Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Hiatus

We weren't terribly good about documenting this year's audition tour, but thanks to CameraMan, we have a few images from our travels. It was a terribly dense trip - due to extenuating schedule and budget parameters - and I think we only (barely) had enough brainpower and energy for the compulsories.

The blog silence in these midwinter months is largely due to the overwhelming task of establishing the summer calendar, choosing the artists, casting the operas, making offers to artistic teams and staff, and figuring out who does what when and how to pay for it. And, until the season is announced (on February 8, 2010!), none of this is bloggable. But I'll be back in January, and I'll look up from my desk a bit as we catch up with what's going on in the rest of the musical world, prepare for the big GRAMMY ceremony trip(!), check in on some of our WTOC alumni, and prepare for the next workshop of the next Musto/Campbell opera.

Till then, warm wishes for restful and joyous holidays with the ones you love - click here for our season's greetings (make sure your sound is on). I'll see you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Long View

I sat for an interview last week, and a typical question came up: "What was the biggest challenge you've faced so far in your career?"

How coincidental that this interview came right after our recent oh-so-sweet GRAMMY news. For the fight for this Volpone recording was probably the biggest hurdle I've had to clear, at least in recent memory.

I tend to live a lot in the future, not so much in the past. (And not nearly enough in the present, but that's another st0ry.) So I took a walk down memory lane, breaking open the huge files that documented the road to this project. And it was amazing exactly how much of the trauma I had suppressed. :)

So very much of it was, as my social networking friends will say, unbloggable. But here's a little bit of it that wasn't (you can link to the posts or just read the excerpts):

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mixed with the excitement of company arrivals are notes of frustration and regret.

Our much-anticipated upcoming recording of Volpone is not to be. This is not the place to spin out all of the confusing and irritating details, but... there's no nationally approved recording agreement whose conditions our company meets, and the local doesn't have the ability to negotiate individual agreements with organizations....

The bottom line is that we've run out of time. We had so wanted to get this terrific piece out there in circulation, and it's tough to walk away from it. For now, the goal is to sort all of this out after the season so that when our next new fabulous operatic comedy hits the stage, we'll be ready to capture and share it.

In the Can
Sunday, July 1, 2007

As of 4 hours ago, we now have the raw material for a commercial live recording of Volpone. And this has been possibly the most frustrating and confounding journey of my professional life thus far.

The recording project was launched and canceled more times than I can count. The path to today was littered with obstacles, aborted attempts, misinformation and misunderstandings. But it also included generous colleagues, helpful advice, supportive coworkers and bosses, and a learning curve that was so fierce that it demanded to be conquered.

I intend to articulate that process here in the blog. It's critical that other small organizations have the chance to learn from our mistakes and our successes. Very little of this journey is private or confidential, and there are no real villains.

Well, I never returned to "articulate that process," even though I knew I should've. The industry has changed so quickly over these last few years, but we still have a distance to go.

Since that time, we also worked through the difficult decision about whether to use a large label for distribution, or to release it ourselves. It took a lot of internal effort to get this opera out on the Wolf Trap Recordings label, but we're so glad we did. It was a labor of love, and as is usually the case in our industry, not one that anyone will ever make money on.

I'm normally not all about external validation. As a matter of fact, the same week that this recording was issued, we had some useful discussions about how artists must learn to handle criticism of all types. If you take this advice to heart, though, you must also learn not to immerse yourself too deeply in favorable reviews. Therefore, I usually blow off good notices as well as bad.

But this time, I'll take it. The fight was too hard, and the implications for the future are too positive. For these fifteen minutes of what passes for fame in the opera world, we're going to enjoy ourselves.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Scrappy & Outrageous

It's been a bit of a wild ride over the last few days, as last week's GRAMMY news eclipsed much of business as usual. We are working overtime to choose and cast next summer's operas, and I haven't forgotten my promise to post the list of most-offered arias during November's audition tour. [UPDATE: These are up now - visit these links for Filene Young Artists and Studio Artists.]

However, there's been much to absorb in these last few days. Before you read on, take 1 min. 33 seconds to watch and listen to this.

Even if you don't think you like opera (or, for crying out loud, new opera...), do it.

Two adjectives I've heard recently:

Scrappy: our small opera company and tiny record label

Outrageous: the fact that we were nominated for a freakin' GRAMMY...

It's not as if I'm not proud of the WTOC. I have given it my blood, sweat and tears for the last 25 years. And I will hold us up against any arts organization in artistic integrity, work ethic, financial responsibility and innovative spirit. But our budget is small, our artists are at the beginnings of their careers, and we produce in a 375-seat theatre. We are in the presence of some amazing talent in our award category, and the whole thing seems a bit surreal.

Once the shock wore off (yes, John Musto called me on my cell phone at 10:45 pm Wednesday evening, and I thought he was punking me), a few things bubbled to the surface:

John is the only American composer nominated for this award. In the company of amazing composers, to be sure, but of British, French, Chinese and Russian heritage.

Volpone is the only 21st-century opera nominated. Others range from 1928 (The Nose) to 1996 (Marco Polo).

Wolf Trap is the only U.S. arts organization in this field, and Wolf Trap Recordings is the only American record label.

Oh, and Volpone is a truly awesome opera.

Audition Arias Offered: Filene Young Artists

This list was culled from the first arias offered by singers auditioning for this year's Filene Young Artist Program. If you are looking for the comprehensive list of pieces in the 4-aria audition packages from this season, start here.


You might remember that of the selections listed on the application forms, Pamina's aria was a run-away hit. Imagine my relief when Ach ich fühl's was only offered as a starter aria once. (I do love me some Mozart, mind you, but this aria is deceptively difficult.)

The runner-up on the application lists was Anne Trulove; also only offered first by one singer, probably because of the length of the scene.

Caro nome
Deh vieni
Dove sono

Come scoglio
Ernani, involami
Je veux vivre
Padre, germane, addio
Presentation of the Rose
Sul fil d’un soffio etesio
O zittre nicht
Quel guard oil cavaliere
Song to the Moon

Ain’t It a Pretty Night
Be Kind and Courteous
Chacun le sait
Depuis le jour
Dich theure Halle
Donde lieta
Du gai soleil
Einsam in trüben Tagen
Emily’s Aria
Manon's Gavotte
Glitter and Be Gay
Je suis encor
Lisa’s Aria
Martern aller Arten
O luce di quest'anima
O mio babbino caro
O quante volte
Poison Aria
Quando m’en vo

Ach ich fühl's
Ach ich liebte
Adele’s audition aria
Adieu, notre petite table
Batti batti
Bel raggio lusinghier
Che tua madre
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Durch Zärtlichkeit
Ecco l’orrido campo
Es gibt ein Reich
Fire Aria
How Beautiful It Is
I Want Magic
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen
Mariettas Lied
No Word from Tom
Nun eilt herbei

Qui la voce / Vien diletto
Scoglio d’immota fronte
Stridonò lassu
Tacea la notte placida
Volate amori


Salt of the earth, these mezzi. Always dependable. The runaway favorite on the application lists also turns up as one of the arias most frequently offered.

Smanie implacabili
Wie du warst

Cruda sorte
Que fais-tu

Composer's Aria
Must the Winter Come So Soon
Una voce poco fa
Voi che sapete

Adalgisa’s Prayer
Card Aria
Che farò
Deh per questo istante
Iris hence away
Lettres (Werther)
Lullaby from The Consul
Lyubasha’s Aria
Mon coeur
O mio Fernando
Oh la pitoyable aventure
Chaun à son goût
Pauline's Aria
Sgombra è la sacra selva
Violin aria
What a Movie
Where Shall I Fly


The most-listed aria on applications was Tamino's, but it was only actually offered twice. I expect the frequency on the application list is due to our requirement for an aria by Mozart, Rossini, or Handel.

Here I Stand
Una furtiva lagrima

De miei bollenti spiriti
Dies Bildnis
Fra poco
Frisch zum Kampfe
Il mio tesoro
New York Lights
Questa o quella

Addio fiorito asil
Care pupille
Del destino (from Florenzia)
Ecco ridente
Heaven Helps Those
Il tuo sangue
La fleur
Mein Lieber Schwan
Pourquoi me reveiller
Recondita armonia
Se all’impero
Si, ritrovarla
The Worm
Un aura amorosa
Vedrommi intorno
Wie ein Rosenknospe


Like their treble sisters, the baritones are more predictable. (Relax guys; it's not a bad thing.) Count's Aria took the field here, as it did on the application lists.

