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.

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Naked Toes and Aria Advice

    More recent audition season questions (from the comments section of previous posts) - with completely subjective and non-authoritative answers brought to you by the entire WTOC audition panel: KPW, Rahree, and CameraMan. Read on at your peril.

    If you're a colleague who disagrees with our advice, please say so. One of the most important things that I'd love to get across to singers is that the folks on the other side of the table don't always agree. Ergo, it's often futile to try to second-guess us.

    Slavic Skepticism

    How do you feel about singers including a Russian or Czech aria in their package, if they are proficient in those languages? Is it useful to hear, or should we just stick with standard languages?

    CameraMan: Sometimes these arias can fill a void in appropriate rep for young singers or show an area of expertise you may want to highlight. I'm in favor of anything that's both appropriate and spotlights an interesting part of your music-making.

    Rahree: Sometimes it’s really nice to hear something other than Pamina or Figaro…

    KPW: You're always safe with me because my Russian stinks and my Czech is worse. (Not for lack of trying during those years when I coached, but I never solved the puzzle.) Granted, over the years, I've developed a decent ear for the standard arias, but you can still get away with a lot more. Seriously, a fair amount of this stuff is too mature (Fach-wise and artistically) for a lot of emerging artists, but there is a small swath of perfectly appropriate rep.

    To Wagner or Not to Wagner

    I've been getting conflicting opinions, so I figured I'd ask for another to throw in the mix! I've been singing "Einsam in truben Tagen" from "Lohengrin" recently and have gotten mixed opinions about adding it to my aria package as a young singer (early 20's) - some coaches tell me to use it as my German aria and that those on the audition panels will know that I don't intend to sing Elsa any time soon but that I just happen to sing this aria well, while others tell me to avoid it completely until I am older. Any thoughts?

    KPW: Always tough to judge without hearing you, because it's not impossible for someone your age to sing Elsa;s aria. But it is quite unlikely, and you will engender a certain amount of skepticism (I'd even say criticism) before you open your mouth. At the very least, you'll begin the aria with a lot to prove.

    CameraMan: Red flags often go up when some people see Wagner on a young singer's rep list. I always recommend singers have 4 out of 5 arias that represent roles that they can sing tomorrow. Including one that shows which direction you think you're going can be helpful, but I wouldn't start with it.

    French Filling

    I'd really appreciate some help finalizing my audition repertoire. I'm in need of a French aria, and would also appreciate your thoughts on the rest of my package. Here's my list: "Se il padre perdei" (Idomeneo), "Klange der Heimat" (Die Fledermaus), "Ain't it a pretty night" (Susannah), "Caro nome" (Rigoletto)

    CameraMan: Based on your rep, the Manon arias seem a logical choice.

    KPW: In your existing list, Susannah & Rosalinde are more lyric, but Ilia & Gilda certainly lean higher and lighter. Manon does strike a nice balance if you have the top for it. Perhaps Juliette? She's much like Gilda in the first act, and certainly needs more midvoice substance in the last act. Either way, you should be after something that sparkles and bubbles a bit more than any of the arias currently on the list - show a little spunk and flair if it suits your personality.

    This Little Piggy

    A question about audition attire. I know some people are positively rabid about open-toed vs. closed-toed shoes on women. What's your take?

    CameraMan: I'm soooo the wrong person to answer this. Sing and dress well, and we probably won't spend time debating it. Unless they're super cute, then Rahree will talk about them until we get to the next city.

    Rahree: Cute shoes are always worth extra points. But closed OR open toed shoes worn WITHOUT foundation garments during a coloratura aria? Unforgiveable. Worry less about the shoes, more about nipples and jiggles, ladies…

    KPW: Can we tell we were scarred last year by a lack of appropriate support? (And not the vocal kind.) But back to the shoes... I have heard a lot about this and get asked this question a lot. And I'm bumfuzzled. Who cares about this? I'm not sure I can even see your toes from where I sit. If anyone out there disagrees, please write and tell me why.

    Making Yourself Crazy

    I'm a young tenor, on the fuller side of lyric, and I'm beginning to know my strengths in the audition room, and to focus on them. My question is in regards to Tom Rakewell's aria, which I've been doing as long as I've been auditioning. I feel that I sing it well, and my coaches agree, but in last season's auditions, it was asked for only twice in 13 auditions, and neither time I did get an offer (though both times, I received encouragement). Is this the best measure of whether an aria should be sung?

    CameraMan: Trust your teachers and coaches. If you and they both think it's a strong aria in your package, then don't spend your time trying to second guess audition panels. If you think it's one of your stronger arias and WANT to sing it, consider starting with it.

    Rahree: If you sing it well, and the hands-in-pockets English [crossover/Broadway] tunes don’t show you off as well, I’d say it’s fine.

    KPW: Yeah, this is one of those cases where you're coming to conclusions that may have nothing to do with this aria or the way you sing it. It may depend on what else is in your package, and for what kinds of audition situations (YAPs? schools? companies?) you feel it didn't work. Or there may be no discernable pattern. Or (less likely), you don't sing it as well as you think you do. Do continue to solicit some specific feedback on its effectiveness in demonstrating your strengths, but don't give it up on the basis of what you described above.

