the tryptophan work its magic. A few long naps later, I'll be as good as new. You should try it, too.

Warm wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Studio Days 4 & 5 - Cincinnati, Vienna

Studio auditions are officially finished. If you sang for us, you should receive some kind of notification within about a week and a half as to whether we would like to keep you on our finalists list. We were extremely happy to see such a great turnout in this, our second year of this new program, and we wish all of you a happy end to your fall semester!


I forgot to mention in my Philadelphia (Filene Young Artist audition) entry that we set another repertoire record. One "Marie's Lullaby" from Wozzeck and two (count 'em, 2...) renditions of "Lied der Lulu." More Berg than I bargained for, but I'm not complaining!

My colleagues and I agree that one of the things we love most about Studio audition days (aside from the monologues, which I adore...) is the opportunity to hear some of the song repertoire. Studio candidates are allowed to offer a song instead of an aria, and in hearing them I realize how much I miss them.

GKC: The Geographic Kindness Clause.

Unlike our Filene Young Artist auditions (which always include two arias unless your first choice is a scene that lasts more than 6-7 minutes), our Studio auditions typically only involve one aria. Occasionally (depending on many things, not necessarily or only how well the audition is going) we ask for a second sung selection or the monologue.

But even if we've gathered all the information we need from the first aria, we'll sometimes ask for something else if the singer has traveled from a distance for the audition. While it's part of the business to have to show up and sing only 5 minutes, it seems heartless to not allow folks who have spent an entire day traveling from another city to sing another few minutes if we can stay on schedule and still do so.

What does this mean? Please don't read too much or too little into the request f(or the lack of request!) for an additional aria.

Playing This Game

Over on Have a Vegetable, the Shiksa has a frank talk about the crazy world of auditioning. Even though we endlessly counsel, coach, and cajole singers about how to deal with this necessary evil, I'm constantly reminded about how hard it is. During the high audition season it's like having a job interview several times a week for months. It's kind of a miracle that anyone can stay sane. I know I certainly wouldn't have been able to sustain it in my 20's or early 30's. I simply didn't have the self-confidence and strength.

The sheer logistics of transportation hassles and logistics are defeating. Never mind the looming threat of illness or an unshakeable funk. (We all get them, some worse than others.) And assuming that you can stay in one piece mentally and physically, and get there on time, there's rarely a place to warm up or any other simple creature comforts. All of this while wondering how you'll pay the bills and whose apartment you'll crash in. More power to you. All of you.

There Has To Be An Easier Way (for us, too...)

A few colleagues and friends who don't know much about our particular company have recently expressed that they're surprised about our audition tour. They muse that there must be an easier way to cast an opera season than going through 1,000 application forms and over 400 audio CDs, then spending a month on the road.

Sure, there are alternatives. I could just call around to my colleagues who run other young artist programs, conservatories, and small opera companies, and ask them to recommend people. We could only hear singers who have the means to make a trip to come to our theatre. All of this could be done from the comfort of my office.

I also get criticism and frustrated emails from singers who believe that we only hire from a few high-profile young artist programs. (Disclaimer: Yes, there are indeed some singers from those programs during most seasons. If they're hiring some of the best people in the country, wouldn't it be odd if some of those folks didn't end up here?) But if it were true that we were just casting by word of mouth, and the application/audition process was largely a sham, why in the world would we bother? Yes, it's fascinating and exciting sometimes, but it's equally frustrating and exhausting. If we weren't committed to giving everyone a chance, we'd be incredibly stupid to continue to do this.

(OK, sorry for the rant, but I'm tired, choosing the right season repertoire is giving me a headache, and Thanksgiving can't come soon enough.)

Baritone Fatigue

Too many of them. Far too many. And so many of them are good. Really good.

Off Topic

This post on High and Low Notes followed closely on a conversation I had recently about the musical content of memorial services. The gist of the blog post is that the level of the music included in Pavarotti's funeral was not consistent with his profile. While I agree with the objective statement, I think that it's a mistake to draw the conclusion that the two should be equivalent. Memorial services are for the living, not the departed. If the immediate family of a brilliant musician takes comfort from "Eagles' Wings", then so be it.

One More

Audition tour post, that is. Probably on Wednesday as I try to find some closure to this phase and courage to move to the next. Then there will be periodic silences as we sort out things that can't be worked through in public. See you in a couple of days.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

2008 Tour: Philadelphia

Saturday was an extremely dense, long day in Philadelphia, just at the point that fatigue was closing in... I'm not complaining, really, for we heard a lot of fabulous new talent. It's just that I'm craving a good night's sleep, and the 18-hour Philadelphia odyssey was a bit much for this point in the tour. Add the truly frigid temperature of the audition room (never happened before... don't know what that was about...), another poorly planned set of meal breaks, and the looming deadline for carving out a repertoire plan and making some offers, and you have a recipe for mental meltdown.

We've greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear more of some of our best candidates due to our new callback system; but I seem to have made a serious logistical error in planning our days. Seems that most days we didn't get lunch until about 4, which led to a repeated cycle of starving and stuffing that did no one any good. Note to self to fix before next fall. (Actually, all I need to do is mention this once to SSW and she'll make sure I don't forget! She's good at saving me from myself.)

We now have depth in representation of every voice type save one, and we are simply stuffed to overflowing in brilliant singers in two particular voice types. Casting and repertoire selection will take some serious discipline and creative problem-solving. The reality of the complexity of this year's puzzle is hitting me with a sucker punch, and the mental gears are locking.

Thus, this content-free blog post. Just to let you know that we're still kicking, and that I will weigh in this week and next with audition tour wrap-ups. But for today, I'm doing triage with the few functional brain cells I have left.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Callback Game

This is the first tour in which we're including a provision for a callback or 'final' audition for singers that we're seriously considering casting in our 2008 operas. On four of our days so far this fall, we've had no callbacks, and that's been cause for some consternation. It really shouldn't be.

In explaining this, I need to speak frankly and bluntly about the parameters of our casting process and our artist pool. But before you gird your loins for that discussion, consider this.

If you didn't get called back, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have auditioned for us.

A few case studies to illustrate the point.

Today, we're in Cincinnati, at the wonderful University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). I've been coming here for 15 years, and my predecessors haunted CCM long before that.

We heard Anna Christy twice at CCM before making her first Wolf Trap offer.