Pierrot's Tanzlied was also fairly popular, but beware, gentlemen; this isn't as easy to nail as you think it is.

Count’s Aria

Largo al factotum

Lieben, Hassen
Pierrot's Tanzlied

Ah per sempre

Avant de quitter
Within this Frail Crucible

A quoi bon l’economie
Aleko's Aria
Bella siccome un angelo
Come Paride
Come une pale fleur
E fra quest’ansie
Ford’s Monologue
I Am John Proctor
Non piu andrai
Nulla, silenzio
O lêve-toi soleil
O vin
Onegin's Aria
Onegin's Act III Arioso
Questo amor
Se vuol ballare
Va, vecchio John
Zazà, piccola zingara


Figaro's aria edged out Sarastro's, but it's a little unscientific to lump bass-baritones and basses together, so don't draw too many conclusions. I don't separate them out because the self-labeling of these two voice types is all over the map. (As it has every right to be in a demographic with an average age in the mid-late 20's.)

Su vuol ballare

O Isis und Osiris
Quand la flame

Come dal ciel
Vecchia zimarra

Aleko's Aria
Count's Aria
Bottom's Dream
Hear Me O Lord
Ho capito
I miei rampolli
I’m a lonely man, Susannah
Il lacerato spirito
La calunnia
Non piu andrai
Piff paff
Sorge infausta
Tambour major
Vieni, la mia vendetta
Wie schoen ist doch die Musik

That's it for this year. Please post comments with any corrections/additions!

Audition Arias Offered: Studio Artists

Here's the list of starter arias offered this fall by singers auditioning for the Studio Artist program. (Younger demographic than the Filene Young Artists; average profile is college senior or first-year grad student.)


Du gai soleil

Durch Zärtlichkeit
Padre, germani
Sul fil

Come scoglio
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen
Quando m'en vo
Quel guardo

Adele's Audition Aria
All that Gold
Bel raggio
Chacun le sait
Depuis le jour
Dich theure Halle
Douce enfant
Emily's Aria from Our Town
I Go To Him
I Have Dreamt
Je dis
Je veux vivre
Non mi dir
O luce
O quante volte
Olympia’s Aria
Pamina’s Aria
Quickly, Quickly
(Rachmaninoff song)
Saper vorreste
Se pieta
Somehow I Never Could Believe
(Strauss song)
The Trees on the Mountain
Tu che di gel
Una voce


Que fais-tu

Smanie implacabili

Addio sospiri
Air des champetres
I do not judge you
Iris Hence Away
Must the Winter Come So Soon
My Man's Gone Now
Non so piu
O ma lyre
Things Change, Jo
Una donna
Una voce
What a Movie
What a Wonderful Party


Ecco ridente
Il mio tesoro

Ah mes amis
Albert the Good
Amor ti vieta
Che gelida manina
Ciel e terra
Dies Bildnis
Flower Song
Fuor del mar
Here I Stand
I'll Sail Upon the Dog Star
Lonely House
Prologue from Turn of the Screw
Quanto e bella
Questa o quella
Una furtiva lagrima
Zarzuela aria from Amor vida


Papageno's Suicide Scene

Ah per sempre
Avant de quitter
Count’s Aria
Die Ihr schwebet
Donne mie
Ho capito
Honor and Arms
Lieben, Hassen
Medaglie incomparabili
Questo amor
Simple Song
Warm as the autumn light
When the air sings of summer


Il lacerato spirito

O Grim-look'd Night
Una voce mal colpito

That's it! If you spot errors, comment below and I'll fix.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


John Musto's & Mark Campbell's Volpone, recorded live at The Barns in 2007 and issued by Wolf Trap Recordings, has been nominated for a Grammy!

Buy it here, buy or download here; or download from iTunes!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Links to Fall 2009 Aria Frequency Lists

The Aria Frequency Lists for this fall's audition tour are found in separate blog posts:

Bass & Bass-baritone

These lists represent the frequency with which individual arias were listed in audition packages of singers in that voice type. Next week I'll compile and post the list of arias offered as first choices in each category.

Here, in the gratitude list tradition, is my Thanksgiving week five at the end of this audition tour:
  1. 8,000 miles of safe travel.
  2. 1,000 arias that made us laugh and cry.
  3. Good health. For even though the last few weeks made me cranky, tired and fat(ter), I stayed healthy. :)
  4. Colleagues who are smart, funny, flexible and forgiving.
  5. Family. And mine is the best.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Aria Frequency List: Soprano

The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Ach ich fühl's

No word from Tom / I go to him

Deh vieni
Je dis que reien ne m’épouvante

Come scoglio
Je veux vivre
Song to the Moon (Rusalka)

Be kind and courteous
Caro nome
Depuis le jour
Oh! quante volte

Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Du gai soleil
Embroidery aria
Je suis encor
Mir ist die Ehre (Presentation of the Rose)
Quel guardo / So anch'io
Sul fil d’un soffo etesio

Du gai soleil
Durch Zärtlichkeit
Non mi dir
Prendi per me
Regnava nel silenzio
Sì mi chiamano Mimì
Tornami a vagghegiar

Ah je ris (Jewel Song)
Dich teure Halle
Gold is a fine thing (Silver Aria)
Qui la voce

Adieu notre petite table
Dove sono
Glitter and be gay
Gluck das mir verbliebt (Marietta's Lied)
Padre germani addio
Porgi Amor
Zerbinetta's aria

Ah! fuggi il traditor
Amour ranime mon courage
Batti batti
Come now a roundel
Das war sehr gut
Der Hölle Rache
Donde lieta uscì
Emily's Aria from Our Town
Fire aria
Il est doux
Kommt ein schlanker Bursch' gegangen
Lia's recitative and aria (Azaël)
O luce di quest'anima
Quando m'en vo
Steal me

Ah chi mi dice mai
Ah! non credea / Ah non giunge
Ain't it a pretty night
Chacun le sait
Come per me sereno
Da tempeste
Dearest Mama
Ebben ne andro lontana
Ernani involami
I want magic
Je marche / Obéissons (Gavotte)
Nun eilt herbei
O zittre nicht
Ou va la jeune Hindoue? (Bell song)
Presentation of the Rose
S'altro che lagrime
Stridono lassù
Willow song

Bel raggio
Comme autrefois
Dis moi que je suis belle
Einsam in trüben Tagen
Endless pleasure
Es gibt ein Reich
Gothic cathedral
Have peace Jo
How beautiful it is
Je suis Titania
Joy beyond measure, mother!
Klänge der Heimat (Czàrdàs)
La maja y el ruiseñor
Lady with a Hand Mirror (Postcard from Morocco)
Les oiseaux dans la charmille
Martern aller Arten
O mio babbino caro
O wär' ich schon
Or sai
Par le rang / Salut à la France
Se il padre perdei
Steal me sweet thief
Tu che di gel
What good would the moon be

Adele's Audition aria
Ah fors'è lui / Sempre libera
Aria Snegurochka (Snowmaiden's aria)
At night we dream of love (Heggie)
Bester Jüngling
Chanson du Rossignol
Che tua madre
Der kleine Taumann heiss'ich
Di cor mio
Do not utter a word
Du bist der Lenz
Ecco lorrido campo...Ma dallarido stelo divulsa
Elle a fui
Go to sleep, my dolly dear
I always carry a handmirror
I can smell the sea air
I have dreamt
I know you love me, Tom (Hotel Casablanca)
Il primo ardor
In uomini
Injurious Hermia
Io son l'umile ancella
L’altra notte
Ma quando tornerai
Marfa's Aria (The Tsar's Bride)
Mein Herr Marquis (Laughing song)
Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss
Merce, dilette amiche
Mi tradì
Myself I shall adore
Neghittosi or voi che fate
Non disperar
O Dieu Brahma
Ombre pallide
Partir, o ciel, desio
Pleurez mes yeux
Qual farfalletta
Ruhe sanft
Scoglio d'immota fronte
Son pochi fiori
Son vergin vezzosa
Tacea la notte / Di tale amor
Tatyana's Letter Aria
Ten lasky sen (Bartered Bride)
This is the face....
Trahir Vincent... Mon coeur ne paut changer (Mireille)
Trees on the mountain
Un bel dì vedremo
Vissi d’arte
Vivan los que rien
Volate, amori
Welche Wonne welche Lust
Zachem zhe eti slyozy (Lisa's First Act Aria)
Zeffiretti lusinghieri

