Although I have more peace of mind now and time to write and enjoy my life, audition season is STILL, or AGAIN, or just ALWAYS upon us!
So let me share some of my audition tips for you.
My mom has been calling me the audition princess for quite some time now. Not because I always win, but because I know exactly what to do to leave a good impression. Apart from doing them myself, I have been on panels and closely involved with people who sit in quite important jury’s.
Before I turned 30 I did not win over 80 auditions. But I am making my money as a freelance artist, so that means I won some as well.
I’ll tell you here what I believe you could do to feel secure and motivated before your next audition, as well as happy and proud when your 7 minutes are over.
Being highly sensitive to the energy of others, when on a panel I was sometimes amazed what singers think they can “permit” themselves.
Plus I’ll add a bonus in the end: The mindset I have in every single audition.
If it works for me, it might work for you too!
Getting the job or not, you can be proud of yourself when you keep to the following points:
1. Don’t be the bitch
The walls have ears and eyes. Don’t be the bitch when you are waiting for your audition slot, you never know who is listening.
I have been often at auditions where there was a soprano basically bullying her competitors. Not a good idea girl, ’cause it will come back 3-fold eventually.
I understand you want to trick your fellow soprano’s in doing a bad job, but remember: manipulation only works short term, so be a good colleague.
2. The accompanist is your best friend.
If you cannot bring your own accompanist to the audition, then be kind, complimentary and generous to the one that is provided. Even if he/she plays absolute crap.
It doesn’t matter if they cannot read figured bass and it’s a Monteverdi audition.
Yes, oh yes that happens…I was quite shocked myself…but hey…I just went with the few chords and an insecure left hand I got from my accompanist. Poor girl really. I felt for her.
It doesn’t matter that they play wrong notes or chords in standard Mozart repertoire.
It doesn’t matter if they only play the melody with one hand.
I know, it is highly irritating, but still: Always Be Kind To Them!
Get in with a smile and greet them first, then greet the panel.
The first important impression a panel gets is how you behave towards the accompanist. He or she is probably someone they all know. Treat them right. I can not stress this enough.
Talk your tempo through with them and if they still mess it up big time. Just stop – be kind – smile- and say: Oh sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I would like it in this way…(mark your tempo) – smile – and start again.
And of course, don’t forget to thank them for playing when you leave.
You don’t want to be the one they didn’t hire because you weren’t nice to the accompanist who turned out to be the spouse of the chairman…
I still remember vividly that one soprano girl was quite ignorant and a bit rude to our pianist during the 2016 auditions. Before she even sang one tone I already didn’t like her. Do I have to get over that a jury member? Actually not! I would be damned if I would have to work with someone for weeks who don’t treat my accompanist kindly.
It’s very interesting to sit on the panel when you are a singer yourself. You realize what things we tend to do that are not OK.
3. Audition for the right roles.
Be aware that there are opera’s with various roles you could sing. Do not only focus on the main characters because you want to score high eyes with a lead role. Lead roles are great but know yourself and your ability first.
What are the characters you really come to life with? When are you in your best element?
I did auditions for a secondary or third character because I really liked them and had so much fun singing and playing them during the shows. The most prestige part might not always bring out the best in you.
Yeah, don’t I know it! I asked my opera director 6 months ago for a minor part for an upcoming show. He looked at me and said: “But you were my prima donna, is that not weird?”
Ehm…No. Not to me, it is. I know in which roles I thrive and can do the best job, honouring the character and music. Isn’t that the most important?
4. Pick the audition repertoire your voice loves.
Sure, when you are bound to a certain role, you may have limited choices, but you can always bring something else that you love in case they ask.
And if your choice of repertoire is freer: You are a singer because you love to sing right?
That should also be the vibe you give off to the jury. So pick the repertoire you adore.
Even if they do not like your voice that much, they might like how much you like to sing it.
It’ll probably not give you a job right away, but the memory of you will stay as “that singer who really put her heart into it” or “that singer who really knew her voice” and this could be valuable for the future since our voices are always developing. Maybe some years later you’ll meet one of those judges again who remembered you as that passionate singer.
I once auditioned for Alcina. Since Oberto was cut and as a light coloratura soprano, I auditioned for the role of Morgana…just like 200 others…
After Tornami a vagheggiar, which was obligatory, they didn’t choose from my opera repertoire list but asked what I wanted to sing next. Spontaneously I decided for a Bach aria, which I also brought with me.
The 9 head jury was completely confused.
They must have thought I was a 100% weirdo, but in my defence, this aria really brings out my voice in a beautiful way and I have such good memories when I sang it for the first time under the baton of Ton Koopman.
So I don’t care. I sang it.
When I was done, one of the jury members mentioned that there was not enough Bach heard in these auditions and that he liked it very much. I didn’t get the Morgana, but a few months later I was invited on a small Bach tour through Germany where I sang some solo’s and got some good money. The link to this opportunity was that man in the Alcina jury.
I mean: when the odds are already 200 against 1…Why not take a chance and be different?
5. Do not treat Art Song like Opera, do not treat Bach like Opera, do not treat Musical like opera.
Simply because it is not opera!
