How do you nail an opera audition? Today, we hear from two people who know a thing or two about how to do this. For them, auditions are simply a part of life — but they approach them from opposite directions.
As both soprano and arts administrator will tell you, there's far more to auditioning than simply entering into a room to be judged. In fact, both singer and adjudicator may have more similar goals in that room than you'd think.
What’s the first thing you look for in a singer?
|Typical audition room setup|
Also, eating! Make sure you're not singing on an empty stomach.
Aren: If singers don’t get nervous auditioning, it would be strange. It's not really what they are trained to do. And of course I'd prefer to see every potential new hire in performance at another opera company, but that simply isn't possible. Having said that, there are some singers who are much more comfortable auditioning than others. I've seen nervous singers who have great auditions, as well as bad auditions. As a former singer myself, I know that their job is indeed difficult — they may have working on their artistry for 10-15 years, but they only have 10-15 seconds to get my attention! Only 10-15 seconds to fight the stigma of their voice type, or a color they've been told is not pretty or not good enough. They have to get over all these thoughts in a strange room with bad acoustics and strangers sitting in front of them (who might be very hungry and tired after being in auditions all day).
Do you get nervous when you audition?
Ksenia: More nervous than performances, but it's usually not too bad. Getting nerves before an audition usually depends on two things for me: 1.) how close my relationship is to who I’m singing for and 2.) how well I’ve mentally prepared myself. Surprisingly, I find it more nerve-wracking to sing for people I know well, as opposed to strangers.
Ksenia: There are many different forms but in the simplest terms: You are scheduled an audition (you’ve received the audition either through an artist manager, or you contacted the company or they contacted you). When you walk into your audition, you typically present a list of arias you’ve brought that day. Often 4-5 pieces, and you generally pick your first piece and the panel (often made up of the main casting personal — artistic director, general director, maybe a conductor) might ask for a second, maybe a third. Having been on the other side of the table and auditioned singers, I often know if I’m interested within seconds of the first piece. A second piece is usually to confirm my feelings about them, though it might be because I am looking for something I didn’t see in the first piece. As a singer, you can end up playing the guessing game of “what will they want to hear?” and try to analyze their decisions. I go back to only offer things that you 150 percent can rock. That way, you won’t be nervous about “that one piece” (because it doesn’t exist.)
|Ksenia Popova says an audition can be like a guessing game of "what do they want to hear?"|
Opera companies plan their season several years in advance. Thus, if you are auditioning someone for a role they will perform in 2-3 years, what are the risks involved?
Name a time where you learned something that affects how you audition today.
Ksenia: The biggest thing that I’ve learned with auditions is to walk in, give the best representation of you (throw down or “flip a table” as some of my colleagues and I say), then smile, say thank you, and forget about it. There have been times where I walked away thinking, “What even came out of my mouth right now?” and felt down about it, then realized that the auditions where I have felt unsure have been the auditions where I’ve gotten a job. The ones where I walked out feeling amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard back from. It’s best to get out of your head, do your job, and then move on.
How big a role does a person's physical appearance play in casting at Seattle Opera? There's been concern recently that our art form is beginning to cast more according to Broadway or Hollywood standards.
|Ksenia Popova with fellow Opera on Tap Managing Divas: Kim Giordano and Melissa Plagemann.|
Ksenia: Always sing/perform pieces that you are 150 percent comfortable with! There should never be a worry of “Will I have enough breath to get through this phrase?” or “Will I hit the high or low note?” Sometimes singers feel like they have to show off all the tricks or push themselves past what they really should be singing at this moment, and none of that is necessary. Also, be respectful to everyone along the way, from the first contact you have to the audition, to when you leave. The people in the building are the people you’re hoping to be working with someday, so be kind and professional. Finally, reward yourself afterwards, even if it’s a tiny treat (I personally like a martini, but whatever makes you smile). Auditions are hard, so be kind to yourself.
Other do's and don'ts?
Aren: Don’t sing something you don’t know well. Don’t be crazy! Sometimes singers come in and they have this crazy, nervous energy. Just calm down and find comfort upon entry point, whether it's an item in the room or a person, find something that will help you relax. Also, don't wear something that will upstage you. If you're going to wear a ballgown with diamonds, that's fine, but you're going to have to be more fabulous than that ballgown!
|Ksenia Popova takes a bow with Christopher Bengochea in Tacoma Opera's Roméo et Juliette.|
Ksenia: If auditioning for a specific role, I often try to offer the main aria of that character. That said, sing what you sing best. There’s this idea in school that one must sing five arias in a variety of languages and styles, and once you’re out in the world, none of that matters. Some are Mozart singers and will have a list full of Mozart, others are made for Puccini. Find what makes you special and sell that.
What’s the strangest audition you’ve ever been a part of?
Ksenia: I once had an audition where instead of the casting director sitting mid-way in the room, he walked around me in a circle as I sang; definitely odd! I also once had a callback for Jerry Springer: The Opera, not a weird situation but most certainly very different callback music.
Aren: We were in New York and there was something going on with a pipe in the wall. We heard this loud sound that kept pounding to the rhythm of the aria that the singer was singing! I thought, "Well, that’s appropriate." Usually though, nothing funky really occurs. The worst is when you see a singer realizing that they are not having a good audition, and yet, they still have to go on. This happens to the best of them; even to people who've sung that aria 100 times. And of course, no one feels comfortable when the singer isn't feeling comfortable or performing well. I think singers forget that we want them to succeed. Singers can dwell on the fact that we are judging them, which we are —but we're also in fact, cheering them on.
|Aren Der Hacopian with singers from Seattle Opera's 2016 Flying Dutchman.|