Aria Frequency List: Mezzo-soprano

The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Smanie implacabili

Must the winter come so soon
Svegliatevi nel core
Va! laisse couler mes larmes

Voi che sapete
Wie du warst

Cruda sorte
Que fais-tu

Sein wir wieder gut
Una voce poco fa (mezzo)

Things change Jo

Parto parto

Give him this orchid

Adieu forêts
Nobles Seigneurs salut
Non piu mesta
O mio Fernando
Pres des remparts (Seguidilla)
Vois sous l'archet (Violin aria)

All'afflitto è dolce il pianto
Je vous ecris (Letter scene)
Pauline's aria (Podrugi milïye)
Thy hand Belinda / When I am laid in earth

As I was saying (Baba the Turk)
Chacun à son goût (Ich lade gern)
Connais-tu le pays
Deh per questo istante
Dopo notte
Enfin je suis ici
Faites-lui mes aveux
I shall find for you (Lullaby)
Iris hence away
L'amour est un ouiseau rebelle (Habanera)
Me voici dans son boudour
Priva son d'ogni conforto

A Prayer (The Mighty Casey)
Ah! mon fils (Le Prophete)
Batti, batti
Beppe's Aria ( L'amico Fritz)
Cara speme, questo core
Che farò
Contro un cor
Dal crudel che m'ha tradita (Tamerlano)
Di tanti palpiti
En vain pour éviter
I am an actress (Nina's aria)
I am easily assimilated
Je vais mourir
Lyubasha's Aria (Tsar's Bride)
Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
My father left me here (Therese Raquin)
New York has Changed Me (An American Tragedy)
Nimmermehr wird mein Herze...
Non . . . vous n'avais jamais (Les Huguenots)
O! la pitoyable aventure
Or la tromba
Perfido, di a quell'empio tiranno
Povero amico
Romance from La Damnation de Faust
Sgombra è la sacra selva / Deh! Proteggimi
Sta nell'Ircana
There is a garden
Vedro con mio diletto
What a movie
Where shall I fly

Aria Frequency List: Tenor

The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Dies Bildnis

Here I stand
Una furtiva lagrima

Ah lève-toi soleil

Ah mes amis

Ah la paterna mano
Dein is mein ganzes Herz
Il mio tesoro

Addio fiorito asil
Ecco ridente
Fra poco a me ricoverò
Frisch zum Kampfe
Ich baue ganz
It's about the way people is made (Sam's aria)
La fleur (Flower song)
New York Lights
O wie ängstlich
Outside this house
Pourquoi me reveiller
Tarquinius does not wait
Total Eclipse

Che gelida manina
Dal labbro il canto
De Miei Bollenti Spiriti
Fantaisie aux divins mensonges
Firenze è come un albero
Kuda kuda (Lenski)
Lonely House
O Colombina
Parmi veder le lagrime
Quanto è bella
Questa o quella
Salut! demeure chaste e pure
Sì ritrovarla
Un aura amorosa

Ach so fromm
Ah fuyez
Ah! Je vais l'aimer - Béatrice et Bénédict - Berlioz
Albert the Good
Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden
Amor ti vieta
Aria of the worm
Barbaro fato
Be not afeard
Care pupille
Ch'ella mi creda
Ciel e terra
Deserto in terra
Di rigori armato il seno
Divinite des grands Aames
D'ogni pieta mi spoglio
E un folle un vile affetto
Heaven helps those
I know that you all hate me
Im Gegenteil (Tanzmeister)
In that country (Adventure of Pinocchio)
Je crois entendre
Jour et nuit
Languir per una bella
Magische Tone
Mein lieber Schwan
O blonde Ceres
O Go! Go! Go Away!
O nature pleine de grâce
O paradis (L'Africaine)
O Souveraign
Oh jours heureux
Once when I was a young man
Open Thou my lips, O Lord
Peter Grimes’ mad scene
Povero Ernesto
Prologue - Turn of the Screw
Se all'impero
Se fosse in torno al trono
Tradito schernito
Tu vivi e punito
Un momento di contento
Va pour Kleinzach!
Vainement ma bien aimée
Vedrommi intorno
Wie eine Rosenknospe

Aria Frequency List: Baritone

The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Hai gia vinta la causa

Ah per sempre
Mein Sehnen (Pierrot's Tanzlied - Die Tote Stadt)

O du mein holder Abendstern

Avant de quitter ces lieux

Bella siccome un angelo
Come Paride vezzose
Lieben Hassen

Largo al factotum
E fra quest'ansie (Silvio)
Votre toast (Toreador)

O vin dissipe la tristesse
Within this frail crucible
Billy in the Darbies

Papageno's suicide aria
Questo amor
Sois immobile

Donne mie
Ein Mädchen
Onegin's aria
Onegin's Act III Arioso
Vision fugitive

And farewell to ye
Aprite un po quegl' occhi
Come un' ape
Se vuol ballare
Vien Leonora
Warm as the autumn light
When the air sings of summer

A quoi bon l'economie
Deh vieni all finestra
Deh, ti ferma
Der Vogelfänger
Di Provanza il mar
Do you know the land?
Du côte de la barbe (Cendrillon)
É sogno?
Fin ch'han dal vino
Friedrich's Aria (Das Liebesverbot)
George’s Aria
I'll be there (Grapes of Wrath)
Io morro ma lieto in core
Madamina, il catalogo è questo
My Friends (Sweeney Todd)
News has a kind of mystery (Nixon In China)
Nothin', that's how you people see me
Nulla, silencio
Nur Mutig, mein Herze
O Nadir
O Rosalinde
Per me giunto...
Prince Igor (Ni sna ni)
Scintille, Diamant
Snooks' Aria (A Wedding)
Ves tabar spit (Aleko's Cavatina)
Voilà donc la terrible cité
Yeletsky's aria (Ya vas lyublu)
Zazà piccola zingara

Aria Frequency List: Bass & Bass-baritone

The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Se vuol ballare

Vous qui faites l'endormie

Come dal ciel
La calunnia
Madamina (Catalogue aria)
O Isis und Osiris

Hear me O Lord
Il lacerato spirito
Vi ravviso

Come master
Épouse quelque brave fille
Gremin's aria
Quand la flamme
Vecchia zimarra
When my cue comes call me
Aprite un po'

I miei rampolli femminini
I rage / O ruddier than the cherry
I'm a lonely man Susannah
In diesen heil'gen Hallen

Aleko's aria (Ves' tabor spit)
Arise ye subterranean winds
Deh ti ferma
Ella giammai m'amò
Schweig'! Schweig'!

Abenlich stralht der Sonne Auge
Als Büblein klein
Di cupido
Ho capito
Le Tambour-Major
Le veau d'or
Leave me loathsome light
Mein Herr und Gott
Nel mondo e nell'abisso
Non più andrai
Oh Beauty, oh handsomeness, goodness
Ombre di mia prosapia
Piff paff
Rucker's Sermon
Scintille diamant
Vieni, la mia vendetta
Voici des roses
Voli colla sua tromba
Wahn!, Wahn ueberall Wahn
Wie schon ist doch die Musik

Saturday, November 21, 2009

National Opera Week on the Road

The Saturday morning sunrise from my New York hotel room was some consolation for having to be up at 6am to catch the train to Philadelphia.

My personal tally at the end of this, National Opera Week 2009:

  • 4 operas (Lohengrin, Esther, Stradella, & The House of the Dead)
  • 188 auditions
  • 393 arias
  • 17 monologues
  • 9 interviews
  • 7.5 hours of research
Still working on the Aria Frequency List for this tour; look for it by midweek.

Philadelphia today, and Vienna VA for the next 3 days. Much sleep is needed, but the finish line is in sight!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Tough Call

A lunch hour post, for I'm feeling a bit guilty at my blogging track record this time around. Seems that I can either do things or write about them, but not both...

We implemented a callback audition procedure a couple of years ago, and it has served us well. We only have one trip around the country to sort out all of our casting, for we have no other system that allows us to do preliminaries and finals. We can't stay out on the road any longer than we do, and I don't believe it would be fair to ask people in whom we are interested to pay for a special trip to Wolf Trap. That means that we have to think fast and answer a lot of questions in a short audition.

Until a few years ago, we did it all within the standard 10-minute appointment, but now we have the option to ask singers to come back at the end of the day (or midday, if there's a cancellation) to sing again. Not only does it give us a chance to discuss amongst ourselves and then hear some new material, it also gives all of us a chance to push the reset button and see each other anew. (Sounds dopey, but perspective changes, and a second, slightly removed, hearing is often illuminating.)

