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!

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