Monday, December 08, 2008

Nella testa ho un campanello che suonando fa din din...

We are struggling with summer repertoire and calendars that refuse to bend to our will. This is business as usual for anyone who's insane enough to choose singers simultaneously with repertoire. But it's worsened by the severe limitations of our two venues - one that's so small and specific that you have to be very careful not to overextend it, and one that so huge and busy that it's hard to carve out just the right niche.

We're used to this masochistic December exercise, but this year is one of the more challenging I can remember. The whole puzzle is never complete until well after the new year, but by this point the number of variables should be on the decline. Sadly, the options are increasingly daily, and my head just might explode.

Anyway, this too shall pass. I'm just trolling for sympathy (and impunity for the dearth of blog postings....)

Short Attention Span

In the meantime, here's some interesting surfing:

If you're looking for a sartorial summary of this fall's audition tour, visit Rahree's Audition Recap: Fashion Edition.

Chicago Opera Theatre's Brian Dickie has a host of on-the-money comments in his recent "mock" audition blog post.

From Seth Godin, a short post that I read at least five times: The Noise. As attracted as I am to all things Web 2.0, I often feel as if I'm drowning. "The thing is, not all data is equal, and measuring the truth based on volume is almost certain to get you in trouble."

And finally, if you haven't yet stumbled on the YouTube Symphony, you should check it out. I'm curious, skeptical, and jazzed all at the same time. I wish I didn't have a day job (well, not really... that's not something you can joke about these days... but you know what I mean), and I would kick off a YouTube Opera. I can already imagine it. That is, minus the couple thousand hours it would take to implement it...

Since You've Asked

I'm also derelict on responses to blog comments/questions. Let's try to remedy that.

Just curious: if you have a doubts about "real" fach of mezzo, do you ever mentioned in your feedback your doubts? What is the proportions of "true" or "doubtful" mezzo? Voce di donna, seems, impossible to sing being not a true mezzo (as it should be a contralto). If you have to choose, would you prefer for your studio the "true" one but less polished or zwischen with a better technique?

I will only mention our doubts about Fach if asked. We can have our opinions, but we'd be fools to believe that we have the definitive answers based on a 10-minute audition once a year. And the whole thing is a sliding scale. There are plenty of successful mezzos out there who are considered by some to be sopranos-in-disguise. It's a combination of the relative size and projection of the voice in its various registers, where the natural breaks lie, the subjective "color" of the sound, and the way in which it handles the extremes of the mezzo tessitura. As for choices for the Studio, we try not to get too bound up in this with undergraduates. But because our Studio does sing some chorus roles in our operas, we need women who will sing the mezzo line. All we care is that these ladies are self-described mezzos who are singing comfortably and effectively in that register at this moment. What they will become, and whether or not they are emergent lyric or dramatic sopranos doesn't matter.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Who is Singing What: The Aria Frequency List

The fall 2008 version of the List is here. Please forgive any typos/inconsistencies. I'm a little distracted by trying to put together next summer's rep while in a general state of post-audition-tour frazzledness. (OK, I made that up, but it's a good word to have. Frazzlidity? Frazzlation?)

The Framework

315 singers were scheduled for an audition this year.

  • 39% sopranos
  • 16% mezzo-sopranos
  • 2% countertenors
  • 17% tenors
  • 19% baritones
  • 7% basses or bass-baritones
Each singer offers 4 arias in his/her audition, resulting in a sample of 1,260 arias. This list summarizes the frequency with which these selections were offered - not the frequency with which they were chosen during the actual audition.

We require one aria by either Mozart, Handel or Rossini; and one aria in English.


Popular Pamina
Ach ich fühl's (27X)

Blondchen in Second Place
Durch Zärtlichkeit (15X)

10-15 X
Caro nome
Deh vieni
Je veux vivre
No word from Tom / I go to him
Quando m'en vo

5-10 X
Ach ich liebte
Adieu notre petite table
Ah je ris (Jewel Song)
Ain't it a pretty night
Amour ranime mon courage
Be kind and courteous
Chacun le sait
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Come scoglio
Da tempeste
Dearest Mama
Depuis le jour
Der Hölle Rache
Embroidery aria
Glitter and be gay
How beautiful it is
Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante
Je marche / Obéissons (Gavotte)
Je suis encor
O wär' ich schon
Oh! quante volte
Porgi amor
Prendi per me
Presentation of the Rose
Quel guardo / So anch'io
Regnava nel silenzio
Song to the Moon (Rusalka)
Tornami a vagghegiar
Willow song

2-4 X
Adele's Audition aria
Ah fors'è lui / Sempre libera
Ah! fuggi il traditor
Ah! non credea / Ah non giunge
Batti batti
Come now a roundel
Comme autrefois
D’Oreste d’Ajace
Das war sehr gut
Dich teure Halle
Dove sono
Du gai soleil
Einst träumte / Trübe Augen
Elle a fui
Ernani involami
Es gibt ein Reich
Fire aria
Il est doux
In uomini
Joy Beyond Measure, Mother
Klänge der Heimat (Czàrdàs)
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch' gegangen
Lady with a hand mirror
Love me big
Mein Herr Marquis (Laughing song)
Mi tradì
Myself I shall adore
Non mi dir
Nun eilt herbei
O luce di quest'anima
Ombre pallide
Ou va la jeune Hindoue? (Bell song)
Padre germani addio
Par le rang / Salut à la France
Qui la voce
Sì mi chiamano Mimì
Silver Aria
Steal me
Stridono lassù
Sul fil d'un soffio
Tacea la notte / Di tale amor
Tatiana’s letter scene
Tiger! wetze nur die Klauen
To this we've come
Trees on the mountain
Tu che di gel
Un bel dì vedremo
Welche Wonne welche Lust

A vos jeux
All that I ask (Beauty and the Beast - Giannini)
Always through the changing
Barbara! io ben lo so
Bel piacere
Bel raggio
Bester Jüngling
But you do not know this man
Cathedral Aria
Ch’io mi scordi di te...non temer amato bene
Come per me sereno
Cruda sorte
Di, cor mio
Divinités du Styx
E ben altro il mio sogno
Ebben! ne andrò lontana
Emily's Aria from Our Town
Entre l'amour, Teresa (Benvenuto Cellini)
Fair Robin
Fear to the Sinner, Ades, The Tempest
Furie terribili
Gluck das mir verbliebt (Marietta's Lied)
I want magic
I yearn so t' know things (Cold Sassy Tree)
I'm full of happiness
In quelle trine morbide
Injurious Hermia
Iolanta's aria
Je suis Titania
La Petenera (La Marchenera - Torroba)
Lagrimas Mias- Zarzuela
Laurie's Song
Les oiseaux dans la charmille
Lisa’s Aria (Queen of Spades)
Marie's Lullaby - Wozzeck
Meine Lippen Sie Kuessen So Heiss
No solo soy mi nombre
Non disperar
Non, monsieur mon marie
Now then, notebook Florence!
O mio babbino caro
O toi qui prolongeas mes jours
O zittre nicht
Och jaky zal... Ten lasky sen (Bartered Bride)
Or sai
Pleurez mes yeux
Plus de depit, plus de tristesse (Les deux Avares - Gretry)
Sabrina's Aria (Colonel Jonathan the Saint - Argento)
Se tanto piace al cor
Senza mamma
Sventurata (Clorinda)
Tanto amore segreto; Tu che di gel sei cinta
The Fairy Godmother's Aria - Cendrillon
V'adoro pupille
Volta la terrea
What good would the moon be
What is man - The Mother of Us All
Zeffiretti lusinghieri
Zerbinetta's aria