Anyway, the mechanics involve recording a hotline voice mail message with the names and appointment times for the singers who, based on their initial audition, we are considering seriously for this year's roster. The flip side of that is that if your name is not on the recording, that means your resume didn't make it into the "finalist" pile for this year.

I'm enough of a sad sack bleeding heart that it nearly kills me to record the damn voice mail. Twice a day. (No sympathy requested; if I haven't figured this out by now, it's my own fault.)

If you're not on the callback list, it doesn't mean that you sang a bad audition, or that there is necessarily anything dramatically wrong. There are almost as many reasons for not getting on the finalist list as there are singers. Completely individual. It just means that on this particular day at this particular time we don't find you among the 8-10 most compelling singers in your Fach. (It's disturbing math, but there it is. We hire an average of 16 Filene Young Artists, and usually pull those from about 50 finalists. Those 50 came from the initial 1,000. This is not to make you despair, just to give some perspective. There are plenty other YAPs and companies out there.)

We were talking this morning about how astonishingly revealing it is to hear this many auditions every year. My colleagues who do this regularly understand the phenomenon, but it's so hard to explain it to others who don't have the benefit of this long view.

It's not that I have any supernatural ability to make sense of what we hear in auditions - it's just that the sheer quantity itself tells a compelling story. It's a messy story, to be sure, but its details are clear. You quickly begin to understand what's unimportant and what's critical. For Wolf Trap alone, I've heard an average of 350-400 singers each season for the last 17 years (more over the last few years because of our Studio), so I've clocked somewhere between 6,000-7,000 auditions. Easily 15,000+ arias. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make deductions from that kind of volume.

I do want to stress that although I throw around numbers to make this sound scientific, it is decidedly not. It's quite subjective, in fact. There are commonalities in good singing, of course, but once the basic parameters are met, preferences are unavoidably individual. We do our best to try to be as objective as we can, but there's a place where art and science diverge. And many of our decisions have to be made beyond that point.

Although the WTOC is terribly proud of its record in participating in the developing careers of several generations of fabulous singers, there are terrific artists who we passed over during our auditions. If you didn't get called back, perhaps you'll be another one of those.

So there you have it - back to some more singing this afternoon. I will try to compile this year's Aria Frequency List tonight and get it on the blog shortly. And I hope to be back by week's end with a summary of how I spent National Opera Week :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Midwest Musings

This part of the tour is always too much of a whirlwind. Too many good singers, and too few hours in the day. It was a quick 8-hour turnaround from Wednesday night's arrival in Cincinnati to our morning departure from the hotel. And Thursday was dense, with only a half-hour for lunch, and a dash to the airport at the end of the day.

So, befitting our scattered state of mind, some random observations:

Chicken and Egg

I have a slight resistance to a certain Britten opera that shall remain nameless. (Normally I adore Britten, but I have a specific block about this one.) Anyway, an aria from said opera was offered the other day, and since I knew the singer very well, I allowed myself the atypical luxury of a groan. The end of the story? He sang the spots off the scene, and I was won over. I've thought a lot about it, and I have a theory.

So often this opera is sung by young singers whose technique and artistry are still developing, and as a result, I've gotten used to hearing it sung without a lot of legato, expressive flexibility, or finely tuned pitch center. And I've begun to equate those student performances with the piece itself. Sung with detail, accuracy and sensitivity, it took on a whole new aura.

The Delight is in the Details

Our Studio Artist candidates offer a brief contemporary monologue as part of their audition package. Some of them dread being asked for it, as their training and confidence as actors tends to lag behind their musical development. But I'm here to tell you that even though many of them aren't thrilled to perform their monologues, we find a lot more detail in those brief scenes than we do in the arias they've been working on for months or years.

The take-away here? Please please find as much detail, interest, and context in your singing as possible. A single generic emotion spread out over 5 minutes of music does not cut it, even if that emotion is extraordinarily strong and heartfelt.

It's Not About You

Don't sing for yourself.

Or to yourself.

It's not about you. It's about the audience, the music, and the characters that connect the two. I know that you feel it deeply, otherwise you probably wouldn't still be at this crazy game. But you have to get out of your head (and your heart) if you want us to come along with you. Don't be indulgent and selfish

I don't know if this makes sense, but this distinction is a big one.

LA: Epilogue

I said I'd post on Sunday after the MONC competition finals, and I failed. It was a marvelous weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to make a small contribution to the marvelous talent discovery machine that is the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. But the process of adjudicating those auditions is necessarily very different than what we do in our casting for Wolf Trap, and I'm happy to be back in my comfort zone.

While I was in LA, I heard the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel in Verdi's Requiem, and it was an unforgettable experience. All forces were on the top of their game - newly engaged by, it seemed - this piece of standard repertoire. There's a lot of buzz around this new music director, and (is not always the case) it's so lovely to discover something behind it. And on top of that, I adored being in Disney Hall. Too many times one tolerates the physical space in order to hear a performance - in this case, it was completely comfortable and aesthetically pleasing to be there. What a refreshing change.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chicago: The No Caffeine Zone

We've settled into a new audition space in Chicago for 2 days. The management at Classical Symphony Hall is taking very good care of us, and we appreciate being able to listen to voices in a space that doesn't fight against us. The acoustic isn't luxuriously live, but the ceilings are high, and the sound is true. The singers don't seem to mind it, and it's easy to listen.

The only problem is that there's absolutely no food or drink (except water) allowed in the space. And listening to 40 auditions a day (as we did today) without access to coffee is a bit of a stretch. Yes, I'm chemically dependent on caffeine. But the best part was that when I posted the coffee-free-audition-room as my Facebook status update, I received a flurry of comments, the volume of which is normally reserved for announcements of the birth of children and landmark birthdays: 35 comments so far, including:

  • That just isn't right.
  • A crime against God and nature.
  • NOOO!
  • Gasp!
  • Maybe you can beam it in and use a Tarnhelm.
  • No coffee? Is that legal? NOT right!
  • Oh, wow. Just imagine me trying to deal with this. I am getting worked up just thinking about it
  • NO COFFEE?!?! how is that legal?!
  • OMG somebody break in there and help that woman!
  • Clearly, I'm not the only one with an addiction.

Close Your Eyes, Change Your Brain

Now might be a good time to mention why I close my eyes. I'm not sleeping. (Go ahead, link through; it's a short article.)

Although I'm not a highly visual person, I seem to identify so closely with singers while I'm watching them that I have a hard time turning off my inner cheerleader/coach. ("Come on now... Breathe... Stick with the phrase... You can do it...") I've found that if I close my eyes, I can absorb what I hear far more clearly and thoroughly.

Of course, it's a technique to use sparingly, for part of the singer's allure is visual, and I certainly want to experience the visual nuances of the performance. But true to the research, the amygdala (of which I've nerdily written once before) is an amazingly strong barometer of emotional impact of an experience. My left brain is so busy shuffling resumes, looking at rep lists, and documenting the audition that I need a quick way to hook back into the non-clinical aspects of the moment. And closing my eyes is just the ticket.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Interlude: MONC Auditions

I'm on a mid-audition-tour busman's holiday this weekend, judging the Metropolitan Opera National Council Western Region auditions in Los Angeles on the beautiful campus of USC. A high level of singing, enjoyable colleagues, and marvelously friendly and efficient MONC staff and volunteers make it a pleasure.

Today we were in the Newman Recital Hall of the Thornton School of Music for preliminaries, and tomorrow the finals take place in Bovard Auditorium. I'm taking advantage of a night off tonight to catch the LA Phil in Verdi's Requiem. More tomorrow.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Technology in the Audition Room

We kicked off the fall audition tour with a strong start in Los Angeles, and as I was emptying my portable office of its seemingly endless gear, I was reminded of this NY Times article from last summer. I bookmarked it with a reminder to revisit this topic during the audition tour, and this seems like a good time. Clearly, sending casting updates and audition comments via Twitter crosses a line. But the location of that line is much harder to see when you're near it.

Full disclosure: this is how technology helps us in the audition room.


Yes, we use laptops. And no, we are not trying to be rude or ignore you. I've seen plenty of audition panels eat their lunches, do crossword puzzles, manicure their nails, and doze. Being rude does not require a computer, and typing on a laptop does not constitute an affront. Fact is, I can touch-type 10 times faster than I can write, and I can do it while I watch you perform.


I've kept the same auditions database for 16 years. The layouts are set up so that while we're listening to a singer, any previous years' audition comments are off the active screen. You can scroll to see them, but don't have to be influenced by them. And at the end of the day we can put all of our comments side-by-side so that we can see patterns.