Nicole Heaston auditioned for us at CCM two years before her successful WT audition at Houston Grand Opera.

In this year's company there were three recent CCM grads: mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman, soprano Bronwen Forbay, and baritone Joshua Jeremiah. Josh auditioned for us during his grad work at Cincinnati but was ultimately hired during his Seattle Opera residency. Bronwen was an anomaly: she was hired after her CCM audition during her DMA degree. Faith sang for us two times during her grad work at CCM before nailing her New York audition in 2005.

The vast majority of the singers we hire have finished their grad work and have participated in multiple young artist / apprenticeship residencies. Does that mean you shouldn't sing for us if you haven't reached that point yet? Obviously not. We screen our applications, and if we granted you an audition, that means that we'd love to get to know you (or have the chance to get to know more about you). There are random Wolf Trappers who pass right through to the finish line on the first audition, but most of them spend a few years trotting in and out of our auditions while we watch them grow.

Moral of the Story: If you didn't get called back, that doesn't mean we didn't like you. (I know that's a triple negative, but I think it's what I mean.)

We decided to use our callback system as an opportunity to answer detailed questions about singers that we feel are truly ready to be part of our company. Other companies use a single aria to discern who's singing well in general, then call back those folks for more information. Since our regular (preliminary) auditions always include two arias (and I believe we're in the minority there), callbacks serve to answer our questions about exactly what kinds of roles our best candidates are suited for.

Back to the tough stuff.

We expect to hire somewhere between 16-20 singers this summer.

Singers are allowed to sing in two Wolf Trap seasons before they have to move on, so in any given year, we're looking at the potential return of singers who've only spent one summer with us. These folks are not grandfathered in - they have to go through the paperwork and the audition process like everyone else. But if they are singing well, and we can find suitable roles for them in our next season's rep, it's likely that they'll return. This year we have 12 singers reauditioning after having already spent one season with us.

If you're feeling brave, you can do the math. Not to scare you off, just to give you perspective. It doesn't mean that it's impossible to get in. After all, these singers came from somewhere. They once did undergraduate and graduate work at a surprisingly large number of different universities and conservatories. They had to start auditioning somewhere, and so do you. Whenever you can get an audition (assuming that you're completely prepared to be heard in a professional setting), take it. The experience is invaluable. Just sing well and don't play the head games that tempt us all.

OK, that's all I have to say about that. Comments welcome.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2008 Tour: Cincinnati.... and the Aria Frequency List!

Drum Roll, please..... The 2008 Audition Tour Aria List!

Click on the link above or go to

The list represents the number of times each aria is listed on this year's applications. Since singers are allowed to change their rep lists, the actual list of arias heard will vary slightly. (The list of opening arias will be compiled after the tour is over.)

No conclusions drawn at this point - there's only enough time tonight to compile and post the lists. Over the next few days I'll compare them with the previous two years' and look for any trends that might be useful.

Everybody Oughta Know a Nerd
(with apologies to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)

If you're just checking in for the first time in a while, be sure not to miss Josh's post on casting. (No, Josh isn't the nerd. Keep reading.)

We're clearly not done with auditions yet, and the repertoire can and probably will change right up until the last day. There's often a mistaken notion that auditioning toward the end of the tour is fruitless. Not so. More times than I'd like to remember we have turned on a dime with no time left to spare. It really wrecks Thanksgiving.

Anyway, there are 10 operas on the most-serious-contenders list right now, from which we will choose a specific combination of 3 or 4. (Four if we do a concert staging in addition to our three productions.) Historically I've labored over Excel spreadsheets and index cards to figure out what combinations of contender operas are possible. Enough of that, say I. Why allow a teenage geek to live in my house if I can't take advantage of it? After all, he'll be in college next year, and I'll really be out of luck.

So, I say to Bob Fincheimer (his nerd alias), how many different permutations are there in such a scenario, and how can I list them all? Then followed a long lecture on the difference between permutations and combinations, involving terms like binomial expansion and php scripting. And 5 minutes later I was gifted with a script that churned out all possible scenarios.

And here we sit in Ohio. In a very large corner hotel room that's bigger than my first apartment. Figuring out which repertoire groupings rise to the top of the current list.

Blessed Variety

First day in Cincinnati, in CCM's lovely Patricia Corbett Theatre. 27 singers, for a total of 54 arias. And here's the thing that has never happened in on entire day of auditioning: There were absolutely no repeats! 54 different arias! I thought I had died and gone to heaven:)

Damn Those People for Being Healthy and Responsible!

Just kidding.

We jam-pack our audition schedule with no breaks, banking on the unfortunate (but usually inevitable...) fact that every day there will be a handful of cancellations due to illness, travel snafus or lack of follow-through. Well, today in Cincinnati, every single appointment was kept. On time, and with bells on. Good for you all! (And shame on us, who had to sprint to the bathroom and back in 90 seconds:)

New York Afterthoughts

Neighbor Ahab

I loved being next door to The Acting Company's rehearsals for Moby Dick. I only knew the TAC from their amazing recording of The Cradle Will Rock, and I'm enough of a theater nerd to get a charge out of sharing a rehearsal room wall.

To Panpipe or Not...

Baritones, make a decision about your panpipe miming during Papageno's "suicide" scene. If you're going to mime, them do it without apologizing, and mark the music so the pianist knows to watch you and respond accordingly. If you're not going to mime, then mark the music to indicate your decision. Otherwise, there's that awkward moment when the pianist doesn't know whether or not to play the first panpipe entrance or wait for you.

Speaking of Awkward... "Ride!"

As in "ridere" (laugh, damn you!) - the terrifying stage direction in Norina's aria. Sopranos, I don't know how to tell you to achieve this, but figure out a way with which you're comfortable to handle the sweet yet maniacal laugh that bridges the arietta and the cabaletta. It can be many many things, but the one thing it can't be is embarrassing to you personally. If you're self-conscious about it, you'll spend half the cabaletta recovering.

Mozart Bait & Switch

We require one aria by Mozart or Handel as part of the 4-aria audition repertoire package. Most applicants meet this requirement. We also allow singers to change their repertoire if they bring an updated list to the audition. Unfortunately, too many folks make a change that eliminates the Mozart/Handel requirement. Don't.

More news from Ohio in a day or two.

2008 Audition Tour Aria Frequency List

By voice type, the number of times an aria appears on the lists submitted by singers who are auditioning. Each singer must submit 4 choices. This list does not reflect the actual arias offered as first choices within the auditions.