Dorabella & the Composer
Smanie implacabili (16X)
Sein wir wieder gut (13X)

5-10 X
Give him this orchid
Must the winter come so soon
Nobles Seigneurs salut
Non più mesta
Non so più
Parto parto
Que fais-tu
Svegliatevi nel core
Things change Jo
Una voce poco fa
Va! laisse couler mes larmes
Voi che sapete

2-4 X
All'afflitto è dolce il pianto
Connais-tu le pays
Cruda sorte
Deh per questo istante
È amore un ladroncello
Enfin je suis ici
Faites-lui mes aveux
I shall find for you (Lullaby)
Je vous ecris (Letter scene)
L'amour est un ouiseau rebelle (Habanera)
O mio Fernando
Pauline's aria (Podrugi milïye)
Pres des remparts (Seguidilla)
Priva son d'ogni conforto
There is a garden
Thy hand Belinda / When I am laid in earth
Vois sous l'archet (Violin aria)
What a movie
Wie du warst

Acerba voluttà
Ah quel diner (Tipsy Waltz)
Ah! mon fils
Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse
As I was saying
Begbick's Act 1 Aria (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny)
Che farò
Con l'ali di costanza
Cruda furie
Di tanti palpiti
Disprezzata Regina
E destin! Debbo andarmene coraggio! (Musetta's Aria from Leoncavallo's Boheme)
Empio dirò tu sei
I am an actress (Nina's aria)
I do not judge you John
I was standing in a garden
Iris hence away
L'angue offeso mai riposa
Lyubasha's Aria from The Tsar's Bride
Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
Nimmermehr wird mein Herze
Non ha piu che temere
O ma lyre immortelle
O Pallida
Pensa alla patria
Per questa fiamma indomita
Presti omai
Printemps qui commence
Puppet, Why So?
Scherza infida
Sgombra è la sacra selva / Deh! Proteggimi
Spero per voi
Stella del marinar
The empty handed traveler
The Witch's Aria - Haensel und Gretel
Torna di Tito al lato
Tu sola..Deh! tu, deh! tu, bell'anima


2-3 X
I know a bank
J'ai perdu mon Euridice/Che farò senza Euridice
Venti, turbini

Al lampo dell'armi
Chacun à son goût
Cielo! se tu il consenti
Di tanti palpiti
Dolce d'amor compagna
Domero la tua fierezza
Il Padre Adorato
Lucidissima face
Rompo i Lacci
Stille Amare
Svegliatevi nel core
Torna di Tito a lato


Tamino Takes All
Dies Bildnis (23X)

5-10 X
Ah lève-toi soleil
Here I stand
Il mio tesoro
Kuda kuda (Lenski)
Lonely House
New York Lights
O Colombina
O wie ängstlich
Un aura amorosa
Una furtiva lagrima

2-4 X
Addio fiorito asil
Ah fuyez
Ah mes amis
Albert the Good
Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden
Che gelida manina
Dal labbro il canto
De' miei bollenti spiriti
Dein is mein ganzes Herz
Ecco ridente
En fermant les yeux (La Rêve)
Firenze è come un albero
Frisch zum Kampfe
I must with speed amuse her
Ich baue ganz
Im Gegenteil (Tanzmeister)
Jour et nuit
La donna è mobile
La fleur (Flower song)
Miles! (Quint's aria)
Outside this house
Parmi veder le lagrime
Pourquoi me reveiller
Povero Ernesto
Quanto è bella
Questa o quella
Recondita armonia
Salut! demeure chaste e pure
Sì ritrovarla
Tarquinius does not wait
Un momento di contento
Vainement ma bien aimée

Ah la paterna mano
Ah! Je vais l'aimer
Amor ti vieta
Aria of the Worm
Au mont Ida (Judgment of Paris)
Avant de quitter ces lieux
Celeste Aida
Cessa di più resistere
Ch’ella mi creda
Ciel e terra armidi ?
De este apacible rincon de Madrid
Del Destino (Florencia en el Amazonas)
Dentro il mio petto
Di ad Irene
Donna non vidi mai
È la solita storia
Fantaisie aux divins mensonges
Fatto inferno...Pastorello d'un povero armento
Forte e lieto
Fra poco a me ricoverò
Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!
It Ain’t Necessarily so
It's about the way people is made
Je l'ai vue
Love sounds th’alarm
Nessun dorma
Se all'impero
Sotto una quercia parvemi
Svegliatevi nel core
Total Eclipse
Tra sospetti
Tradito schernito
Tu vivi, e punito
Warm as the autumn light
Where e'er you walk


Baritone National Anthems
Hai già vinta la causa (23X)
Avant de quitter ces lieux (17X)

10-15 X
Ah! per sempre
Billy in the Darbies
Largo al factotum
Mein Sehnen (Pierrot's Tanzlied)
Papageno's suicide aria
5-9 times
Come Paride vezzose
E fra quest'ansie (Silvio)
Lieben Hassen
O du mein holder Abendstern
O Nadir
Onegin's aria
Per me giunto / Io morrò
Questo amor
Yeletsky's aria (Ya vas lyublu)

2-4 X
Aprite un po quegli occhi
Bella siccome un angelo
Come un' ape
Deh, vieni alla finestra
Der Vogelfänger
Di Provenza
É sogno?
In youth the panting slave
O vin dissipe la tristesse
Onegin's Second Aria
Schaunard's aria
Sois immobile
Vien Leonora
Warm as the autumn light
When the air sings of summer
Within this frail crucible

Ah! Je Meurs - Don Carlos - Verdi
Blick ich umher'
C'est mon jour supreme
Choa En-lai's aria (Nixon in China)
Clayton McAllister’s aria (Cold Sassy Tree)
Credo in un Dio crudel
Cruda funesta smania
Dieux qui me poursuivez
Do you know the land?
Donne mie
Ein Mädchen
Era eguale la voce (Gianni Schicchi)
Ha! Welch ein Augenblick
Heiterkeit und Fröhlichkeit - Der Wildschütz (Lorzing)
I Can't Tell You (Grapes of Wrath)
Il balen
I'll be there (Grapes of Wrath)
Joseph’s confession
L'onore! Ladri!
Minnie, dalla mia casa son partito
My Friends
News has a kind of mystery
Non più andrai
Non siate ritrosi
Raimbaud's Aria from Le Comte Ory
Riez, Allez, Riez Du Pauvre Ideologue
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo
Scintille, diamant
See the raging flames arise
Si corre dal notaio (Gianni Schicchi)
Single bed blanket (Willie Stark - Floyd)
Snooks Aria from A Wedding (Bolcom)
Soliloquy from Carousel
Spectre infernal
Tomsky's Ballad from The Queen of Spades
Tower Scene Aria from Pelleas et Melisande
Tu sei il cor
Vision fugitive
Voici des roses
Votre toast (Toreador)
Woman, I'll not have your suspicion
Wouldn't you like to be on Broadway


5-7 X
Aprite un po'
Madamina (Catalogue aria)
Vi ravviso
Vous qui faites l'endormie

2-4 X
Arise ye subterranean winds
Come dal ciel
Come Master!
Hear me O Lord
Il lacerato spirito
I'm a lonely man Susannah
In diesen heil'gen Hallen
La calunnia
Non più andrai
O Isis und Osiris
Quand la flamme
Se vuol ballare
Sorge infausta
Vecchia zimarra
Votre Toast