Reference Media

We make video and audio recordings of each audition. They are saved onto hard drives. When we have our group of finalist candidates for the season, we review this media. It's always illuminating, and not in predictable ways.

Going back to the performances helps jog our memories of those auditions, and it gives us a chance to re-experience them (or a digital vestige of them) on a different day at a different time in different circumstances. They fill out the picture and help begin our deliberations. After casting is finished, the files are deleted. They've served their purpose, and the aggregate size is too large to archive anyway.


Yes, we travel with a printer. We print revised schedules for the day, keep track of possible repertoire as it emerges, and - most importantly - print boarding passes so we can sprint to the plane at the end of the day :)

Instant Messaging

And here is where I'm sure I'll get into trouble with someone. We use IM to decide on which aria to ask for next. It is way more efficient and thorough than hushed 3-way conversations while the singer is waiting at the other end of the hall. We can think through possible 2nd aria requests quickly and make sure we're choosing wisely.

I know that some of you think we're carrying on casual and unrelated IM correspondence during your audition. Although that might be tempting for the first few minutes or hours using this technology, in reality, it's far more boring than that. There's a lot to be done in documenting your audition - listening fiercely, writing comments that will help us make finalist and casting decisions, jotting down notes that may be helpful to singers when they request feedback, figuring out what the best 2nd choice will be - and there's really no time to chit-chat.

Social Networking

No, we're not going to tweet our audition comments. I think everyone realized that that was just plain stupid. But I am about to blog my 6th audition tour, and that's always a little scary. I started this blog because I believed that singers and fans alike deserved to know more about what really goes on behind the curtain and behind the audition table. Yet it's extremely difficult to do that without invading privacy. I hope that I have managed so far, and I will continue to do so. There are some things that are simply private. There are others that deserve to be openly acknowledged and discussed. Then there's a third list that includes important knowledge for aspiring singers but needs to be obfuscated in some way when the story is told.

The opera world and the arts in general have gotten way more transparent since I started writing in the fall of 2004, and that's a wonderful thing. Hurtful gossip and twisted storytelling will always spread like wildfire, and it's only fair that we now have news ways of counteracting that by keeping the real and important conversations open.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy Fifth Bloggiversary

Well, it was on Wednesday, but I missed it.

Now We Are Five.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sweating Small Stuff... Seeing Forests for Trees... Wholes Being Greater than Sums of Parts ...

As we prepare for our California auditions, I thought this would be a great opportunity for a guest post. Joshua Winograde, Artistic Planning Manager for LA Opera, is a great friend and colleague of the WTOC, and he spent several chunks of his career so far with us - as a Filene Young Artist, as the originator of the title role in Volpone, and as the administrative engine behind the development of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio.

I keep telling Josh he should have his own blog, but he seems to prefer sending guest posts for mine... Hmmmm

Sweating Small Stuff... Seeing Forests for Trees... Wholes Being Greater than Sums of Parts ...

There are endless adages encouraging people to see the larger point, even at the expense of detail. They are wise sayings, and apply to many situations. But believing in these morsels of wisdom too much can be a downward spiral for singers. I'd like to propose that seeing too much of the bigger picture (or at least DWELLING on it) can be bad.

You know when you learn a word for the first time, and then over the course of the following week you hear it seemingly in every newscast, radio show, and conversation you have? Well, over the last two weeks I have come across 3 situations that involve the exact same theme: "DO

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF" (AKA "PAY ATTENTION TO THE TREES", AKA "THE PARTS ARE GREAT, TOO"). So I saw it as a sign to get this information out there ...

I offer this important disclaimer first: Nothing applies to everything or everyone across the board. So don't take this too literally ...just some food for thought.

(By the way, all details have been adjusted ever so slightly without altering the point. So don't bother trying to guess who these are about ... you won't, and you'll end up spending 10 fruitless hours on google :))

Situation #1

A young and very talented conductor friend of mine was lamenting recently about his career not being quite as important (yet) as he had hoped it would be by his age. He used the wondrous, spectacular, unreal, phenomenal Gustavo Dudamel as an example of what he hoped he would have accomplished by HIS 30th birthday. The large picture was this: "Dudamel is my age, why am I not famous? What can he do that I could not, if given the same opportunity? Why don't I have MY own orchestra? Why are LA's streets not covered with posters of ME?"

First I want to just point out that my friend is NOT an egomaniac. He is just concerned that the WHOLE seems to be LESS than the sum of his parts. So I asked him the following questions: "Well, what about the time you guested with the XXXXX Symphony last year?" "Oh," he said, "that was kind of a bomb. The orchestra hated the piece and I had a cold so I wasn't very pleasant or charismatic or inspiring." My response? "When was the last time Dudamel was UN-inspiring, do you think, even with a cold and a horrible composition?" The answer, of course, is NEVER.

My advice was simple. Don't worry about the big picture. Just be excellent. Don't think about Dudamel's explosive career. Just conduct well. Don't worry about whether there might be a chance for you to catch up with someone your own age who is doing much better than you. JUST. BE. EXCELLENT. The next time you conduct, do it well. Someone will hear it and will tell someone else how amazing you were, but DON'T think about that. The next time you are in front of an orchestra, just be excellent. They'll love you because you were excellent, and you'll get another job from it, or an agent, or a poster on the street. But you'll have gotten those things because you were excellent, not because of a larger, abstract agenda to be famous, likable, charismatic, etc. And I am sorry to say that, very often but not always, if you didn't get good things as a result of your performances, it's because they weren't excellent. Got it?

Situation #2

One of today's most famous directors just told me this story about his first big break. He had been the assistant director for many years of another SUPER famous director, and was given the opportunity to finally direct his own show. It happened to star several of the most famous singers in the world, and he was FREAKED. "How do I make sure they like me? How are they going to react to some young, unknown punk telling them what to do? How will they take me

seriously? What if I bomb?" This young director took his concerns to his mentor (the SUPER famous one), who replied with this: "Start by fixing their mistakes."

It was a revelation to this young AD (who by the way had a HUGE success). In other words, don't worry about their perception of your expertise. Just fix mistakes. Don't get hysterical about whether this will get good reviews. Just direct well. You can't control whether they have already formed an unjust opinion of you since learning their director was an unknown punk. JUST. BE. EXCELLENT.

The famous singers will tell all their famous friends about how great you were. People will ask you for the DVD to see your work. You will be hired again by the same company. But it will be because you directed excellently, not because you somehow strategized to become loved, or successful, or to get good reviews.

Situation #3

I saw a video of a cello master class taught by the most successful cellist in recent history. The student he was working with was getting flustered by his critiques, not because the teacher was impatient or unclear, but because the young cellist student said she "couldn't quite get a complete picture of the appropriate Bach style" he was asking for. His response: "Start by playing beautifully. And in tune." There was dead silence for about 10 LONG seconds before they just continued. It was as if the statement was so simple that no one could understand it.

By this point in my ramblings, you get it ...

So in summary, how does this apply to singers? Are you anxious about your career? Do you want us to like you? Are you unclear about which managers to approach? Are you confused about which YAPs might want you? Do you want desperately to understand bel canto style? Mozart recits? Handel ornamentation? Do you want to make a good impression and be re-engaged by the company you are working at currently? Do you want to get on the good side of someone important? Blah blah blah ... forest for the ... whole is greater ... too big picture ... waste of time ... yuck.

Start by singing excellently. The next time I hear you, be excellent. Sing beautifully. And in tune. Pronounce your words excellently. Is your top short? Fix it. Do people tell you that you go flat sometimes? Fix it. Make it excellent. Are your runs sloppy? Fix them. Are your recits unnatural and "un-Italian"? Make them idiomatic. The next time you sing, and the time after that, too, just do a REALLY good job. Trust me, if you are excellent, we'll like you. You'll get re-engaged. You'll get a job like Dudamel's. Your Bach style will be wonderful.

YES ... I can hear the screams from here. "Do a good job? That is so abstract and more complicated than you think! This makes no sense! If I COULD just be excellent I wouldn't need to keep studying! You can't just WILL yourself to sing in tune, JOSH!!! Coloratura is hard!"

And you are absolutely right if you thought any of these things to yourself. I have completely over-simplified the process and I myself can hardly believe some of the idealistic and intangible things I've said. But if you REALLY don't think anything I have said applies to the coming audition season and to the rest of your career, then please allow me to tie this up cleverly in a sweet little bow: maybe you just can't see the forest for the trees.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


And we're off. 7 cities, 6 airports, 3 train stations, dozens of cabs and one car rental later, we'll end up back here at Thanksgiving - with any luck, ready to cast 3 operas for next summer.

