Cutting Corners

There are some really tremendous (and useful!) potential audition arias that share one huge disadvantage: They’re too long to be really functional in the typical audition situation. We schedule our appointments in 1o-minute intervals, and I know some companies who are forced to schedule shorter blocks. If you want any hope of singing a second piece – heck, even if you want to be able to finish the first one – please don’t start with a 7-minute scene.

Lest you feel deprived, consider that you could be working in musical theatre, searching for your best 16 bars. Pity party over.

I wish that the audition were an artistically satisfying, purity-driven experience, in which nothing but the composer’s true and complete intentions were acceptable. But it’s not. We are so lucky to work in the arts, where the stuff of our regular days has the potential to fill our souls. But we can’t get all hung up in what will happen to the architectual structure of a scene if we hack a big chunk out of it in audition.

My colleagues in symphonic, chamber, and choral music are far less barbaric. They usually gasp when I take out my scissors. (Real or metaphorical.) And perhaps I am too willing to sacrifice for the sake of practicality. But I still think it’s best to think of it in cost-benefit terms. If you sing this cabaletta/aria/scene better than almost anything else in your rep, and it can be brought into play by trimming it to a “highlights only” version, you’d be foolish to walk away from it entirely.


Mark the cuts in your music so that they can’t possibly be misinterpreted. Cover over the parts you don’t want with white paper. (Then make sure you don’t change your mind and want what’s covered up…) Check out the standard cuts for a scene before you get too creative. If the standard works for you, consider using it. (It got to be traditional for a reason.) It makes life easier for everyone.

Be clear in the list you offer to the panel. If you are offering the cavatina only (or the cabaletta only, for that matter), be clear in the way you list it. If you really feel good about the whole scene, list its components and indicate the ways that you are willing to excerpt. (“Ah non creadea / Ah non giunge: aria only, cabaletta only, or entire scene”) Singers are often willing to be cut short in a long scene, but very often, what we really need to hear is the second half. So find a logical starting midpoint, practice starting there, and mark the optional starting point for the pianist.

If you list a long scene in toto, you take your chances. Be prepared for the panel to ask for it to be sampled in chunks, even if you don’t offer it. If it throws you off to have to start in the middle or to be stopped before the ornamented repeat in the cabaletta, then don’t set yourself up for heartache.

The weekend looms. Tomorrow is Expert Friday, bringing tips and observations from Glimmerglass and LA Opera!

One Comment


For a scene like Zerbinetta – is it acceptable to offer from the Rondo (or from 'So war es') to the end, if it is your intent to start with that piece?

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