A un dottor della mia sorte
Abendlich strahlt
Boris' Monologue
Dalle stanze ove Lucia
Deh ti ferma
Épouse quelque brave fille
Ha! welch' ein Augenblick!
I miei rampolli femminini
King René’s aria (Gospod' moy)
La vendetta
Le Tambour-Major
Leave me loathsome light
Let things be like they always was
Mein Herr und Gott
O du mein holder Abendstern
O ruddier than the cherry
O tu Palermo
O! du mein holder Abendstern
Pyramus’ monologue
Scintille diamant
Seigneur, rempart et seul soutien
Si la rigeur
Tu Sei il Cor
Udite o rustici
When my cue comes call me
Wie schoen ist doch die Musik

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Systems Failure

As we leave New York, we seem to be suffering from multiple systems failure. I'm not referring to the BSOD that plagued my laptop earlier this week - that was remedied in surprisingly efficient fashion, thanks to terrific IT support from Wolf Trap and a few handy screwdrivers from the tech staff at Carroll Music. The systems failure of which I speak is more personal and invasive than a simple laptop meltdown. I'm just disappointed in my own performance during this year's tour - an increasingly dysfunctional series of dropped balls and missed opportunities.

If you auditioned for us this year, do not despair. We have not compromised the main function of this month, which is to identify the best candidates for next year's roster. It has been an exciting time, and we have (as is typical) identified more wonderful singers than we can hire. By the end of today (the last day of the tour), we will probably have called back about 45 singers who are our group of finalists for 2009. (As a reminder; Studio candidates did not get callbacks, and our selection of Studio Artists will take us into January.)

I have, however, fallen woefully short in my quest for the efficient and linear thinking and action that would’ve helped this month run more smoothly. Somehow, I didn’t find the extra hours needed each day to process what we hear, advance the process of repertoire selection, keep up with the other responsibilities of my job, carry out meetings with colleagues in the cities we visit, and keep up with things like this blog. (I barely Tweeted, too, but somehow I don’t regret that. Addio senza rancor, Twitter.)

I know that many of you follow this blog during the fall audition season, and I apologize for the dearth of material. I have begun churning out this year’s version of the Aria Frequency List, and I promise it within the week. And I have been wrestling for a few days with a rather philosophical post (danger, Will Robinson...) about singing and the opera business – it requires a bit more thought before it crystallizes, so I’m letting it stew just a bit before I foist it upon you.

I Never Travel without my Box

Yes, I do have a slightly unhealthy obsession with organization. I am irrationally proud of my audition gak box, and judging from the reactions of TSA security screeners across the country, I am somewhat justified. (One of the screeners this year wanted to write my 2nd grade teacher to tell her how proud she would’ve been.)

Witness all the detritus of our portable office...

and see what happens to it when it’s corralled into my beautiful plastic box!

It’s a good thing it’s a satisfying process, for packing and unpacking the box twice daily (once to set up in the audition room, and once in the hotel room where all of the data is backed up and integrated) is not for the faint of heart. I tried all month to get my colleagues to embrace the Beauty of the Box but failed miserably.

As always, the New York week was dense. I heard and saw breathtaking performances by the Met (Damnation of Faust) and the New York Festival of Song (The Fugitives), both of which I’ll address later. We caught up with as many colleagues and friends as we could, and we made good process on a newish project for this coming summer. But my audition tour fitness goal came to grief – I ran my 2K in every city up until now, but in spite of optimistically bringing my sneakers, the most exercise I got was lugging the portable office 1.5 miles to the audition site every day. Perhaps that counts.

Rahree’s back and neck protested at being required to haul around 50 pounds of luggage, and I’m indebted to her for finding a great spa with Swedish massage just a block from the hotel. CameraMan suffered from the plague this week, channeling his inner Barry White voice. I only had to deal with what they call my Transportation Allergy (I sneeze incessantly on planes but nowhere else) and insufferable crankiness (which I hope doesn’t show in the audition room – actually, the grumpier I get, the more irritating perky I seem to appear in the room…). Lunch hours were spent either meeting with colleagues or splayed in a variety of restorative yoga poses.

Unpack Your Adjectives

The process of translating aria performances into descriptive language is a challenging one. Every time I face it down, I wonder if I’ll remember how. But it’s like riding a bike, I guess.

The goal is to describe a singer fully enough to be able to relive and reconstruct his/her performance later, but not so self-consciously that too much of my brain is devoted to coming up with words. Keeping as much attention as possible centered on the performance while simultaneously describing it. It has to be simultaneous, for memory is quickly obliterated when hearing 500 singers.

Rahree mentioned a few days ago that she seemed to be running out of adjectives. A friend suggested that she revisit Schoolhouse Rock. Well, it seems I really missed out, for I am too old for School house Rock, and my kids are too young. But a few minutes of Unpacking our Adjectives at lunchtime gave us a new arsenal of musical descriptors: Soggy, Foggy, Stinky, Sunny, Brainy, Hairy, Scary, Prickly, Bumpy, Flowery, and.. oh yes… Flat :(

So today we are in Philly, holding 7 hours of auditions in a rehearsal room where somehow there is no heat. The left wall abuts the outside, where it is just slightly below freezing. Quotes of the Day: "When it's this cold I'm used to having a beer and a hot dog and watching men in spandex." (Rahree) "I'm not used to seeing my breath when I sing." (A Wise Bass)

And now the crunching begins. Much tougher this year, and perhaps that’s why I’m cranky. Last year we had 12 singers returning from a previous summer with us – that meant we were really well-acquainted with the strengths of almost two-thirds of our roster. This year, it is much more wide open, for as these things go in cycles, fewer singers are eligible to return. A good thing for applicants, for we have a bigger opportunity to hire new people; but a bigger challenge for us to determine exactly which roles are right for folks who have only sung for us for about 15 minutes.

I need a couple of days to sleep and veg, and I am optimistic that clarity will return. Then we’ll start working on repertoire and calendar in earnest. Back at you over the next couple of weeks with final audition season posts. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Studio Auditions - Aria List

I should know better than to try to churn out data while I'm on the road, saddled by a technology curse. Please find below a corrected list of WTOS aria offerings.


At 3pm, my laptop turned into a doorstop. I'm trying not to curse it, but 9 hours later I think I might have managed to fix it with a screwdriver. Inconceivable. I'm geeky but not handy. Let's hope it lasts.

For those who are curious about such things, here are the arias offered by the singers who auditioned for this year's Wolf Trap Opera Studio. Since we offer the opportunity to bring arias and/or art songs, you'll find both of the above mixed in the list.