Be a painter. Show them a coloured pallet if your audition allows a broader repertoire.
Diversity is key. Why would you choose one kind of hummus if there are like 12 to choose from?
Life would be so boring.
6. Be generous with the music you are performing.
And with this I mean: Show them how well you know it.
To know a melody is one thing, but do you know more about it?
Did you read about it? Do you know the extra layers of the character?
What about subtext? And the subtext of the subtext? I am an absolute LOVER of subtext.
A year ago I talked with my opera director about it and he mentioned that not so many of his singers come to him to talk about subtext. And that he thought that was a pity.
So yeah, know all this and it will make your aria much richer.
I once did a course with a rather famous conductor. A piece that I absolutely OWN! I love it and know everything about it. Later he told my father: “She really knows and adores this music, isn’t it? She should audition for my ensemble.”
I am sure he wouldn’t have said that if he thought I did a bad job singing, but let’s face it… enough soprano’s around, also in his database! In that particular course were at least 2 who were vocally more matured than me.
However, I auditioned for the ensemble, got in and did some great touring with them.
7. Be yourself.
I refer back to the Bach aria here but also: Just be you. Be authentic. You are enough.
Sometimes people toughen up. They want to sound or act like their big idols.
But do you want the panel to think: “He wants to be like Pavarotti” or do you want them to see you like yourself and maybe you’ll remind them of Pavarotti. Yes, again this is a very thin line to walk. But you can walk it when you learn to be you.
Years ago, when auditioning for an ensemble part with a little solo, the conductor said to me: “Ah, you are like Kathleen Battle!”
And to be honest…I really wasn’t sure which one that was, so I just nodded and smiled. When coming home I figured it out and realized it was quite a compliment. A few days later I got the part.
8. Don’t audition when you are really ill.
First of all, it’s not very kind to any colleague who might be on the waiting list.
Second: Do you really want to leave a sick impression?
I am not talking about a little running nose here. I am talking about not being able to sing any note the right way, high fever, unfocused and in pain.
Panels choose healthy singers. Whatever reason you will give them for being ill, they won’t buy it. It’s none of their business and it doesn’t have to be.
Just cancel when you are sick instead of spreading around your germs and for sure you will get another chance to audition for them.
If not: then this house/ group/ organization is just not for you. Seriously.
9. The panel wants you to do well.
Also if you don’t know them. They aren’t you enemies. They want you to do well. They want to know who is out there. Always have the mindset that they want to work with a new person.
This is the rule of: Assuming GOOD INTENT.
I know how frustrating it is when they never get back to you after or don’t provide any feedback when you ask for it, but if you already enter the room thinking they look unkind, they are assholes, they are so full of themselves, they for sure will not like it, they probably don’t NEED any singer and this is just a FAKE audition…guess what?… All of that will be true.
Start every audition fresh, as if you are not hurt from your past, assuming good intent.
True: Friends, former students, colleagues, people they know from previous projects always have an advantage.
But that doesn’t mean you have a disadvantage.
This is a change in mindset. Think like: every competitor is a “1” and if there are three who already worked with the conductor or director before they might be a 1+. But that doesn’t mean you are a “0”.
You are still a “1” and you could become a 1+.
10. Be confident but not arrogant.
Again a thin line to walk. In my opinion, it has much to do with laying your weapons down.
I was once in a panel where a soprano came in acting like
1. she already had the job.
2. she actually didn’t want to be there.
I personally think she was very nervous at that moment and this was her defense mechanism. But you can’t do this, girl, because it really doesn’t work.
If there are 5 equally perfect soprano’s, they will choose the one they get the best vibe from. They will choose the one with the best positive energy because, over the course of 6 weeks of preparation, that is the safest bet for a good group dynamics.
And if they need an extra into an existing group and they have 5 good ones to choose from?
Believe me: being genuinely kind is your extra plus.
Bonus: Do you want to know what I always do? The mindset I always put on? The thing that makes me never ever feel nervous before an audition? Yes, I am one of those bitches, I do not have the audition nerves.
Here it is:
The audition is the only time when you can show your own full interpretation of a piece.
Afterwards, when rehearsing for the show you are handed over to the whims of the team. (conductor, director, costume, set and light designers) And they will have you hang upside down, spotlight right into your left eye, wear 8 cm heels, carry heavy things, jump around like an 8-year-old boy or ask you to change the written rhythms…There will be always things that prevent you from doing it your way. But not at the audition!
So again: The audition is the only time you can show them your own full interpretation of a piece. (Apart from self-organized concerts of course)
For sure, your favourite characters behave, act, walk and sing a certain way.
You created them in your head long before you do this audition.
So now they can come alive in your own interpretation.
This is the moment when you are still free from any restrains.
It’s the perfect place to show how you believe this role should be sung.
And when in the show your director makes you do the opposite of what you did in the audition and you have to sing it completely different according to the conductor, it only shows that they were impressed and thought: “Hm…very interesting interpretation. I will remember that.”
And that is much better than: “Yeah okay, same chocolate.”
So that’s it, guys. I hope you can take some of these tips for the upcoming audition season.