41% of the audition pool

The Big Winner (30 times)
Ach ich fühl's

Runner-Up (21 times)
Deh vieni

Ain't it a pretty night
Caro nome
Come scoglio
Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante
Je veux vivre
No word from Tom / I go to him

Adieu notre petite table
Ah je ris (Jewel Song)
Be kind and courteous
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Dearest Mama
Depuis le jour
Donde lieta uscì
Durch Zärtlichkeit
Fire aria
Grossmaechtige Prinzessin
Je marche / Obéissons (Gavotte)
Je suis encor
Oh! quante volte
Quando m'en vo
Quel guardo / So anch'io
Regnava nel silenzio
Sul fil d'un soffio
Tornami a vagghegiar

A vos jeux
Ach ich liebte
Adele's Audition aria
Ah fors'è lui / Sempre libera
Ah! fuggi il traditor
Ah! non credea / Ah non giunge
Amour ranime mon courage
Batti batti
But You Do Not Know this Man
Come now a roundel
Come now a roundel
Da tempeste
Das war sehr gut
Dich teure Halle
Dove sono
Du gai soleil
Elle a fui
Embroidery aria
Glitter and be gay
Gluck das mir verbliebt (Marietta's Lied)
Gold is a fine thing (Silver Aria)
I Want Magic
Il est doux
Les oiseaux dans la charmille
Mi tradì
Non mi dir
Nun eilt herbei
O luce di quest'anima
O wär' ich schon
O zittre nicht
Padre germani addio
Porgi amor
Prendi per me
Sempre libera
Sì mi chiamano Mimì
Song to the Moon (Rusalka)
Steal me
Stridono lassù
Una donna a quindici anni
Willow song

Once or Twice
Addio del passato
Ah chi mi dice mai
Ardon gl’incensi / Spargi (Lucia's mad scene)
Bester Jüngling
Chanson du Rossignol
Come in quest'ora
Come per me sereno
Comme autrefois
Credete al mio dolore
Dawn...Still Darkness (Flight)
Der Hölle Rache
Dis-moi que je suis belle
Einst träumte / Trübe Augen
Emily's Aria (Our Town)
Endless pleasure
Entrance of La Fée (Cendrillon)
Ernani involami
Es gibt ein Reich
Father, I beg you (Tartuffe)
Fiakermilli's Aria (Arabella)
Geme la tortorella
Have peace Jo
Hello! Oh Margaret it's you
How beautiful it is
Hymn to the Sun (The Golden Cockerel)
I Can Smell the Sea Air
In quelle trine morbide
Injurious Hermia
Is This All You Can Bring?
Je suis Titania
John my darling
Joy Beyond Measure
Klänge der Heimat (Czàrdàs)
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch' gegangen
La mamma morta
Le jour
Lied der Lulu
Lisa’s Aria (Queen of Spades)
Love Me Big
Madame Pompous' Aria (Too Many Sopranos)
Marfa's aria (Ivan Sergeich...)
Marie’s Lullaby (Wozzeck)
Martern aller Arten
Mein Herr Marquis (Laughing song)
Meine Lippen, sie kussen so heiss
Morro, ma prima in grazia
No monsieur mon mari
O malheureuse Iphigénie
O mio babbino caro
O sleep
Once I thought (Laurie's Song)
Or sai
Ou va la jeune Hindoue? (Bell song)
Pace, pace mio Dio!
Par le rang / Salut à la France
Pleurez mes yeux
Presentation of the Rose
Presto, amiche, a spasso
Qui la voce
Rita's Aria (A Wedding)
Ruhe sanft
Sabrina's Aria (Colonel Jonathan the Saint)
S'altro che lagrime
Saper vorreste
Scoglio d'immota fronte
Se il padre perdei
Se pietà
Se son vendicata
Sie wollen alle gelt! (Zdenka's Aria)
Tacea la notte / Di tale amor
Tiny's Song
To this we've come
Trahir Vincent
Tu che di gel
Tu che le vanità
Tu la mia stella sei
Un bel dì vedremo
Una voce poco fa
V'adoro pupille
Verdi piante
Volta la terrea
What good would the moon be
Where am i? Dreaming? (Gretel's aria)
Where is the old warm world?
Wo bin ich
You've never seen the winter here

18 % of the audition pool (16% / 2%)

The Big Winner (23 times)
Smanie implacabili

Sein wir wieder gut
Va! laisse couler mes larmes

Give him this orchid
I know a bank
Must the winter come so soon
Nobles Seigneurs salut
Parto parto
Pres des remparts (Seguidilla)
Que fais-tu
Things change Jo
Voi che sapete
Wie du warst

Cruda sorte
Faites-lui mes aveux
Iris hence away
Je vous ecris (Letter scene)
Non piu mesta
Non so più
O ma lyre immortelle
O mio Fernando
Svegliatevi nel core
Una voce poco fa (mezzo)
What a movie

Once or Twice
A l'heure dite, je fuyais
A Quality Love
A Quiet Place
Acerba voluttà
Ah Michele Don't You Know
Ah! mon fils
Al lampo dell'armi
All that gold
Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse
As with Rosey Steps
Cara speme
Che farò
Deh per questo istante
Despair No More Shall Wound Me
Dopo notte
Dove sei
Enfin je suis ici
Estelle’s aria (Miss Havisham’s Fire)
I Am Easily Assimilated
I Do Not Judge You, John
I Was a Constant Faithful Wife
Ich bin Rosine Leckermaul
Il vecchiotto
In uomini
J’ai perdu mon Eurydice
Je vais mourir
L’angue offeso
L'amour vainqueur
Lucidissima face
Madame de la Haltiere's Aria (Cendrillon)
Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
Oblivion soave (Arnalta's Lullaby)
Oh, those faces
Olga's aria (Ya ne sposobna)
Pauline's aria (Podrugi milïye)
Perfect as we are
Scorre il fiumo
Se Romeo
Spero per voi
The empty handed traveler
This journey
Thy hand Belinda / When I am laid in earth
Venti Turbini
Vivi tiranno
Vois sous l'archet (Violin aria)

14% of the audition pool

The Winner (16 times)
Dies Bildnis

10 Times Each
Il mio tesoro
O wie ängstlich
Una furtiva lagrima

Ah lève-toi soleil
Che gelida manina
Here I stand
Kuda kuda (Lenski)
Lonely House
Salut! demeure chaste e pure