Ach ich fuehl's
Ah non credea
Ain't it a Pretty Night
Chacun le sait
Come now, a roundel
Come scoglio (2X)
Dearest Mama (2X)
Deep River
Donde lieta uscì(2X)
Du gai soleil (3X)
Durch Zärtlichkeit (3X)
Einst träumte
Fire Aria
Giusto o Dio
Hier soir
I Want Magic (2X)
Injurious Hermia
Io sono l'umile ancella
Je dis
Je suis encor (3X)
Je veux vivre (2X)
La fioraia fiorentina
O luce di quest'anima
O mio babbino caro
Ouvre ton coeur
Quando m'en vo (2X)
Silver aria (3X)
Song to the Moon (2X)
Steal Me
Sul fil d’un soffio(2X)
Una voce poco fa
V'adoro pupille
Willow Song

Cruda sorte
Die stille Stadt
Iris hence away
Must the Winter
Non so più (2X)
Que fais-tu (3X)
Smanie (3X)
Sta nell'ircana
Va (4X)
Vedrai carino
Voce di donna
When I am Laid in Earth

Ah, je vais l'aimer
Dei miei bollenti spiriti
Dies Bildnis (2X)
È serbato, a questo acciaro
Ecco ridente
Here I Stand (3X)
Il mio tesoro (4X)
La fleur
O Colombina
O wie aengstlich
Prologue from Turn of the Screw
Sanctus from St. Cecilia Mass
This is my box
Una furtiva lagrima

Bella siccome un angelo (2X)
Churchyard's agog
Comme une pale fleur
Don Quichotte à Dulcinèe
È sogno
Count's aria (3X)
I've Got a Ram, Goliath
Lieben, Hassen
Look, through the port
Pierrot's Tanzlied
Racks, Gibbets, Sword and Fire
Se vuol ballare
The Vagabond

Bass & Bass-baritone
L'empio sleale
Money, O!
Non più andrai
Vi ravviso

Monday, November 17, 2008

Days 8-10: Back in the East

The two days back in home territory at Wolf Trap flew by. As we heard 12 hours of auditions, furiously did laundry, repacked, and ran off to catch the train, my wise husband asked what kind of idiot made up this masochistic audition schedule. Uh...

At least this time, it was the train. So civilized somehow. I worked for about 45 minutes, then Rahree and I gave up the last of our brain cells to a trashy movie. (I never saw the TV show, so I thought I'd be totally lost. But thanks to my daughter's description and the handy 5-minute recap at the top of the movie, I was fine.)

Studio Auditions - Wrapping Up!

Saturday's studio singer auditions were held in our beautiful but acoustically dry Lecture Hall. After yesterday's stairwell/bathroom acoustics in Chicago, it was a transition. It's never completely artistically satisfying to sing in the Lecture Hall, but at last we could listen with confidence and clarity. It's easier to listen in a naked acoustic and imagine adding a little enhancement and warmth to the sound than it is to mentally subtract from what you hear.

As of 6pm today (Monday), we've wrapped up the Studio audition portion of the tour. Now it's all about waiting. In order to figure out to whom we can make WTOS offers, we have to wait until the repertoire is chosen and confirmed.

We've seen a wide variety of opening aria choices in this round. If I have time tonight, I'll churn out the audition rep list from these Studio auditions. And, by the end of the week, the aria frequency list for the Filene Young Artist auditions. In the meantime, visit Rahree for comments on some of the refreshing arias, art songs, and monologues we've heard.

And if this is the end of the Studio auditions, then it's the end of the monologues. I know that the singers won't mourn this passing, but we do. Truly, some of these 1-minute monologues are entertaining. Some are quite moving. But that's not why we do it. Particularly with young singers, the sheer physical and technical requirements of singing are overwhelming. During an aria, we may find the singer emotionally flat and not particularly communicative. When we ask for the monologue, we have a chance to observe the singer without the newish and often overwhelming sword of vocal technique hanging over his head. And often, the result is illuminating.

More tomorrow - having a hard time keeping up with blogging this time around. My apologies, for I know it's when many of you are following. This is proving to be a difficult year to manage. Often, by now, some repertoire options are suggesting themselves, and that is not the case. That, combined with the wickedly condensed travel schedule, is wreaking a little havoc with our minds and bodies. But being in one city for 5 days should help tremendously. Back at you soon.


A note for New York singers who are trying to find us at Carroll Studios this week:

Walk west on 55th St and cross over 11th Ave.

Walk on the right side of the street until the sidewalk is blocked by a barricade.

At that point, #625 is on your right.

Go up a few stairs, and the elevator is on your right.

We've been relocated to STUDIO #4.

(If you get lost, the gentlemen working in the garage next door have been fairly good-humoured about pointing people in the right direction:)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Days 5-7: The Midwest

Cincinnati and Chicago have passed in a bit of a blur. Completely satisfying from a purely artistic point of view, but otherwise kind of irritating.

First, the satisfying part.

We're hearing a range of singers, some of whom are really intriguing candidates for this year's rosters - both Filene Young Artist and Studio. And there are others we're meeting for the first time and hoping to hear again in a year or two. We're about halfway through the process, and if the east coast portion of the tour is as rewarding, we'll have trouble zeroing in on just a few people.

Now, the current challenge: The annual search for a decent audition space.

Our south and west options were pretty standard. All 3 were rehearsal rooms in opera houses. We're all familiar with how that feels, looks, and sounds. But our midwest choices were far more problematic. Wednesday's space was a little live, but within normal parameters. The challenge there was that the lighting was so dark that it was very hard to get a clear sense of people. Kind of like watching opera through a scrim. We manage, but it takes a lot more effort than it should.

Thursday and Friday have been more difficult, though. Recently, we've been auditioning at Roosevelt University; but that space isn't available on weekdays. And since the crazy airline puzzle couldn't land us here on a weekend, we ended up revisiting a space we haven't used in years. It's right on Michigan Avenue, with plenty of natural light, and wonderfully attentive rental staff who furnish us with tables, extension cords, all the creature comforts. The downside? About a 3-second reverb time and a tendency to unmercifully amplify all the upper partials of the sound.

Singers initially love the fact that everyone sounds huge in here. But quickly, some grapple with the fact that once the sound gets rolling around, it's very difficult to zero in on pitch. Simply, hard to hear.

For us, it is the aural equivalent of squinting for 2 days. Zeroing in on the core of the sound and ignoring the noise around it. We are mentally exhausted.

Random Thoughts

  • Forgot to mention the delightful Ethiopian cabbie we had in LA. So entertaining. Adored the Kennedys, George W, George HW, Obama, and Sarah Palin. And tried (unsuccessfully) to get me to sing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."

  • I love these old Chicago buildings. This one comes complete with elevator operators - something I grew up with in the old department buildings in the 60's but have rarely seen since.

  • Rahree's Good Luck Umbrella worked so well until today. No rain at all for the first week and a half! And all because she packed a big honking monster umbrella and hauled it around the country. But alas, its charm has expired.

  • Resumes are looking pretty good this year. But please please use columns! In addition to reading the information horizontally, it's extraordinarily useful to scan vertically for companies, roles, etc. Having the role/opera/company/date in an unbroken line of text is not a good idea.

  • A thought for tenors on "Here I Stand" from The Rake's Progress: Stay with the postlude! I was reminded again recently (in a good way) that if you don't drop energy and focus after releasing that final F, the spoken line at the end is so much easier to deliver.

  • Sopranos who aspire to offer Zerbinetta: Do as one of our recent singers did - articulate the 4 sections as options on the rep list: 1. Grossmaechtige Prinzessin / 2. Noch glaub'ich / 3. So war es mit Pagliazzo / 4. Als ein Gott.

More this weekend from Vienna.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cincinnati to Chicago: A Comedy of Errors

In which a petite puppet-master in the reflects on her trio of travelers...and the ease in which they're moving through their annual pilgrimage. As her thoughts circle, the wind changes do the fates of her travelers...)