    Keep 'em coming if you dare.

    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    In the Audition Room

    More questions via the comments section:

    Do you have any advice about how to enter the audition room, greet the panel, and set myself up to sing? This always feels so awkward. Are there any things singers do as they're making their entrances and exits that are turn-offs?

    First of all, there's no reason to walk to the opposite end of the room to shake hands. I know panel members who are positively phobic about this and others who are simply irritated by it. I have no strong opinion, but it does slow things down terribly. And it's almost never not awkward. You get a limited amount of time allotted, and you want to use it to sing, not to work the room.

    If the panel is paying attention when you enter, it's perfectly appropriate to greet us with "Good afternoon" etc. We try to greet everyone before they have a chance to wonder what to say/do, but sometimes we get caught up in paperwork. The niceties aren't compulsory, though - it's just fine to say nary a word, give your music to the pianist, position yourself by the piano, and then speak.

    It is always helpful for the panel to hear your name. If our system is working well, we'll know who you are; but sometimes things get out of sequence and we confused. "Good afternoon. My name is Kim Witman" should do it.

    If you know for sure that you are to choose your own first selection, announce it. But don't over-announce it. "I'd like to sing Aria Name" should be plenty. If it's a rare piece, then expand into "I'd like to sing Aria Name from Opera Name." But no need to turn it into an exercise in public speaking (as in "I'd like to sing Aria Name, Character's third act aria in Opera Name by Composer Name). We either have a rep list, and/or we're smart enough to fill in most of those blanks if we know the name of the aria. You'll probably just end up getting tongue-tied even if you've practiced it to within an inch of its life.

    How do you feel about singers who hold on to the piano?

    I have no trouble with singers using the fact that the piano is there as part of their physicality during their arias. No need to pretend it's not there. If you touch it, momentarily use it or lean on it, no one is going to object. But if you're grabbing onto it for dear life as part of your vocal support system, or as any other crutch, we'll perceive that pretty quickly. Not a good idea. Since you used the verb "hold on," I guess I'd have to discourage the practice.

    I've heard that auditors know within the first few seconds whether they like a singer's voice or not, and then pretty much stop paying attention. If I get off to a weak start am I doomed?

    I won't deny that we do make certain judgments fairly quickly. First impressions are not infallible, but they are valuable. Two things work in your favor, though.

    First, almost everyone is nervous when they begin - especially if you're new to this whole process. We actually expect singers to improve throughout the course of their first piece, and we are never surprised that the second aria is better. (You know the phenomenon in a master class when the singer is always better when s/he repeats the aria? The master teacher usually gets the credit, but it usually has more to do with the singer settling in and shaking off the nerves.)

    Second, we are always alert for a turn-around. When I review our written comments, one of the most common themes is acknowledgment and relief when someone overcomes a shaky start and ends up turning in a really solid finish.

    Doomed? No, not at all.

    I'm curious about your screening process for the auditions, and how much or whether the aria list and a candidate's fach affect things positively or negatively.

    Fach really doesn't affect us because we're not trying to cast any particular opera. The aria list only enters into the screening process if it is noticeably and unavoidably weird. Stretching from soubrette to dramatic soprano, or all-Puccini-all-the-time (not meeting our guidelines), or incomplete. Actually, most of the time I don't even look at the aria list until we're in the room.

    Regarding screening in general: It's probably not the right verb for the way I look at it. We are not kicking people out when we screen. We are opening the door and deciding which folks we can let in. We do the math for each day (how many hours we have the audition space times a maximum of 6 singers per hour) to come up with a total. Then we make a first pass through the applicants for that day, determining which folks are so highly qualified for our particular program that they receive an audition time with no questioning. Depending on how many open slots we have left, we make 2 or 3 or 4 more passes, each time picking up a few people whose materials look really strong: high level competition awards, acceptance into competitive graduates schools and other YAPs, a strong list of roles. (I'm referring to the Filene Young Artist Program at this point, not the Studio Program.) We cycle through all of the applicants for that site until it's full.

    Answers to more questions tomorrow. Keep bringing 'em on.

    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Reruns Welcome

    A comment on yesterday's post:

    "Regarding the aria package: what if we're singing the same arias as last year?"

    I'm guessing that the writer wants to know if it's OK that the list is identical to last year's audition offerings. Generally that's not a problem at all - especially if you're in the first few years of auditioning for schools and YAPs. After all, it does take a while to conquer some of these iconic arias. If they represent you well, and if you're making good progress, bring on the reruns. There's no reason to change just for the sake of change.

    If, however, you and your teacher/coaches feel that this rep is getting stale or that it is hampered by old/bad habits, you may need to shake it up. And if you've been offering the exact same arias for four or five years, you may also need to introduce some new material.

    Audition quote of the day, by way of Joanna Merlin's Auditioning: An Actor Friendly Guide, from actor and director Bill Duke. It stems directly from the theater and film industry, but is no less true for us:

    "Auditioning: the difficult part is surviving the industry, which is a culture of rejection. Facing that in the most courageous manner, I rely on a quote from Winston Churchill, "True power is an individual's ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."