A te o cara
Ah mes amis
De' miei bollenti spiriti
Durch die Wälder
En fermant les yeux (La Rêve)
La fleur (Flower song)
Questa o quella
Recondita armonia
Sì ritrovarla
Un aura amorosa

Once or Twice
Ach so fromm
Ah fuyez
Ah la paterna mano
Ah, en fosse intorno al trono
Albert the Good
Amore o grillo
Aria from Dona Francisquita
Au Mont Ida
Celeste Aida
Ch’ella mi creda
Dal labbro il canto
Dalla sua pace
Dein is mein ganzes Herz
Dentro il mio petto
È la solita storia
E lucevan le stelle
Ecco ridente
Fantaisie aux divins mensonges
Flamand's Sonnet (Capriccio)
Forse la soglia attinse
Fra poco a me ricoverò
Frisch zum Kampfe
Fuor del mar
I must with speed amuse her
I’m Like a Bird (Rita)
Ich baue ganz
Im Gegenteil (Tanzmeister)
I'm gettin' tired of travelin' through
It's about the way people is made
Je crois entendre
Jour et nuit
L’angue offeso
La donna è mobile
L'anima ho stanco
Love sounds th’alarm
Love too frequently betrayed
Maybe a Handel aria - if I've found one by then [this is one of my favorites:)]
New York Lights
O Colombina
O fiamma soave
Outside this house
Parmi veder le lagrime
Peter Grimes’ mad scene
Pourquoi me reveiller
Povero Ernesto
Prologue aria from Billy Budd
Quanto è bella
Que les destins prospéres
So there you were (Guardian Angel)
Spirto gentil
Tarquinius does not wait
Vainement ma bien aimée
Vary the song
Vedrommi intorno
Where e'er you walk
Wie eine Rosenknospe (Camille’s Romanza)

18% of the audition pool

The Runaway Winner (29 times)
Hai già vinta la causa

Billy in the Darbies
E fra quest'ansie (Silvio)
Mein Sehnen (Pierrot's Tanzlied)
Papageno's suicide aria

Ah! per sempre
Avant de quitter ces lieux
Largo al factotum
O du mein holder Abendstern
Yeletsky's aria (Ya vas lyublu)

Bella siccome un angelo
Come Paride vezzose
Der Vogelfänger
Donne mie
É sogno?
Io morro ma lieto in core
O Nadir
O vin dissipe la tristesse
Onegin's aria
Per me giunto
Vision fugitive
Votre toast (Toreador)
Warm as the autumn light
When the air sings of summer
Within this frail crucible

Once or Twice
A Red Headed Woman
Aleko's aria (Ves' tabor spit)
Aprite un po'
Choisir! Et pourquoi?
Comme une pâle fleur
Confession from Dead Man Walking
Credo in un Dio crudel
Dearest Amelia
Deh, vieni alla finestra
Di Provenza
Donner / Das Rheingold
Hal's Memory from Plump Jack
Hear me, O Lord
I was never saner
I'll be there...from The Grapes of Wrath
In youth the panting slave
Ja Wehe!
Lieben Hassen
News has a kind of mystery
Non siate ritrosi
Pandolfe's aria from Cendrillon.
Prince Igor (Ni sna ni)
Questo amor
Ragged Man’s aria from Grapes of Wrath
Schaunard's aria
Schicchi’s aria
Scintille, diamant
Se vuol ballare
See the Raging Flames
Si può
Smirnoff's Aria from The Bear
So Dies My Paris Dream (The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken)
Sois Immobile
There was a knight
Tower scene from Pelleas et Melisande
Uzel' Ta Samaja Tat'jana
You’d think a person

9% of the audition pool
(FYI: exactly 50% of these guys characterize themselves as basses, 50% as bass-baritones)

Winner by a Slim Margin! (10 times)
Se vuol ballare

Hear me O Lord
I'm a lonely man Susannah
Madamina (Catalogue aria)
Vecchia zimarra

Aprite un po'
Aris ye subterranean winds
Épouse quelque brave fille
Il lacerato spirito
In diesen heil'gen Hallen
La calunnia
La vendetta
Non più andrai
Piff paff
Vous qui faites l'endormie (Serenade)
Wie schoen ist doch die Musik

Once or Twice
A un dottor della mia sorte
Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge
Aleko's aria (Ves' tabor spit)
Als Büblein klein
Arie Vodnika
Bottom's Dream
Come dal ciel
Come Master
Comment peut-on penser (Sancho’s aria)
Dalle stanze ove Lucia
Demon's Aria
Di Cupido
Di due figli vivea, padre beato
Gremin's aria (Lyubvi vse vozrastï pokornï)
I got plenty o’ nuttin
I rage / O ruddier than the cherry
Il voulait reigner... Maitre miséricordieux
I'm a lonely man Susannah
I'm Fixin to Tell You (Revival Scene)
Je suis le chevalier errant
King Rene's Prayer
Leave me loathsome light
Man that is born of a woman
O beauty
O du mein holder Abendstern
O Isis und Osiris
O tu Palermo
O wie will ich triumphieren
Quand la flamme
Quel torrente
Scintille diamant
Sous les Pieds d'une Femme
Udite o rustici
Umpire’s Song
Vi ravviso
Warm as the autumn light

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Inside Wolf Trap Opera Casting

A guest post from Joshua Winograde

ossia A Semi-Outsider Perspective on an Amazing System

ossia Why You Might Want To Take It All Slightly Less Personally

CHAPTER ONE: What You Maybe Didn’t Know About Wolf Trap

Wolf Trap Opera Company gave me my first job … three times. First, when I was a grad student transitioning into a year-round Young Artist Program I became a Filene Young Artist and sang in five operas and four recitals over the course of two summers. Second, when Wolf Trap commissioned the world premiere of John Musto’s Volpone I was given my first guest artist contract to sing the title role. Third, when I decided to give the exciting world of Young Artist training a whirl as an administrator, Wolf Trap gave me my first “desk job” which was to help create and manage the Wolf Trap Opera Studio.