The alarms go off at 7:00 a.m. In three hotel rooms in Cincinnati, the weary travelers groan in fatigued unison, their bodies convinced that the hour is really 4:00 a.m. ("Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?") Shaking off the dregs of Pacific Standard Time, they begin their journey. ("Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go")

Act 1: A Music Conservatory

Flash VonWhineman, Crabby McGrumperson and Moody Bitcher-san arrive at the recital hall ("Art is calling for me") to find:

  • the doors firmly locked
  • the lights out
  • no table upon which to rest all of the audition-related gak
A helpful employee opens the room and ransoms a table. But then... piano is stuck. Too many bleachers in the black box, not enough room to get by. The helpful, and now more than slightly annoyed employee summons a production team (Anvil Chorus) who proceeds to move the bleachers. All of them. Almost right up Grumpy's backside.

Finally, piano, table and gak in place, (along with some beautiful lattes provided by a tall blond mezzo) auditions begin. ("The best of all possible worlds")

Act 2, Scene 1: Business as usual?

Auditions are going swimmingly until just before noon. ("Di piacer mi balza il core") Suddenly, Flash, Crabby and Moody's cell phones all ring simultaneously. While Moody's call is strangely from a rebirthing center in California (hmmmm....), both Grumpy and Crabby's calls are from the airline. Flight Cancelled. Full Stop. Abandon hope, all ye who hope to fly to Chicago this evening. ("En vain pour éviter")

Alternate flights are upwards of $2,500...approximately half the lighting budget for our entire season. Our frugal travelers look for other options. Throughout the lunch break:
  • A car is rented and cancelled.
  • Crabby hurls curses at automated airline operators.
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (courtesy of a frat selling them for a buck in the lobby) are inhaled.
  • Hotel reservations are rechecked for non-smoking-ness (cue: foreshadowing)
  • And an alternate flight is arranged... kinda.

Act 2, Scene 2: Table Tennis

The travelers are bounced between two airline terminals, in a desperate attempt to get their fannies (and luggage) on a flight. Batted between one airline to another, and after some of the worst customer service in the history of the western world "(Be Kind and Courteous"), they're finally assigned to a flight (which has not been cancelled, but has been delayed for an hour.)

Our travelers rush through security, only to find that they've been marked as foul: every piece of gak is checked, looked at, tested, and painstakingly repacked... as their flight prepares to leave. (Obviously being bounced around by canceled flights is an indicator of untrustworthiness.) Will they make it in time?

Interlude: Dance of the Security Screeners

Flash wins new opera fans! At airports all over, by repeatedly and patiently explaining each piece of electronic gak in her carry-on, she spreads the excitement of opera to TSA agents all over the country, building the opera audience one security gate at a time. The extra-special security check at CVG gives her an optimal chance at winning over another opera convert.

Act 2, Scene 2: Hellride

Ensconced on the plane, the travelers look forward to a safe arrival in Chicago. After a brief 45-minute flight the plane approaches the runway in rain and heavy fog. ("Mitt Gewitter und Sturm") Oops. There's another plane on the runway.

Averting disaster, the pilot pulls out of the descent and climbs back into the air. (Arriere!") Crabby's seatmate notices her white knuckles, and strikes up a conversation about travel, wedding rings and opera. (Giving Crabby her chance to convert one for the cause!) After circling for another 30 minutes the plane skids to a stop just before it's hit by another plane. Crabby resolves to go back to church and tithe if she lives to see her hotel room in Chicago.

Moody's developing head cold, Crabby's stiff neck, and Flash's exacerbated periodic sweating building to a crescendo as they deplane at O'Hare. ("Nella testa ho un campanello che fa din din din...)

Act 3: A Storied Chicago Hotel, an Icon of Civility. Or Not.

Beaten down by their travels, Flash, Moody and Crabby finally arrive at their plush downtown Chicago hotel. Hoping for some respite from the beastly day, they check in with the 12-year-old Desk Attendant. She cheerfully informs the downtrodden trio that the hotel has only smoking rooms available. ("La fumée, qui vers les cieux...")

Flashing back to Act 2 (and remembering the smoking rooms foisted on them in Houston, smelling up their clothes for the entire trip), Crabby dives over the counter to not-so -politely inform the Desk Attendant that a specific request for non-smoking rooms had been confirmed earlier that day. ("Is This All You Can Bring?") Chaos ensues, until Moody gets another call from the rebirthing center, hands the phone to the desk attendant and says "it's for you." ("To This We've Come")

Armed with restaurant vouchers and a promise for smoke-free accommodations in an hour and a half, the trio settles in at the bar for booze and appetizers... copious appetizers. They wait. And wait. ("O vin, dissipe la tristesse") And write this blog.

Eventually, the hotel gives up its rooms. One by one. The final one falls at 12:20 EST. Seven hours and 5 minutes after climbing into the cab in Cincinnati, 294 miles away.

Next time we're driving.


A special post, co-authored by Rahree, CameraMan & KPW. Come sing for us and make us happy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 4: San Francisco

We were in War Memorial's chorus rehearsal room for yesterday's auditions. First time in a long time we've actually held them in the opera house, and it was great to be there. Good friends rehearsing for Boheme down the hall and a matinee of Elixir down on the stage.

Next year we'll have to think about trying to squeeze Studio auditions into San Francisco if we can get the space and time. (This year we only held Filene Young Artist auditions here.) Several dedicated and talented students from San Francisco conservatory had to make the trip to LA on Saturday for Studio auditions, and I'm sure it would've been nice for them to be able to sing for us while we're on their own turf.

Strength vs. Versatility

I don't have too many ovservations on the SF chapter of auditions, but I had one blog post comment scribbled in the margins: Strength vs. Versatility. 24 hours later, I know what I meant, but I can't remember exactly what triggered it. It doesn't have to be a battle. One can be versatile and strong at the same time. But in young singers, one camp is often making way for the other.

Scenario S: Rep list is all the same. Filled with all tragic, lyric arias; or comprising only perky soubrette types; or all declamation and no introspection. But the artist in question does this particular type of singing quite well. It clearly speaks to his/her vocal strengths and temperament. Unfortunately, it leaves us wondering a bit about whether there are enough roles in that little subset of the Fach on which to build a career. One typical manifestation: a high lyric mezzo with no coloratura.

Scenario V: Trying to be all things to all people; to cover all of the compulsories. Big legato, fiery coloratura, wit, pathos, and declamation. No surprise, but few people do all of this well. Especially when they've only been singing for half a dozen years. Most of those who spread themselves so thin do not represent themselves particularly well. The negative way of looking at this is the now-old adage that we wrongly expect American singers to do everything well. The more charitable view is that singers beginning their careers should not cavalierly limit themselves to such a tiny handful of assets that they can't make a living.

There is no answer, of course. There's just a constant striving to reconcile these two opposing forces. Some wisdom may lie in fighting your natural instincts. If you are tunnel-visioned by nature, make a conscious effort to operate thoughtfully outside your comfort zone. If you are eclectic and inclusive by nature, spend some serious time considering your biggest strengths and how to play to them without excluding everything else.

My other thoughts from our California weekend are broader, stemming from the bad news that's now hitting our business, and from my recent conversations with colleagues and friends. But those ruminations need to distill just a bit more. For now, it's back east, to Ohio. See you from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music on Wednesday.

A shout-out to MikeBee for being the best SF tour guide ever!

