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.