It would be redundant and a profound understatement to say that I am eternally indebted to this amazing place. Not just for the career opportunities Wolf Trap has given me on every level, but for shaping the way I view this incredible art form. As an artist I was always aware of the good vibe going around the Wolf Trap Opera Company. It’s one of the reason people love coming back: it just feels good to work here. And having now been a staff member, I am floored to see what a well-run and progressive place it is on every level of the whole Foundation. It is traditional where tradition works best, yet can be cutting edge where tradition no longer applies. It is reverent to art and music that has survived the centuries, yet is always willing to expose Monteverdi and Mozart for the rude (lewd?) little devils they could sometimes be. The entire Wolf Trap Foundation has achieved this wonderful balance, and you can see, feel, and hear that special quality in every department. I would venture to say that calling Wolf Trap’s modus operandi “revolutionary” is only a little bit dramatic. (“Progressive” might be more on track, but hey, I’m an opera singer and I tend toward the hyperbolic :)

This is all background information that I felt you should know before I get to opera casting.

CHAPTER TWO: WTOC Casting - Why It Is So Much Harder Than It Needs To Be (In a GOOD Way)

One major example of Wolf Trap’s revolutionary – ok, fine! – progressive approach to the performing arts is the way the Opera Company casts and programs its seasons. To be precise: the Wolf Trap Opera Company works backwards.

Most opera companies choose repertoire, then cast that repertoire with the best matches they can find for each role. That system definitely works, and what’s more, it allows companies to hire directors, conductors, and designers WELL in advance. It also allows companies to start fundraising for specific shows, to plan marketing and outreach strategies, and to get the word out to various target audiences. Wouldn’t that be easier on so many levels? YES!

What I mean by “backwards” is this: WTOC hears hundreds of singers and chooses the repertoire based on whom they’ve heard. That means that the entire season plan can shift on a dime as late as the final singer at 6 PM on the very last day of auditions. And this kind of rollercoaster happens EVERY SEASON!

The following is a slightly fictionalized re-enactment, and any resemblance to actual events is only partially coincidental.

Last year, I remember how beautifully the casting seemed to be falling into place for Hansel and Gretel. KPW heard the perfect Hansel, the perfect Gretel, the perfect Witch, the perfect Father… and then who walked in but Mr. Amazing Bass #1 and Mr. Amazing Bass #2 – basically back to back! Basses are, quite simply, a rare breed and you can never count on hearing very many in any given season. One a day would be a lot!

These TWO fantastic basses walked in, sang the heck out of a couple of arias each, and KPW turned and said, after spending thousands of minutes figuring out how to produce, cast, and market a Humperdinck opera to sell up to 12,000 seats: “I guess we’re doing Magic Flute this year!”

WHAT??? What happened to how perfectly the Hansel could also sing Hermia opposite the Demitrius who would be such a great Guglielmo with the Despina who could sing the heck out of Sandman AND Dewfairy??? And now you wanna do MAGIC FLUTE???? Is it possible to offer Hansel the 2nd Lady, and Gretel the role of Papagena, and 3rd Lady to the Witch? Maybe, but you get my point.

On one hand, choosing rep for a particular person is not a new idea: most major companies like, let’s say HGO, will plan, let’s say, a Traviata around someone like, let’s say, Renee Fleming, who may decide that it is a role she would like to add to her repertoire two or three or six years down the line. But that leaves a LOT of time to find the perfect Alfredo, Germont, and Doctor Grenvil (did I mention I was Doctor Grenvil in Renee’s first Traviata at HGO?). But at Wolf Trap, these decisions are happening in any given January for this coming summer only 5 months away!!!

Now that we have added the Wolf Trap Opera Studio to this casting equation, there is a new piece of the puzzle to fit in. The Studio Artists are cast in small roles and in the chorus of the Barns operas. First and foremost, the Studio Artists as an ensemble MUST populate a wonderful and repertoire-specific chorus. Any small roles or role-studies are perks based on the current readiness of individual Studio applicants.

Let’s use the comparison example of the Cosi-Midsummer-Hansel season that became Volpone-L’Etoile-Flute basically overnight, here is how it all affected the Studio Artist casting:


Studio Artists must sing chorus, so we know we need more or less 3 sopranos, 3 mezzos, 3 tenors, 4 bar/basses
Possible Despina and Alfonso study-roles if a perfect match presents itself

no adult chorus
Puck: smallish guy, lots of acting and dance experience, good rhythm
Snout and Starveling: tenor and baritone


So you can see that in EXAMPLE #1 we have the freedom to choose the Studio Artist with very few limitations other than by voice type.


Soprano Judge, tricky to cast
Baritone Judge, strong high F
Bass Judge, sits on a low G for DAYS
Epicene, funny mezzo who needs to imitate a bass for one page
Castrato, soprano or male-soprano
Nano, bass
Police Capt., baritone, tricky rhythmically
NO chorus

SATB chorus that is much more demanding than Cosi: the women sing REALLY high and the men sing REALLY low … a lot!
Patacha and Zalzal, tenor and high baritone


So you can see that when Mr. Bass #1 and Mr. Bass #2 walked in, the equation shifted dramatically not only for the Filene Young Artists, but for the Studio Artists as well. Now we need to make sure that there are very specific voices in the Studio. Now that we need two baritones and two basses for Volpone, for example, we may no longer be able to offer a spot to a wonderful bass-baritone who would have been a perfect Alfonso study-cover. Also, now that we have the role of Castrato, we can seriously consider a countertenor that we would not have been able to in EXAMPLE #1. I mean, who would ever know that the reason they did or did not get in to the Wolf Trap Opera Studio was because of those two awesome basses?

CHAPTER THREE – Why Am I Writing This?

Having heard about a hundred Studio auditions in the last week, and having another hundred more scheduled for next week, I felt compelled to get these thoughts out. For some reason recently I have been asked the same question by several singers, voice teachers, and administrators: “How does Wolf Trap Opera choose its singers?” which to me translates to “Do you think I/my student/such-and-such singer will get in to Wolf Trap”? The answer can be as short as “I have no idea.” But as you can see, it is nowhere near that simple. I think it does singers good to know some of the insider perspective. In fact, now that I reflect on every time I didn’t get, let’s say, a Figaro that I really wanted, I can just let go of so much frustration, because how would I know if it came down to something as simple as being too tall for the 5’3” Susanna and the 5’7” Count? Or maybe they wanted the Figaro to also sing Escamillo in the same season (a role I am just not right for).