PS - I'm 3 for 3, running my sad little 2K in this year's audition tour cities. Thanks to Rahree for somehow knowing which streets to turn down so that almost the entire run included no uphill climbs! Ohio will be tough, given that we're only there for 25 hours. Not giving up yet, though.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Day 3: Los Angeles

A gentle Santa Ana wind is blowing through LA. I even got out this morning to run my pitiful mile... trying to do it in each city... so far I'm 2 for 2:)

We're only in town for 26 hours, and it was a busy day, with both Studio Artist and Filene Young Artist auditions. But we got to visit with mezzo RNM (who graciously monitored the auditions and started a petition to repeal the 2-summers-only rule for WTOC), pianist NS and ex-WTOS-Manager-turned-rockstar LA Opera administrator JadaBoy. Thanks to CameraMan, we're pictured on the roof of JadaBoy's very cool loft apartment building.

More Q&A
I'd love to sing Salut a la France for auditions. I'd really like to do Par le rang first and then go into the aria in order to show contrast. However, with the recit and the repeat... well, it goes too long. I was planning on doing Par le rang and then going into the aria and taking the cut. However, this means I don't get to go back and sing the aria with lots of fun, showy stuff. Should I include some fun stuff in my cut version of the aria? How would auditors like to hear this aria and recit?

If you can stand making the cut, do it. If not, at best you certainly would not be asked for a second aria (at least not most of the time). And, at worst, auditors might get cranky about being saddled with such a long scene. I understand the frustration at not being able to include everything, but I guess I'd try to resist the temptation.

Kim, I know that the question and answer section is over! But ... I was wondering, can you give some examples of what you heard in these auditions, and what you, as a coach, might have told these students? For those who don't know, do you allow emails to be sent to request feedback?

The answer to your first question would have to be thoughtful, and I only have enough brain power these days to attend to the casting and programming tasks at hand. I promise to tuck this inquiry away and try to return to it at a calmer period. As for feedback, we do accept audition comment requests submitted between January 1 - February 15, 2009.

New Rep

A couple of rare-ish soprano arias that have been offered and heard to good effect in the last couple of days:

Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree - "I yearn so t'know things"
Rameau's Platee - Ariette de la Folie

Posting from my mobile office at LAX where I'm trying to back up audio and video files, import my colleagues' audition comments in the database, update and blog, and tweet. (Who said Twitter was a good idea???) Hoping that 2 days in San Francisco will be a little less hectic!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Transition: Houston to LA

A quick dispatch from the Houston airport. Our flight to LA is delayed, and by the time I get to my computer in California, I may be a little too fried to report.

This morning, Beatrice and Benedict student matinee at HGO. I want to see all my operas with a couple thousand kids. So different and so wonderful in all of the predictable ways. As a bonus, there were 4 former Trappers onstage and 1 CameraMan in the pit rocking the house. Bravi, guys, and thanks for the Friday morning dose of Berlioz and Shakespeare.

On a less positive note, bad news has come down this week about Opera Pacific, closing its doors midseason in what seems to be a permanent fashion. I'm not a sky-is-falling kind of gal, but this is another reminder to all of us that this economic climate is going to require as much innovation and creativity inside administrative offices as it does on the upstage side of the footlights.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Day 2: Houston

We have discovered a new use for Facebook. Rahree casually mentioned on her FB status that the hotel seems intent on putting decaf coffee packets in the rooms. And that it was having a deleterious effect on her morning. Fast forward a couple of hours to checking into the Wortham Center for today's auditions, at which point our gracious auditions monitor SA presented us with 3 venti coffees. Wow. Maybe we could just mention the need for caffeine as we go around the country and have people just show up at the audition site with it. (Just kidding.)

Speaking of monitors, we are using a lot of singer friends as auditions monitors this year. So far LB and SA have been huge hits all around. I guess it makes a lot of sense to have someone in charge outside the audition room door door who understands what it's like to have to walk through that door. Thanks, guys.

We ended the day with a lovely dinner and meeting of Trappers at the Empire Cafe. One of the best parts of traveling around the country in November is getting to catch up with friends. By evening the humidity had vanished, my hair had returned to its normal size, and it was a great night to be outdoors. Thanks to all, especially to the Yellow Bowl Bakery for the apple butter and orange mocha brownies that will somehow fit into our suitcases!

We began the day with a fearsome Gilda at 10am. She suggested that we do a study to figure out what time of day most of the successful auditions are held. Hmm. I'm afraid I don't want to go there, but I suspect the outcome might be far more random than one would suspect. Nevertheless, kudos to her for embracing the coloratura stratosphere at that hour.

Fun with Numbers

I'm going to try to keep up with some Filene Young Artist statistics in each city. Here's the profile on Houston, TX:

Percentage of Houston site applicants granted an audition: 63%

New applicants made up 67% of the pool.
Of those, 53% were scheduled for an audition.

Singers who auditioned for us in a prior year made up 23% of the applicant pool.
Of those, 82% received an audition.

Singers who were previously denied an audition made up 10% of the pool.
Of those, 80% were scheduled for an audition.

We'll see if the numbers mean anything by the end. For now, what they're showing is that there is no magic bullet to getting through the screening process. I hope that doesn't mean we're random. Rather, I prefer to think that it's the result of looking at every individual scenario in the context of the other applicants' strengths and experience, then deciding who it makes the most sense to hear this year. I don't know it that's reassuring or damning, but there it is.

Today's Photography

These Houston birds are a force to be reckoned with. They're called grackles, so I've learned. (As in, when they poop on you, as they did on Rahree, you are said to have been grackled.) At sunset it's like something out of Hitchcock.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Day 1: Houston

And so it begins. In another rehearsal room in a series of towns that all begin to look the same. Friends are jealous when I tell them that November means Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York and Philadelphia. But it's really an unbroken series of the insides of airplanes, taxicabs, rehearsal rooms and hotels.

We had a bit of a slow start today, in Rehearsal Room #1 of the Houston Grand Opera's home at the Wortham Center. We reserved a few hours this afternoon to sort of remember how it goes. After having done this for 15 years, it's surprising that it always takes me a few hours to remember how to do this. Merging the database versions, documenting the auditions, backing up the data, falling into the routine. After the first day it's subconscious. But those first few hours really keep us stepping.

Today was a Studio day - auditioning 20 singers who were college juniors, seniors, recent graduates, and first-year masters students. Rahree says that it's tough for her not to fall back into teaching mode with these younger singers. And it's undeniably hard for me not to slip into the coaching groove - to see and hear mostly potential; to accept what comes at us as a starting point for improvement. Although that may be charitable, it hardly helps us figure out who's in the best position to be hired. So we check our alter egos at the door and try to comment objectively on what's being presented.

First day thoughts:

Attacking the pitch monster is essential. I know that we're hearing voices in development, and that there will inevitably be rough patches, but if you are singing entire arias below or around the pitch, you should really be aware of it. Find someone who will be truthful with you, then figure out what to do about it. I know you can't fix everything at once, and in spite of the fact that something like intonation seems simple, it's often quite difficult to figure out cause and effect. But don't put it off, thinking it will just go away.

Contrast is your friend. Since Studio auditions start with the aria of your choice, which is usually followed by the monologue (chosen by you), you are often in complete control of what you present. Play to your personal strengths to be sure, but consider a monologue that might display a slightly different facet of your personality and energy than your aria did. Two very serious ponderous choices or two glib and perky options leave us with more unanswered questions than you'd like.

Progress is a beautiful thing. Hearing singers who are so much more assured, musical, vivid, and grounded than they were at this same time last year is almost enough to keep us going. It's an amazing and gratifying thing.

Tonight, Savitri at Rice University. Then a full day of Filene Young Artist auditions tomorrow.