I'll write as often as possible from the road - cities and dates below at right.

Tonight I try to stuff 3 weeks' worth of clothing, computer gear, audio/video archive equipment, and audition paperwork into one checked back and one carry-on. The travails of travel await, but this will make it all better this year.

See you from the left coast in a few days.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Expert Friday: Tips from Texas

On our final expert Friday, some combined advice from Kathleen Kelly and Laura Canning of the Houston Grand Opera Studio:

Don't Second-Guess!

We like hearing you sing; we know auditioning is hard and we want you to do well. Don't try to second guess what I want you to sing, or wear, or say. Just be true to yourself. Every panel wants something different- every MEMBER of every panel wants something different!

Your Aria List

Make sure you choose your starting piece carefully. Don't choose something long just because you think you're only going get to sing one aria - that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Know how to get from your first piece to every other item on your list. Don't presume you know what the panel are going to ask for second. Do provide contrast, as otherwise why would we choose a second aria? If on the day you don't feel up to your stretch piece, take it off your list.


Send music / repertoire info in advance if it's not standard, especially if you're planning to start with that aria. Take 20 seconds to talk to your pianist before you start. Make sure you sing at your tempo, not his or hers. Don't take your own pianist unless you're sure they're better than the one provided!


Don't presume there is somewhere to warm up / change at the venue without checking. If you're running late, phone!

Have an Opinion

Have an opinion; have many opinions, and bring them to the table. Nothing is deadlier than music managed rather than lived, performance designed not to offend. Avoid asking for permission in the moment of performance. Sometimes I feel like auditioners are painting themselves white, like apartments that could be rented by anyone. Believe that we truly want to know who you are.

In the service of the above - work religiously and scrupulously to inform yourself of everything, from how Italian vowels sound, to where the orchestra can and can't allow you to take time, to the areas in which your own voice and body are most and least capable. That work will last the rest of your life, so it won't be finished when you audition - but we can tell if you are doing it or not.

And finally, I just ran across this terrific audition advice blog from Bill Florescu of Florentine Opera Company: The Opera Audition.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your Audition Partner at the Piano

First, a list from a few seasons ago, when my colleague Thomas Lausmann sat on the audition panel with me:

What Makes a Fabulous Audition Pianist?

  • Listening. The ability to put the playing in subconscious mode and use most of the conscious mind to take in all of the details of the performance and become a split-second collaborator for singers the pianist has never met.
  • Flexibility. Turning on a dime to respond to the unexpected – a mis-timed entrance, a sudden change in tempo, an ill-marked cut in the printed music, a book (or, perish the thought, a stray piece of loose music) that won’t stay on the rack.
  • ESP. The ability to know sometimes a singer grinds to a halt not because he wants to, but because he can’t help himself. The pianist must gently prod the tempo. The ability to know that a singer’s desired tempo is predicated on the length of phrase she can sustain or the very specific speed that the coloratura must move in that particular voice.
  • Tolerance. Auditioners are a nervous lot. Normally sane, pleasant people can become pretty tightly wound in the audition room. Face it – the pianist is physically closer to the singer than any of us, and some of that wears off.
  • Musicality. We notice this and are thankful for it almost hourly. Singers feel it in their bones even if they don’t acknowledge it consciously. A well-shaped phrase, an interlude or prelude that actually encourages the singer to join in the music-making – that’s what it’s all about.

Your Responsibility

We realize that the audition pianist is a variable that changes 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. But be sure that your pianist can play your rep better than a typical company-provided pianist. I've seen too many singers undone by their own colleagues.

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.

Don’t snap your fingers at the pianist to indicate tempo. Aside from being slightly irritating (don't ask me why, it just is... I've been on the receiving end myself), it's rarely functional. I have yet to see a singer indicate a tempo (by clapping, snapping, conducting, etc) that bears a real resemblance to the actual speed of the aria.

Take a look back at this post in Week 3 for practical considerations when prepping your music for the audition pianist.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Audition Room Protocol

Don't spend a lot of time obsessing about how to relate to the audition panel. Auditions aren't cocktail parties, and other than avoiding the appearance of being extraordinarily grumpy and crank, there's not a lot to worry about.


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 firmly against this and others who are mildly irritated by it. Almost no one thinks it's a great idea, and it's almost never not awkward. I have no strong opinion, but these kinds of formalities do slow things down terribly. 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.


Most of the time, the panel has your materials. If you need to submit a rep list change (where allowed), often the monitor can handle it. If not, deliver it to the panel with a smile, then get right to the main event.


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 get 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.


Be efficient and pleasant. Then sing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Audition Room Acoustics

The annual search for decent audition spaces in various cities across the country is a huge challenge. Some of the spaces we use are typical opera house rehearsal halls, and we're all familiar with how they feel, look, and sound. But occasionally we end up in a space at one of the two extremes of the acoustic spectrum.

1. The Bathroom/Stairwell Acoustic

Singers initially love the fact that everyone sounds huge in such a space. 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. What’s surprising is that a live acoustic actually picks up and magnifies certain troublesome aspects of certain kinds of voices.

For us, this kind of environment is the aural equivalent of squinting for 2 days, trying to zero in on the core of the sound and ignore the noise around it. All of the upper partials are exaggerated, and although this can flatter the occasional muted, dark voice, anyone with any natural squillo in the sound can peel the paper off the walls.

2. Singing Into a Sock

If forced into either end of the spectrum, this is what we often choose. And I'm here to try to convince you that you actually have a better chance in this kind of environment. For in a dry acoustic, we know that we have to mentally add a certain amount of bloom and resonance to everyone's sound, and that tends to make us charitable. (As opposed to the hyper-live acoustic, where the mental exercise is one of subtraction.) We actually tend to deliberately overlook (or minimize) some things because we know how naked the sound is.

But singers have to have the technical foundation and discipline to resist the urge to push and drive the voice because of a too-dry acoustic. The biggest mistake that inexperienced singers make is to react to dry acoustics by pushing for volume because they don’t hear much sound coming back at them.

Bottom line: Get experienced in and prepared for the entire range of possibilities. For this isn't just limited to audition spaces - there's a similar range of acoustics in the performance halls you'll experience. Work with your teacher to find ways to avoid focusing on the unreliable aural feedback and to depend on other, more technically secure ways to know that you're doing your best singing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Outside the Room

I'm easing back into work this week, feeling fairly disoriented for reasons good and bad. But today's topic is pretty straight-forward, so I'm in luck.

We get a lot of questions about protocol inside the audition room, and we'll take a look at this topic later this week. For now, though, spare a moment to think about what happens outside that audition room door.

Trash Talk

Singers don't overtly try to get inside each others' heads the way professional athletes do, but there are mind games outside the room. Most artists are fair-minded and collegial, but you will inevitably meet people in the waiting room who think it's in their best interest to undermine the confidence of the competition. Or perhaps it's not even that deliberate - it's possible that they're just trying desperately to boost their own confidence.

Whatever the reason, if a singer in the waiting area is spouting off in a way that intimidates or unnerves you, figure out a way to silence the noise immediately. If it's possible to leave his/her vicinity and wait in another area, do so. If you must stay there, tune into your iPod or your computer. Or engage yourself in quiet conversation of a positive or neutral nature with someone else. Do not let these strutting peacocks make you think any less of yourself.


Develop one. Don't leave any distracting details to chance.

Get the packing of your clothes and your music down to a science. Be sure you have worn your audition clothes (including shoes!) before and are supremely comfortable in them.

Don't be surprised to find no warm-up rooms. We all do our best, but in most cities, the spaces we rent simply don't have warm-up space available. Develop a strategy (singing in the car, humming in the elevator, whatever it takes), for although this scenario is unfortunate, it's not uncommon.

Give yourself as much time as possible to get there, and have a plan for what you will do with the extra waiting time you will have if you're lucky. (Don't use it to worry; be thoughtful about what will relax and prepare you, whether it's listening to music, reading, doing sudoku or stretching.)

And know what degree and kind of conversation you can indulge in without losing your focus. Chit-chatting calms some folks and enervates others.

You Never Know Who's Listening

Please, whatever you do or say should play itself out as if the panel themselves were out there in the waiting room with you. Because very often, the innocuous-looking person who checks you in is closely affiliated with the company for which you're about to sing.