Knowing this about casting in general, and specifically about Wolf Trap Opera Company and Studio, whose repertoire is so tailor-made to each season’s artists, just might help a few of you to let go of what it essentially out of your control. Having said that, what IS in your control is developing the skills needed to audition and perform as best as you can.

Steve Smith, a fantastic New York City-based voice teacher, just wrote a book about what he calls “Whole-istic Singing” which is modeled after holistic medicine. The focus of holistics is to address the small, internal components of any issue rather than to simply treat the symptoms. In other words, DO the right things and the right result will HAPPEN. For example: rather than taking decongestants, cough suppressants, and an anti-inflammatory to mask the symptoms of a cold, the focus should be on sharpening the immune system through nutrition, rest, and stress-reducing. The RESULT will be that the cold doesn’t get you next time, or at the very least that your body gets rid of it quickly. In the long run, it seems to me to be a much more gratifying solution than being hopped up on Theraflu every few months. The same can be said for singing: rather than worrying about the RESULTS – i.e. Did they like me? Did I sound great? Will I get a role? – you should think only about the small things: excellent language, good breathing and vocal technique, connection to the text, having something to say, presenting yourself professionally, etc. Those things are very much IN your control, and I bet you’d be surprised at how much faster the RESULTS roll in.

Has this made any sense? If not, just think of it as five minutes of your time wasted reading the 4 AM ramblings of someone who meant well but got caught up in a tangent.

If it did make sense, cool.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

2008 Tour: New York

We're saying goodbye to 42nd Street this afternoon. Going back home for a day to do some laundry and repack for Cincinnati.

Next week will bring the complete aria list for this year's tour, as well as random reflections from the 200+ auditions we've heard so far. (Papagenos, how do you handle miming those panpipes in the suicide scene? Norinas, what about that crazy laugh before the cabaletta?)

I also hope to have a discussion about our experiment this year with callback auditions. If you sang for us this year, and you have comments on our process, please feel free to email me and tell us what you think (link at right). We toyed with several different ways of doing callbacks and finally settled on a same-day scenario. Did it wreak havoc on travel plans? What other reactions did you have?

Betwixt and Between

This comment was posted earlier in the week: Re: sopranos masquerading as mezzos... some of us really are just young and confused! how can you tell in an audition if we're shirking soprano competition or insecure about high notes, or if we truly are working through it with our teachers? is it ever acceptable to put "zwischenfach" on an application? i personally am teetering on the lyric mezzo-lyric soprano line, but i'm not ready to audition for things as a soprano. does that mean i shouldn't be auditioning for things at all? if someone has everything you're looking for, but isn't quite "fachable" yet, would you still consider hiring them?

Not sure if I can answer this to anyone's satisfaction in a global fashion, for this is a very individual judgment call. And I'm sure not everyone agrees with me. But here goes.

The sopranos that I believe are legitimately passing for mezzos during the young artist phase of their careers are those who will ultimately mature into bona fide dramatic or spinto voices. There's a certain heft, depth, and color of sound in the midvoice that is easily mistaken for mezzo color. And once the voice develops and the top is opened up, there's still an undeniable vocal footprint in the midvoice that has more to do with traditional mezzo "color" than it does with a soprano timbre.

This isn't the most common scenario, though. More often we hear sopranos whose vocal color and weight are light lyric (or even lighter) singing mezzo material. Remember, this is still rather subjective, but these folks don't have the kind of midvoice that will carry through any orchestral texture designed to surround a mezzo role. They often have to dip into full raw chest for anything at or below the lower break. And where a traditional mezzo voice begins to gather excitement at the top of the mezzo range, this faux mezzo voice will do nothing but begin to thin. So everything is out of focus.

In response to a few specific questions posed above:

We can't tell if you're shirking the competition or in the process of working it out with your teacher. And (sorry, but this is coarse and blunt), on a certain level we don't care. If you're putting yourself out there to sing roles (and although we work with emerging artists, we only do it in the context of full roles), you need to have those problems solved.

It's a little odd to put Zwischenfach on a piece of paper, for you do have to categorize yourself somehow for most purposes. But there's nothing wrong with explaining that you're in transition from A to B. Many people do it. Knowing that is very useful, and it really helps fill in some puzzling blanks.

As for whether one should audition during a transition, well, it depends on what you're auditioning for. There are plenty of programs that can easily handle such a scenario. It's really between you and the program in question. As I said, it's a little wonky for us because we assume that the work you're going to do at Wolf Trap is in the context of a particular role. While there are roles that will accommodate this, they are not plentiful. And it's a huge risk to take because we have to assume that you're in relatively stable technical shape, at least enough to sustain a month-long rehearsal and performance period.


By way of Butts in Seats, this illuminating article on Fast Company about incompetent managers. It's not targeted toward the performing arts field, but it's spookily relevant nontheless. Among other warning signs of bad managers such as extreme secrecy (something the opera business is good at), over-sensitivity (artists are never accused of this...) and focus on small tasks (always a good way to avoid the big problems), comes the kicker: long hours.

"[Bad Managers] think this is a brand of heroism but it is probably the single biggest hallmark of incompetence. To work effectively, you must prioritize and you must pace yourself. The manager who boasts of late nights, early mornings and no time off cannot manage himself so you’d better not let him manage anyone else."

Butts in the Seats at first disagrees that this could apply to the arts, then recapitulates. After all, aren't long hours an unavoidable part of our business? Yes, but we are sadly good at "thriving on martyrdom." And although I'm clearly not in favor of abandoning responsibilities in a company that has to run around the clock, expecting everyone who desires a career in the arts to forgo any hope of a life outside the theatre or the concert hall is sick. It's incumbent on us to try to figure out to keep sane and balanced people in our business, not to drive them away.

From Thursday's Writer's Almanac, a particularly appropriate poem by Samuel Hazo. A brief excerpt: (follow link for entire poem: scroll down)

The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures

Call it a tug-of-war between enough and more
than enough, between sufficiency
and greed, between the stay-at-homers
and globe-trotting see-the-worlders.
Like lovers seeking heaven in excess,
the hopelessly insatiable forget
how passion sharpens appetites
that gross indulgence numbs.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Opera in Times Square

Still happily ensconced on 42nd Street, in what otherwise must surely be an opera-free zone. The studios at the New 42 are clean, humane and civilized, and there's a nice deli next door. Occasionally the sprung floors begin to bounce because the workshop of Shrek: The Musical on the floor above us is doing improv, but it's all quite pleasant. Good singing, good colleagues, and the 34-block commute is lifting the temporary fog from my brain.

