AuditionHack: Video Edition

A guest post from Lee Anne Myslewski, Director of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio.

This is the first year that we’ve asked for video files for the Studio applications. They’re not required, but I’m heartened to see that so many people have them, and that they’re largely quite good! I’m only about halfway through the complete screening process, but I do have some thoughts as to what makes an audition video stand out in a crowd.

First, let me answer a question – why did we even ask for them this year? We asked because we needed more information, especially regarding applications for the Studio tier of singers. The training in the U.S. university system ranges widely, and because we are now only asking for audition fees rather than application fees, we need to get a clearer picture of who you are as an artist even more quickly than before. They’re not required, but the information they give is invaluable.

Criteria for a good video:

  • Clear picture. Being able to see your face as you communicate to me, even through a screen in delayed time, is really important. If I had to choose, I’d pick being able to see you in a room with a pianist over an archival performance shot with orchestra where the white balance washes out the stage picture. (BEWARE: The converse – having the camera so close so that your head is the size of your headshot – is also not desired. I’m looking at the overall picture, rather than dissecting your embouchure and technique. I don’t want to feel like an ENT’s scope!) A picture that allows me to see what you look like and how you move while you sing is exactly what I need.
  • Camera angle/lighting. Make sure that the shot is flattering. As in any interview, you want to show your best self. That means making sure that the camera is level, the lighting isn’t casting weird shadows under your nose, or that you’re being filmed from your “bad side.”
  • Clear audio. Check the audio levels after you’ve recorded, especially at the extreme ends of dynamic and pitch range. Sometimes I can’t tell if you’ve really nailed that high note or not because the mic you’re using couldn’t pick up the frequency, or it was too close to you at that fortissimo.
  • Quick start. The video should begin where you’d like us to start listening. If you pianist isn’t auditioning for us, we don’t need more than 4 bars of intro, nor do we need to hear a protracted announced introduction. Let us get to the good stuff – your SINGING – as quickly as we can! (In fact, if you wanted to list your name, aria selection, and pianist’s name as a text overlay for your video, that’s a great solution!)
  • Permissions. Please make sure that I can watch the video without having to email you for permission to view it. (On Youtube, the “unlisted” option keeps it hidden but allows people with the link to view it. “Private” means I can’t see it, and I may not have time for an email exchange to ask you for permission.)
  • Professional demeanor. Audition wear. (Clean. Ironed. etc.) Combed hair. A facial expression that telegraphs that you enjoy what you’re about to do. If you need an audience to get your energy level up, by all means sing for some friends! (But crop them out of the video.)
  • Whose clip is it anyway? If you’ve sent us an excerpt from a staged performance with cast mates, make sure that we don’t mistake the application as one for your scene partner. (i.e. Always be the best performer in any clip that represents you.)
  • Repertoire. This might actually be the easiest part of the puzzle, from my personal perspective. Arias? YES! Art song? SURE! Concert opera with orchestra? Yes please! Excerpt from a fully staged opera? Of course! As long as your selection shows what you do well, and you enjoy performing it, it’s the right thing. (Caveat: If you use something from a class or master class, please crop anything that’s not your performance from the video before you submit it.)
  • Pseudo-video. So, you have a good mp3 recording, but it’s just that – solely audio. So you decide to just tack your headshot onto the file as a video, and SHAZAM! VIDEO! I’m not a fan of this, for two reasons. There are too many ways to digitally sweeten audio recordings; and because the big reason I want video in the first place is because I want to both hear and see you do what you do. Ours is a communicative, full-body art form; if you only send audio, I only get half the picture.
  • Credits. I know someone is making music with you on that video. Please make sure that your pianist is listed, too – it’s a professional courtesy.

Those are my initial thoughts – I’ll post a wrap up after this year’s tour is finished. If you have questions, please contact me through the general Wolf Trap Opera email or via comments here.

Can’t wait to hear you – LIVE!

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