If you distinguish yourself in a negative way in that environment, don't be surprised if your shenanigans become part of the break-time conversation with the panel. We're not needlessly gossiping, nor are we putting you through some sort of test. But if we're considering working with you for a production or a season, it's reasonable that we would be interested in your general level of integrity and professionalism - even when you think no one is looking.

Friday, October 16, 2009


It's a good thing I'm not getting graded on the audition season mini-course, for I've fallen off the wagon in a big way this week. It was delusional to believe that we could process and review 1,000 audition applications and keep up with the blog at the same time.

In spite of (and somewhat because of) this, I am taking time off next week. I will be off the email/phone grid for the first time in several years, taking my first vacation since 2006 that isn't combined with a playing gig. (Just imagine the extra room in the suitcase without the music notebook and the black dress!) I will be back the week of October 26 to finish up the audition series posts, then on the road for just under 500 auditions starting the week of November. See you soon!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Counting Down

Just a reminder that if you're interested in applying for an audition in New York, Philadelphia, or Vienna, you have until 12midnight tonight (10/9/09) to do so.

Enjoy your weekend!

Expert Friday: Chicago

It's a good thing it's Expert Friday, because I have been rendered completely inarticulate by the last 50 hours of application processing. Can't even hold a simple phone conversation. Have no English.

David Holloway is the Director of the Apprentice Singers Program for Santa Fe Opera and Head of the Voice Department at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. He offers this description of how the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Programs helps its singers prepare for auditions:

I work with the Santa Fe Opera apprentices on the MainStage Auditions that they all do every summer for representatives of opera companies and managements, helping them find their unique “voice” that will hopefully give each of them an edge, but at the same time, help make the entire group look “special.” This past August so many people told me afterward how wonderful the singers did in their auditions and talked about how much that auditions situation has improved over the last few years. But that improvement hasn’t happened without a large measure of intention on our parts.

The coaches play an important role, of course, and we asked stage director Kristine McIntyre to work with each of them individually, helping them express the character of the person who sings the aria. We didn’t want them “staged,” but just to express the essence of that unique situation in the opera in their 5 minutes on stage. In some cases it involved minimal movement, in most cases it could be handled within that magic circle near the crook of the piano. Most of the time we are not trying to create stage animals, but rather, performers who seem to be able to find that still, small center, be themselves, stay simple, and show the intention of a character.

We also do mock auditions the week before these auditions where they can show what they have been practicing, and we ask them to dress as if they were doing it so that we can get a sense of what they will do. We took long enough after each audition to speak briefly with the singers, mostly acknowledging anything positive we saw, and in a few cases suggesting what we thought they might do even better. In a few cases we suggested that a change in aria might be in order. Our intention is to help them differentiate themselves one from another. At the same time, we encourage them to support their colleagues in any way they can, to help them deal with their own nervousness and anxiety.

I recently had a brief discussion with Gianna Rolandi, Director of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. On the topic of audition attire and appearance, she noted that hair obscuring a singer's face is a huge liability. We also agree that forcing a too-familiar and hyper-friendly approach to the panel is a bad idea. It comes of nervousness, I know, but it's probably best to adopt a relaxed professional demeanor. And Gianna reminds us that it's not a great idea to shake hands with the panel before or after the audition. (Especially during flu and cold season!)

And finally, for thoughts on auditions from Chicago Opera Theater's General Director Brian Dickie, check out this entry on his terrific blog.

Week 5 will start on Tuesday, for I'll be spending Columbus Day at home cranking through the New York audition site applications that are coming in today. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Audition Props?

Now that that's settled...

FINAL DEADLINE for audition applications for summer 2010 is this Friday, October 9 at midnight.
Start here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Don't Pace & Don't Land the Plane

What does your audition aria look like from behind the table? Singers worry endlessly about the extent to which they can move in an audition situation.

Should You "Block" Your Aria?

Well strictly speaking, no. You shouldn't perform your audition in the same way you would approach a staged performance. But the exercise of staging your scene has potential to teach you things about it from which you will benefit even when you're standing in one place. So go ahead and play with it - work with a directing coach, explore some options yourself. Then figure out how to make it seem as vivid without traveling all over the room, without furniture, and without props.

One Step Left, One Step Right...

Please don't pace. I know how hard it is. I don't sing, but when I give lectures, I have an extremely hard time keeping the pacing down to a low roar. It's extraordinarily difficult to turn off the auto-pilot and stand in one place. But learning how to do it is worth its weight in gold.

That doesn't mean you can never take a step. If your gestures and movements are purposeful (as opposed to random and/or nervous) and completely integrated with the music and the character in both in quantity and quality, then by all means, take a few steps now and then. Change your focus. But don't pace. If you have any doubt, ask any unbiased observer to tell you whether or not you are pacing. Or make a video and watch it with the sound off and the action speeded up.

Thre's absolutely nothing wrong with operating within a small area if it's done well, But until you can skillfully incorporate purposeful changes of location into your audition, best to stay put.

(Corollaries: Whatever you do, don't stray so far that your pianist loses contact with you. And don't get closer and closer to the audition table - it's a little creepy and it's dysfunctional, for we need to hear what you sound like from at least a few feet away.)


It's very difficult to talk about this out of context, but I think I can best contribute by describing the three types of movement that don't work.

1. Technical. Don't conduct yourself. Don't remind yourself about what you need to do in the passaggio by miming through it with your hands.

2. Random. If your arms look as if they belong to someone else, and their movements are not integrated in any way with what you're communicating, we have a problem. So often we see singers whose bodies seem to be completely disconnected from their voices. This is a larger issue, and one that should concern almost everyone. Take every opportunity to work with movement specialists, dancers, and anyone who can help you own your physical space and be comfortable in your own skin. This skill is difficult and surprisingly uncommon.

3. Semaphoric. In which you look as if you're landing an airplane, performing ASL for the hearing impaired, or playing charades. Relax. We don't want to straight-jacket you, but showing 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.

The Spectrum

It's a sliding scale. I've seen plenty of kick-a** auditions that go much further in physicality than I would have advised, and I've seen other unsuccessful auditions that fall well within what we would consider normal limits. Just about the time I figure out where I stand, I change my mind because someone will give a totally successful audition by doing something I didn’t advocate.

Just be aware that if you make a bold choice, it will invariably be intriguing and exciting to some panels and off-putting to others. Believe in it, and be ready to take the credit and the blame.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Three Soapboxes

When I crafted the outline for this set of audition posts, I threw in a day called "Musical Preparation." Well, duh. That's sort of what you do most days every day. I know that, but I just want to call attention to a few specific vocal/musical issues, to make sure they are never overlooked or given short shrift.

First, and foremost:


I know that this is a difficult topic, and that it's never something that is scientifically conquerable. It's not as if we need everyone to sound as if they've been put through auto-tune. But get some really honest and reliable feedback from coaches, teachers, colleagues as to whether you are approaching your singing in a way that 1) allows you to center on a pitch and 2) allows that center to be in the right place.

I don't like haranguing, but this is a big deal. A teacher or a school can hear a developing voice with pitch issues, hear the many positives surrounding the problem, and put themselves behind that singer. Pitch problems are not a death sentence, just another challenging component of a technique. But we and many other YAPs and companies are listening to you for the purpose of putting you on a stage. That's what you want after all, right? And we can't put you there if you are a quarter tone flat all the time. Or sharp. Or a little of both. Or with a vibrato with amplitude so large that we don't know where the bullseye is.

Developing a technique is a process, and occasionally you may be in transition, or working through something that wreaks temporary havoc with tuning. But singers must realize that even if we appreciate everything else about your artistry - dramatic depth, musical instincts, exquisite phrasing, impeccable language - if you can't sing on pitch, we can't hire you. Frustrating for both of us.



Your coaches and teachers have told you. It has to mean something. It must be motivated, have intention, color, detail. We know that you know this. But we very rarely see it put into practice. It’s astonishing how easy it is to see the eyes glaze over, the face go blank, the arms and hands begin to clench. Don’t disappear on us. Trust me, I know how difficult it is. But most of these composers knew what they were doing. We’re not asking you to treat these challenging passages as if they were easy. They exist for musical and dramatic reasons. 1) Figure out exactly what those reasons are, 2) Merge the composer's intentions with your technique and approach to the coloratura, and (this is the hardest one) 3) Make it more than an intellectual exercise. It must, as they say, “read” all the way to the back row.

This isn't an irrelevant task that your coach is giving you; it's for real.