And who wouldn't be happy with Madame Tussaud's right outside the window? :)

A Friendly Reminder

Thanks to our pianist "Marco "for making our slightly out-of-tune piano sound like a million bucks. He would like to remind all singers out there to please take your music out of those glossy page protectors. Not so good for you if the pianist can't see your music.

Aria Trends

This year's aria list is forthcoming, I promise. Perhaps to be tabulated on the train out of New York this weekend.

For now, I will simply note that there seems to be more variety than in previous years, if not on the actual rep lists themselves then at least in the selections that singers chose as starters. It's not that what's being offered is exotic, just that the repeats aren't as plentiful. Or perhaps it's just my memory, the deficiency of which is legendary...

I did hear a few of my less-common favorites this week: "Au mont Ida" (tenor, from Offenbach's La belle Helene), "Va pure ad altri in braccia" (mezzo, from Mozart's Finta giardiniera), "Love Me Big" (soprano, from Bolcom's McTeague), and "Guardian Angel" (tenor, from Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree).

Pancetta Affumicata

This morning I had a few moments to catch up with Chicago Opera Theater's Brian Dickie, a fellow opera blogger. All lovely except for the bacon:)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Studio Day 3 - New York

Monday was spent listening to candidates for our studio, hearing singers who are doing undergrad study or just beginning a graduate degree. This is tough stuff. Not because these kids aren't talented, but because it takes an entirely different kind of listening and discernment. My hat is off to those folks in university and conservatory who regularly listen to 18-year-olds and have to make any kind of judgment call about who gets into a program, who gets scholarships, etc. It too often feels like a crap shoot at this early age.

Mezzo vs. Soprano

Give me a day or two, and I'll respond to the comments that Sunday's post generated. I'm struggling with some significant mental fatigue and trying to reserve my few moments of clarity for the auditions themselves.

The Shorter List

Some things are falling off the Longest Short List; other things rising toward the top. Here, the newest version. But don't hold me to it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Ariadne auf Naxos
Cosi fan tutte
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Il mondo alla roversa (Galuppi)
Il Mondo della luna (Haydn)
Il Re Teodoro in Venezia (Paisiello)
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
The Rape of Lucretia
Un Giorno di Regno (Verdi)

This list is for The Barns only. The Filene Center is an entirely different animal, with its own very short list. But that's a story for another day.

Where Do These People Come From?

The second in a series of regular postings listing the universities and conservatories from which this year's auditionees hail. If you're considering a career in opera, and you'd like to know where the schools are, this might be of interest.

In each city there are a few people who travel from other parts of the country because they have a date conflict with our auditions in their home area (for example, someone from Rice University traveling to New York because the Houston audition date was inconvenient). I'm not listing those outliers, but rather the schools that line up geographically with each part of the country we visit. I've put an asterisk by the ones that show up with more frequency.

From the Seattle auditions:

Graduate Programs
University of Colorado
University of Kansas
University of Washington

Young Artist Programs
Seattle Opera
Portland Opera

From the Chicago auditions:

Graduate Programs
DePaul University
Indiana University*
Northwestern University*
Roosevelt University (CCPA)
University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music*
University of Colorado
University of Illinois*
University of Michigan
University of Northern Iowa
University of Iowa

Young Artist Programs
Lyric Opera of Chicago*
Chicago Opera Theatre
Forth Worth Opera

From the New York auditions:

(Although many people travel to New York to audition, this list focuses on the institutions in New York and New England. I'll cover the mid-Atlantic and southeast later.)

Undergraduate Programs
Boston Conservatory
Boston University
Columbia University
Eastman School of Music*
Hofstra University
Hunter College
Ithaca College
Manhattan School of Music*
Mannes School of Music
New England Conservatory*
Oberlin College
Penn State University
Queens College
SUNY Binghamton
SUNY Purchase
The Juilliard School*
University of Connecticut
Westminster Choir College of Rider University
Yale University*

Graduate Programs
Bard College Conservatory of Music
Binghamton University
Boston University*
Columbia University
Eastman School of Music*
Juilliard Opera Center* (sometimes classified as a young artist program)
Manhattan School of Music*
Mannes School of Music
New England Conservatory*
The Juilliard School*
Yale University

Young Artist Programs
These aren't geographically limited to the northeast. This is a full list of the YAPs represented by this week's singers.

Connecticut Opera
Florida Grand Opera
Forth Worth Opera
Indianapolis Opera
Metropolitan Opera
Orlando Opera
Pittsburgh Opera
Sarasota Opera
Seattle Opera
Tri-Citis Opera
Virginia Opera

Sono stanca

Hoping to break through this wall of fatigue any minute now. I was counting on the 2-mile commute from the hotel to the audition site to energize me, but it hasn't exactly kicked in...

Back soon.

Back soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

2008 Tour: Chicago

Our Chicago parting shot is the always-stunning Palmer House lobby.

This is a stream of consciousness post written while sitting at the Chicago airport, wishing for some variety of comfort food. But alas, there is no macaroni and cheese at O'Hare.

The further we get into the tour, the more there is to say and the fewer brain cells with which to articulate it. Forgive the rambling.

The Missing Pieces

We heard some really good singing during this Chicago weekend, but some frustrating moments, too. So often we hear folks who have so much going for them yet are missing some crucial piece of the puzzle. I'm going to generalize shamelessly (and with impunity, I hope) about some typical scenarios. Please indulge me, bring your sense of humour, and perhaps find some new resolve in these paragraphs.

Charmless Soubrettes

If you specialize in the “inas” and “ettas” of the opera world, you have possibly more of an extra-musical mandate than some of your colleagues. You must possess an indescribable thing that arguably cannot be taught: charm. Charisma, sparkle, magic. Often your music is not in itself particularly attention-getting. You must get and keep our attention with the sheer magnetism of your personality. Do we hear soubrettes that need a charm infusion? You bet. I’m sure that nerves and inexperience take the edge off the force of your personality. But we must be convinced that during the course of a 3-hour opera, we’d cheer every time Despina came onstage.