I brought my "real" camera along this year, so I'll periodically torture you with photos from the road. (My brother is a professional photographer, but he doesn't read the blog, so I'm not embarrassed to share them:)

These, from yesterday's plane ride. Fall foliage in Atlanta, sunset over the gulf, and the Houston skyline.

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.


  • 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
  • Composer's Aria, Non piu mesta, Cara speme
  • Parto, Non piu mesta, Pauline's Aria, Must the Winter Come
  • Que fais-tu, Smanie, Svegliatevi


  • 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


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


  • Vi ravviso, Arise ye subterranean winds


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.


  • 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.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Judging Young Voices, More Mozart Arias, Cavatina/Cabaletta

I'm winding down on the pre-tour audition questions. Answers to recent submissions below.

You may still submit questions via the comments section of the blog for another few days. But by next Monday, we will have to turn our attention to reporting on the actual audition process.

I have a general question about the studio program - I have had a teacher recently tell me not to apply to studio programs at larger companies (such as Wolf Trap) because, in her belief, if a young singer is heard by a large company before they are ready to be considered a full-fledged professional (even in the studio artist program capacity)then the singer will be "blacklisted" in a way and remembered always by the company as having a "young" technique. Obviously, you don't ascribe to this belief or you wouldn't host a studio artist program. Out of curiosity, what is your response to this belief?

Personally, I don't agree. I guess I may be kidding myself (possible), and I could be naive (likely). But companies like ours are in the business of monitoring singer growth, and we are pretty well acquainted with the general state of a young voice. We're unlikely to forever saddle a developing singer with the characteristic rough edges of a developing technique. Do I believe that this approach is common to all panels for whom a young singer might audition? Well, I guess not. So I suppose a bit of caution is prudent.

Here's another one. Would it be appropriate to include Tamino's 2nd area, "Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton" on a list? I sing "Dies' Bildnis" well, but I feel it doesn't pair well with "Questa o Quella," which I like to start with. Also, the 2nd aria has a nice accompanied recit attached, to show off German, which is a strength of mine.

Tamino's "flute" aria is a great audition choice.

Hmmm... I'm surprised you didn't mention "S'altro che lacrime" for that last question. It doesn't show much in terms of range, but I figured it would be a great piece for a future Countess who doesn't quite have a la Nozze in her yet. Would you have any objections to it?

I love "S'altro" but I consider Servilia to be more of an "ina/etta", and the singer who asked the question said that she didn't feel good about those choices. In Tito, it's really Vitellia who aligns herself with the Countess and Fiordiligi; Servilia has a lot more in common with Susanna and Despina. That said, I do adore hearing "S'altro" - it's a lovely short aria that demonstrates beautiful legato and sensitive phrasing.

I have a friend who wants to offer only the cavatina portion of what would otherwise be a long bel canto piece. A) Is this kosher? and B) how should she list it? (i.e. "Cavatina only")For myself, I know in an audition situation it's only polite to start with something short or ask the panel if they'd only like to hear one verse of something, but is it also considered conversely impolite (or useless) to list any super-long pieces on your list? A friend and I have a long-standing debate about the usefulness of "Ombre leggiere" and this often is the point we get stuck debating.

Offering the cavatina only (or the cabaletta only, for that matter) is not only defensible, it's a wonderful choice. If you really feel good about the whole scene, list it and indicate that you are willing to excerpt. ("Ah non creadea / Ah non giunge - aria only, cabaletta only, or entire scene") Depending on what you start with, the panel may have very specific reasons for asking for either the aria/cavatina or the cabaletta.

As for listing long pieces, you take your chances. There's absolutely no problem with listing them if you do them well. But be prepared for them to be sampled in chunks, even if you don't offer it. If it throws you off to have to start in the middle or to be stopped before the ornamented repeat in the cabaletta, then don't set yourself up for heartache. And (you alluded to this, so I'm just reiterating), for most purposes, please don't start with a 6+ minute scene.

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

We are unable to assist our young artists in obtaining visas. All singers being considered for Wolf Trap need to be able to work in the US - either as extra-curricular practical training on a student visa, or with a green card.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Audition Pianists, Studio Profiles, and Mozart Arias

Blogging has had to take a back seat to screening as we topped 1,000 applications. I truly hate this part of our process - not just because it means saying no (something I struggle with in all its guises), but because it means saying no in a very unsatisfying and incomplete fashion.

We used to send out a fairly detailed "no, thank you" (indelicately known in the YAP trade as a PFO) letter. The intention was good - to try to explain and enumerate the reasons for which an application might've been rejected. Over time, though, I learned that singers resented receiving this detailed letter. That many of them found it insulting. That they felt that we enjoyed rubbing salt into wounds. So, it fell by the wayside, in favor of our current notification, which feels (to me) unnecessarily blunt.

If you've gotten turned down, it doesn't always mean that something was "wrong" with your application. It more often means that more things were "right" with the singers who were vying for the same spot.

You Ask, I Punt

As I turned to addressing recent comments and questions, I was somewhat surprised to find this one:

Just out of curiousity, do you ever think about not holding auditions at all, or only auditioning people from the top programs or schools? I don't mean to be snarky -- it just seems like there's not a lot in this process for you! Are you so thorough because you want to be fair to everyone, even at all this expense?

Is this a singer writing? A patron/opera fan? A colleague? Actually, we've never given a passing thought to ditching the open application process. And even though it might be nice to believe that we're altruistic enough to do this just to be fair, truth is that if we narrowed our focus, we'd miss some spectacular people. Yes, a sizable chunk of each summer's roster comprises singers who hail from the higest-profile programs in the country. But they're not the only ones we hire.

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?

Good question regarding the studio. Singers in their early 20's are far from finished products. We want singers whose technique is solid enough to sustain a summer away from a voice teacher. They need to sing in tune (a surprisingly rare characteristic...) and have an instrument that's reasonably well-aligned in timbre and color (within a somewhat limited range, for we don't expect a high degree of refinement yet at the extremes of the ranges in most Fachs). They need to have had enough experience onstage that they can function well in chorus and small roles, and they must be sophisticated enough regarding language/dramaturgy/style that they can glean knowledge from our staff members and guest faculty that work with the studio singers every summer.

Another way of looking at this is to ask which factors are red flags. As I mentioned, persistent pitch problems are a deal-breaker. Neither are we really positioned to deal with voices that are undergoing big transitions. (Not uncommon at this age; doesn't mean that you won't be a competitive singer, just that, at this particular point, our program isn't right for you.) And if a singer hasn't had a chance to perform staged opera scenes, take basic diction and language courses, or work intensively with a good teacher, then we're probably not compatible.

Two questions, one answer:

1. 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!?

2. 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.

I can't address the first part of the first question, for the answer is variable. From company to company, from day to day, from location to location. Safest to let go of whatever expectation you may have. Control the variables you can. The pianist is not one of them.

So, best to think slightly conservatively. If you're kind of new at this audition stuff, you don't need a lot of curves thrown at you. Bring a pianist (preferably a good one, please...) if some of your rep is non-standard. (What is non-standard? Throw me a few for-instances, and I'll react to them.)

If you're getting a bit more experienced and comfortable, you can always take a chance, though. Here's the most important thing: Be able to sing your aria without getting rattled even if the piano isn't helping you. Give your aria to a pianist friend who isn't good at sight-reading. See if you can prevail while s/he accompanies you. It is possible. We recognize when there is a singer/pianist problem, and generally, unless you allow it to hamstring you, it doesn't end up being a huge liability. It's a sliding scale, to be sure.