As is the next one:


Please be sure we can understand you, and even more importantly, know what you're singing about. Translate, paraphrase, reinvent, improvise - singers are given the tool of words for a reason. They need to seem as if they come from the very center of your being - from the same place the music lives. While you're singing them, they are yours and only yours. Own them.

We are in the claws of the database this week, with the goal of 60-80 applications and resumes a day. We're working through all of the paperwork for LA, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Houston. If you intend to apply for an audition in one of the remaining cities (New York, Philadelphia, Vienna) the deadline is this Friday, October 9 at midnight.

I'll see you tomorrow with a brief discussion on what your audition arias look like from the other end of the room.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Could We Hear the [Insert Name of Aria Here], Please?

Coming up this week in our Fall 2009 Audition Mini-Course:

  • Monday - The Second Aria
  • Tuesday - Musical Preparation
  • Wednesday - Physicalization
  • Thursday - Props
  • Expert Friday - Chicago-based colleagues weigh in

Do You Have Any Mozart?

Much of the time, you'll get to choose your first audition aria. Sometimes it'll be your only aria, but occasionally, you'll be lucky enough to get to sing two. Or three!

You've gotta love that brief yet amazingly angst-filled moment after you finish your first audition aria. Waiting for the panel to say "Thank you" (translated: "We don't need to hear another aria") or to ask for another selection.

We try to minimize the awkwardness by being ready to ask for your second piece in fairly short order after you finish your opener. (Often, we do this by conferring with each other about the 2nd aria choice via instant message on our computers. Look for a discussion of technology in the audition room next week.) Frankly, I'd rather you take the 15-30 seconds in between to gather your thoughts and prepare yourself, rather than spend it discussing amongst ourselves while you hang out in the front of the room trying not to appear as if you're listening to us argue.

It's one thing to be ready to fully invest yourself, dramatically and vocally, in the first aria of your choice upon which you can focus even before you enter the room. But giving up control and allowing the panel to choose the second piece from among your list of 4 or 5 requires a different skill set.

I only have one main piece of advice: Don't second-guess.

Given the chance, singers grill me endlessly about how we pick second arias. Yes, there is something of a system to it. If your first aria doesn't address very specific issues like coloratura, or legato, or specific language fluency, or extremes of range, we'll often gravitate toward a second aria that answers those questions. But often there are multiple ways to address those questions, and the choice is often less than scientific - sometimes even based on instinct.

No amount of deduction will reveal what you'll be asked for. So stay loose and find a way to look forward to singing whatever it is that gets picked.

I do have one more suggestion: Don't be visibly disappointed in the panel's pick (even if you are), and don't put anything on your list that you aren't completely willing and able to sing. You might be surprised to know that at least a dozen times a season, our request for the second piece is met with shaking of the head, muttering under the breath, exasperated sighing, and actual expressions of disbelief. ("I can't believe you picked that...")

And as I mentioned before, just be glad you won't be judged solely on your best 16 bars in a Broadway cattle call!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Expert Friday: Enjoy Yourself!

A few choice words of audition advice from Darren Keith Woods, General Director, Fort Worth Opera & Artistic Director, Seagle Music Colony. (And, it just so happens, an alumnus of the WTOC!)

The main piece of advice I would give to a young singer is to sing what they sing best and do not play to the repertoire. Learning an aria for an audition that you haven’t lived with for awhile can be treacherous. You will never sing it as well as something you have coached and worked out – musically and dramatically.

I also like the artist to give me a sense of the dramatic arch of the aria. Don’t just stand and sing – this is not a concert we are hiring you for, we need to see what you bring to the aria dramatically so that we can adequately judge the artist’s ability to put a character across on stage.

Lastly – enjoy yourself. Opera is an amazing, wonderful thing and we are all fortunate to make our livings this way. Perform, enjoy and show us your gifts! That’s all we want.

Enjoy your weekend! If you're applying for an audition spot in LA, Chicago, Cincinnati, or Houston, the deadline is midnight tonight!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What (Not) To Wear

Today's opera blog episode, in which KPW and Rahree channel Clinton Kelly and Stacy London. (Yeah, I had to ask who they were, too.)

Before we get to the fashion advice...


Tomorrow (Friday October 2) at midnight is the application deadline for an audition in LA, Chicago, Cincinnati or Houston. Please don't overwhelm the internet server at 11:59pm.

If you do apply and you have any doubt about whether or not your payment went through, send us an email before you hit "submit" multiple times. We'll write back and let you know if everything's OK. We don't want to have to process reimbursements for multiple payments. (Some folks believe that paying once is more than enough; paying twice is certainly not a good idea.)

Just like Tuesday's post about headshots, today's entry is highly unscientific. But it comes out of discussions with colleagues, conventional wisdom about audition attire, and from observing over 6,ooo singers in the audition room over the last 15 years.

(Demographic description of contributors: Rahree is a hip 30-something with fabulous taste in clothes. KPW is, uh, well, older than that, and tends to retreat into nondescript black things.)

General Guidelines

Be professional. Wear something that is the singer equivalent of what a 9-5 person would wear to a job interview. Or think about it as Sitzprobe clothes. Within the industry, there's a fairly widespread custom of wearing something polished for a Sitz rehearsal. That's the general category of clothing we're aiming for.

No formal wear. Leave the tuxes and the full-length evening gowns in their dry-cleaning bags. Same with sequins and other über-glitzy options.

Color. Solid, vibrant colors are always welcome. Busy prints add a level of visual white noise that is somehow distracting. Few people make strong statements in washed-out pastels. And, although black is an always defensible choice, it's rarely memorable.

Confidence. Feel like a million bucks in your audition clothes. Don't wear something that someone else prescribes if you feel you're apologizing for your appearance in any way. You and your friends/teacher/circle should agree that you look terrific - there is an intersection, and you can find it.

Comfort. Be able to move. Nothing should constrict your freedom of movement, for both vocal/technical reasons, and for general ease and fluidity of motion.

Familiarity. Don't wear your new stuff for the first time in front of an important panel. Get to know it, so it isn't another variable on a stressful day.

Guys Only

You get to go first because you're easier.

Tie. Probably, but if you can look fabulously turned out with an open collar and jacket, we can be convinced. If you wear a tie, bold colors can work wonders. No cravats, please.

Jacket. Probably, but if you can look irresistible in a crisp shirt and tie, we won't complain.

Neither? You really shouldn't abandon both jacket and tie. Let's just say it's risky.

Hair. Out of your eyes. Usually more of a problem for the ladies, but if you sport some serious locks, make sure they're not obscuring your face.

Accent. Bold tie. Fun socks. An amazing suit. Colorful pocket square if you can bring it off. Helps us remember you.

OK, Ladies...

Foundation. It all starts here. Undergarments. If you have less than 10% body fat and we won't be distracted by jiggling lumps and bumps, then you're safe. Otherwise, be conservative. I don't really want to know that much about what's under your stretchy tight wrap dress, and I don't want to spend the aria wondering if your girls are going to fall out. And if you haven't watched your torso in a mirror during coloratura lately, perhaps it's time to see what we see. There are athletic aspects to your chosen craft, and you should dress for them.

Shoes. Be sure you can walk easily in them and support your singing. We don't really care about open vs. closed toes, but I guess some people do. And character shoes almost never come off well.

Pants are fine. Mezzos or sopranos. They should look classy, and they should fit you well.

Length. Above the knee is dicey, but not impossible. Just be sure you're not going to be singing on a stage well above the panel. (If you're not sure, don't chance it.) And don't delude yourself about whether or not you look good in a short(er) skirt.

Hair. Not in your face. Not overwhelming. Doesn't have to be "pulled back," it just has to not be the mane [sic:)] event.

Accessories. Be careful about shawls and scarves and other things that are not stabilized or otherwise affixed to your person. I don't want to be distracted by wondering how you're going to catch it next. But an accessory that sets you apart is a marvelous thing... an unusual cut to a dress, a vibrant touch of color, an interesting piece (pin, necklace) that doesn't overwhelm. It helps us remember you visually, and it adds energy and detail to your presence.

Come As You Are Tour 2009 !

Don’t worry about dressing up – you sing better in grubbies anyway, right?

If we hire you, chances are that we’ll make you wear something fairly crazy anyway, so looking your prettiest/most handsome isn’t really a selling point for us. (This will also keep Rahree from paying too much attention to your cute shoes and not enough to la voce.) Come as you are, and blow us out of the water with your amazing musical talents! And don’t forget to say “hi” on your way in. We’ll be the folks sitting behind the table…

…in our sweats.