Topless Sopranos

If you aspire to singing more than soubrette roles (and for a career that has depth and staying power, this is advisable), then you must get the top of your voice in order. Duh. It’s not that we often hear light sopranos without high notes, it’s just that so very rarely does this top part of the range have the required expressive capability. It’s not enough to have a D. You have to have a D that can turn on a dime and be in turn exciting, sexy, impassioned and wistful. And this is where many ladies in this Fach don’t progress to the next level in their careers.

Trying On the Trousers

Many sopranos masquerade as mezzos. Some for good reasons, some out of fear, some in an ill-advised career move, and a few out of ignorance. What is a good reason? There are (rare, mind you) big force-of-nature soprano voices that are still maturing and aren’t ready to grapple with the spinto soprano rep right out of grad school. A smart teacher guiding you through some mezzo or Zwischenfach material will allow you to refine your linguistic, dramatic, and musical skills while getting some stage experience masquerading as a mezzo. But these ladies are, as I said, rare birds. It’s far more common for a lighter soprano with high note troubles or a soprano who doesn’t like all the competition in her natural Fach to take refuge in mezzo territory. And some get away with it. I’m not judging, really. Just saying that depending on the natural color of your voice, where the passaggio sits, and where the money notes are, you may not get hired as a mezzo. Many folks won’t be able to tell you what’s wrong, but they’ll know that something doesn’t sound quite right. It’s as if you’re a pleasant but out-of-focus picture.


My colleague introduced me to Ham&Cheese, and now it seems ubiquitous. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with your body (read: arms), you might find yourself doing this: Phrase A, right hand out, palm up. Phrase B, left hand out, palm up. Phrases C and D, extend both arms toward the listener and raise. It’s freaky how often this gesture substitutes for real physical integration and communication. Variations on the above include Prosciutto&Brie (a particularly artsy variation) and Pork&Limburger (useful when your character is pissed off.)

Screaming Mimis

Or Barking Baritones. The monikers sound flip and/or mean, but if this is you, please please see yourself and do something about it. We hear singers with absolutely drop-dead-beautiful substantial instruments who never sing below forte. OK, never below mezzo-forte. It’s as if it takes us 10 minutes to get the idea that you could fill a 4,000 seat house if you wanted to. That’s useful, for sure – we certainly aren’t interested in voices that would never get past the footlights. But even the biggest voices in our business aren’t one dynamic and one color all the time. If you can only sing loud, roll up your sleeves and figure out what’s wrong. If you can shape a phrase that contains multiple dynamics and inflections, then for the love of god, do it.

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

(I’m not hip enough to know the Styx song, but my traveling companions are.) The vast majority of the singers in the young artist demographic still haven’t made friends with how to use their bodies onstage. It’s an awfully hard thing to do, and a very common thing to assume (wrongly) that you’ve mastered. Singer after singer comes into the room and spends the entire audition with the brain not connected with the throat not connected to the torso. I have no idea how to tell you to attack this, for I think it’s such an individual thing. Dance class, martial arts, yoga, theatre arts, whatever it takes. Some (very rare) actors and singers are naturals. Watching them is an inspiration, and their physical presence onstage is often as vivid as their voices. If you’re not one of them, don’t despair. You too can inhabit both your body and your character at the same time. But it’s going to take sustained unflinching work, and the job is never going to be done. Yes, there are successful singers who haven’t conquered this obstacle. And maybe you’ll join their ranks if your instrument is world-class and your musicianship is breath-taking. But today’s world is not just about the voice. (Arguably the opera world never was, but misconceptions die hard.) You do not want to saddle yourself with this liability.


Remember Paul Simon and his “nice bright colors?” We are hungry for detail, for vividness. I find myself reverting too often to calling an audition “monochromatic.” I depend on the description too much, but I haven’t found a better way of describing it. Even the most celestial shade of blue is not enough for a palette. And even I wouldn’t want to eat tiramisu every day. (Well, homemade macaroni and cheese, maybe…) We ask for contrasting arias, and that doesn’t mean that you need to do everything well. Go ahead and specialize. But even within a subdivision of your Fach, there is variety to be found. Humor is not mutually exclusive with solemnity, and rage doesn’t preclude wit. Above all, don’t try to play pity. It doesn’t read. It’s our job to read the emotion; it’s yours to find the action and the arc. Pity does not read across the footlights. "Gloom, despair, and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” (Thank you, Hee Haw. Those evenings in front of my grandma’s TV set were not wasted.)

Well, I've ranted my way from Ililinois to New York. Finishing this on the Upper West Side, where at 11:30pm I did score some mac 'n cheese. :)

So happy to be in New York!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Seattle to Chicago

No opera today, just traveling. Thanks to Rahree and her Audition Tour 2008 iPod playlist, Woody Guthrie's Seattle to Chicago took us back to the familiar side of the Mississippi.

Getting ready for the unbroken 8-day stretch of auditions that lies ahead. Todays agenda: to Empty Out the Inside of My Head. The blog is correspondingly content-free. Just pictures. Enjoy.

Sunrise in Seattle

Outside the First Starbucks (with Tully's coffee cups :)

Evening on Lake Michigan - the Pritzker Pavilion

The singing resumes at 10am tomorrow.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2008 Tour: Seattle

Aria Trends

We've only been in three cities so far, but there's been a surprisingly lack of trends in first aria offered. Only 4 arias have been offered by more than one singer, and they are not the ones you'd expect (even though they are all soprano arias): Fire Aria, I Want Magic, Norina's Aria, and Manon's Gavotte. No repeats at all in other voice types.

The repeat items in the list of our follow-up second arias requests are a bit more traditional: Deh vieni (Susanna), Come scoglio, Composer's Aria, the Count's Aria, and oddly enough, Cleopatra's Non disperar.

If you've followed aria frequency lists in previous years, you'll recognize that so far we're not conforming to previous trends. I'm curious to see if this turns around, or if this will be an unconventional year.

Audition Season is Flu/Cold Season

Sad, but true. This is of the worst times of the year for singers, with the possible exception of spring allergy season. We escaped it while we were south, but today, in our first day up north, we had 5 cancellations. I know how tough it is to get and arrange auditions, so I know that people don't cancel lightly. And since everyone in the business advises singers (wisely) not to perform sick and apologize for themselves, cancelling is often the only sane choice.

Monster Mash

I did the old fart thing and stayed at the hotel working last evening while Rahree and CameraMan explored Halloween in Seattle. Today's photo credits, as will often be the case throughout this tour, belong to CameraMan.