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

Well, if dramatic coloratura isn't in the cards, then Konstanze and Mme Herz (from Schauspieldirektor) aren't possibilities. Elvira is a great idea - you don't say in which direction it stretches you, though. How about something like "Ruhe saft" - Zaide's aria? No one ever does the opera, but it's a beautiful aria, and could be a prelude to something like the Countess later on. Just for yucks, take a look at "Al destin che la minaccia" (Aspasia's aria) from Mitridate.

As for looking to me for the meaning of life, well if that's the truth, then we're all in worse shape than I thought :)

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.


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:)


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


  • 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.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Opening the Screen Door

    This is my least favorite part of our annual cycle, bar none. We've received about 1,000 applications for next month's audition tour, and we need to pick fewer than half of those singers for our audition tour.


    First (and least controversial), it's sheerly mathematical. We (I) can only really hear about 30 people a day and still be really thoughtful and functional about what I'm hearing. Although most Studio Artist auditions consist of a single aria (and occasionally a monologue), each of our Filene Young Artist (FYA) auditionees get to sing 2 arias (or whatever fits in 10 minutes). We can hear about 6 FYAs an hour and about 8 Studio Artists an hour. We are on the road for about 3 weeks, hearing auditions for 15 of those days. Can't cram 1,000 people into that container.

    Perhaps sometime we'll have enough money and time to hear everyone. Wouldn't that be fascinating? We wouldn't have to spend most of the month of October sifting through everyone's paperwork to try to figure out who should get in the door this year. But an audition tour that long would take a pot of cash that we don't have. In spite of the fact that some singers rail against the application fees and believe that we're getting rich off them, those fees don't cover the cost of the existing tour. Airfare, hotels, space rental, pianists, monitors... it adds up. Expanding it isn't economically possible.

    The screening process has another, more controversial aspect, though. There's a certain percentage of FYA applicants (I'll go out on a limb and put it up there at 15%) who just aren't in the right place in their careers and training for a program like this. Yes, we're a "YAP," and in some ways it does feel like opera camp. But the expectations are high, and the scrutiny (from visiting VIPs, critics, colleagues) is pretty intense. Singers have to show up here knowing themselves, their instruments, and their craft quite well. And that generally means having done a smattering of substantial-length roles, participating in and winning a high-level competition or two, and being in other semi-professional environments (generally YAPs in high-profile companies). When I see these markers on an application, I know that the singer in question is reasonably well positioned to do well here. These comments, viewed through a certain kind of lens, sound cocky and exclusionary. They are not meant to be so.

    Does that mean that if you haven't sung featured roles, won competitions, or gotten into a big-name YAP, you will never sing here? Of course not - no formula like this is infallible. And we've hired terrific people who don't fit neatly into this box. But those external markers increase your chance of success at this point in the cruel professional singer pyramid, and we have to pay attention to them. You may be blazingly talented and come out of nowhere, not having played this particular career-building game. People do. And there are places who can take a chance on those singers, allowing them to learn, grown, and perform at an optimal level until they are ready to take on some bigger stuff without crashing and burning. But that's not the way we're set up, and it would be unfair (to you and to us) to pretend that we are.

    OK. All of that said, I'm going to walk you through what happens when I screen a pile of Filene Young Artist applications. Tonight's assignment is Chicago. 111 applicants to fit into 2 days. In this case, the screen door is open just a little more than 50% of the way.

    First Pass

    The first time through the stack I pull out folks who meet one or more of the following qualifications:

    • A previous WTOC audition during which we noted in our internal comments that we would like to follow this singer.
    • Selection for and participation in a big house young artist program (at the Met, Houston Grand, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Florida Grand, and a few others).
    • A recent attention-getting big win at a recent competition (Met National Council national level, Tuckers, Sullivan, London, Zachary, a few others).

    So far, I have 22 people. Can pick a maximum of 38 more.

    Second Pass

    Now I'm looking for confluence of factors. A single outlying marker from the list below might be enough to propel an application into the "yes" pile; more often than not, though, it's a combination of positive items from a few of these requirements:

    • Academic Training: Not every great singer goes through Juilliard or CCM or Curtis (please, no attacks, the list is much much longer than that... I just cherry-picked a few). But if you were competitive enough to get into (and thrive at) one of the best academic vocal programs or conservatories in the country, that counts for something.
    • Summer YAPS: You don't have to have done other young artist programs in order to sing for us. Every so often there's someone in the company who didn't take this path. But being a young artist in a professional festival company for a couple of summers usually indicates that you have some idea how the business works, have been exposed to professional practices and schedules, and won't come here with only academic or amateur background. (Don't flame: Nothing is wrong with the latter. It's just not as reliable an indicator.)
    • Strong Roles: If you've been offered featured roles at a school/company where this is possible, that indicates that you rose to the top in that environment. (Note that I saw "where this is possible" - we know that not all schools and organizations offer full-length leading role opportunities.)
    • Competitions: You don't have to have won everything. Heaven knows that competition wins are pretty random. But we need to see that you are putting yourself out there, not just hiding in the studio. (Hiding in the studio is a completely defensible and wise thing for a while; but if you hope to do well in our environment, you need to be past that point.)

    After the second pass, I have 8 available slots and 51 resumes on my desk. This is where it sucks most.

    Final Cut

    Up to this point, it was all about enabling. Picking people to whom we are able to say "yes." But now the dynamic turns ugly, and I have to start deliberately eliminating. Not surprisingly, this process is the photographic negative of what I just described above in the "Second Pass.

    • Academic Training: The absence of an advanced degree is something of a liability. I know that not everyone can afford to stay in school, but if you don't have a MM or some sort of graduate Artist Diploma or Certificate, your resume should probably be pretty packed with young artist programs and other training opportunities. If not, applications showing graduate degrees and artist diplomas will take precedence.
    • Summer YAPS: You can learn a lot at Pay-To-Sings, but a series of them for 4, 5, 6 years in a row is not a good sign. You should be moving into paid apprenticeships, preferably the more competitive ones.
    • Roles: You might be a stellar recitalist, oratorio singer and concert performer. But we need to know that you can take the stage and sing a full-length role in a fully produced opera. The fact that you haven't done so doesn't mean that you aren't able. But we don't know that if almost all of the experience on your resume is scene-length or in concert.
    • Competitions: Not a reliable indicator by themselves, but the absence of any external recognition of this type is another obstacle.

    Really, this phase of the screening really comes down to momentum. Over the handful of years that you've been singing, are the visible markers of your career moving in the right direction? Or is your singing life pretty much operating at the same level it was 2 or 3 years ago?

    This hasn't been the most pleasant post to write, or to read, but if you're still with me, consider one other factor.

    Another Kind of Door

    This kind of opportunity is a revolving door. We don't set a maximum number of applications or auditions, but whether or not you've auditioned for us before does play into the screening process. All other things being equal (well, equivalent), if we have to make a decision between two singers whose histories with us differ, we will probably default to the one who has never sung for us before. Not always the optimal decision, but ultimately the fairest.

    OK, I'm back to work. And you should get back to singing. If we shut you out this year, I'm sorry. But there will be other years, other companies, other opportunities. If we'll be hearing you this year, I'm looking forward to it. In a day or two I'll get back to answering the repertoire and other audition questions that you've submitted via the comments section.