Expert Friday: East & West Coast

Part of a weekly series, in which my colleagues responsed to an email request for anything (or 2 or 3 things…) in the way of advice they would like to give to auditionees.

First, Don Marrazzo, Director of Casting & Artistic Operations at Glimmerglass Opera.

I have always felt that audition “do’s and don’ts” can be somewhat tricky, as one person’s ‘do’ is very often another person’s ‘don’t’ and vice versa. Even when listening to auditions with my Glimmerglass colleagues, while we often agree as to how we feel about a singer, there are also definitely times when we strongly disagree!

While there are several universal truths with regard to audition ‘do’s’ (do make sure that your music is legible for your audition pianist), as well as audition ‘don’ts’ (don’t be late for your audition) any adjudicator’s response to the entirety of a singer’s audition (their singing, stage deportment, attire, personal interaction with the audition panelists, etc) will be every bit as subjective as how an adjudicator may feel about someone’s voice and artistry.

I really want singers to be themselves in an audition. I would much rather be given an honest impression of the person standing in front of me singing, than get an ‘ironed out’ version of that individual because they are trying to employ someone else’s list of audition ‘do’s,’ which might be, in actuality, audition ‘don’ts’ for me. An individual’s idiosyncrasies fascinate me the most, as they often help determine whether or not the singer in question might be a fit for our program – not only vocally and artistically, but personally as well.

Rather than focus too much on audition ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts,’ it would be wonderful for young singers to focus on what is perhaps the most important audition ‘do.’ Do give a committed, intelligent, well-sung audition which makes the listener sit up, take notice, and offer you a contract!

Today’s double-header also brings comments from Joshua Winograde, Artistic Planning Manager at LA Opera. Josh is also a Wolf Trap alum, and he spent the summers of 2007 and 2008 with us as an administrator, developing the Wolf Trap Opera Studio. His observations come largely out of the over 400 auditions he just heard this past summer, and they focus on the topic of this past Monday’s post: versatility.

Versatility is overrated.

Before you freak out, let me explain.

I would like to create two hypothetical, admittedly extreme audition packages, although I must say these are more common than you would think.
Singer #1 offers Pinkerton, Boheme, Cavaradossi Act 1, Cavaradossi Act 3, and Forse la soglia attinse (Ballo)
Singer #2 offers Chi il bel sogno, Mein Herr Marquis, Piangero’ la sorte mia, Manon’s gavotte, and I Want Magic.
Singer #1’s package is obviously of a very narrow focus. All in the same language, only two composers represented, two arias from the same opera, etc. This singer could be possibly the most successful audition of the day, however, if he shows that he knows EXACTLY what his marketability is, what his voice is good for, how his temperament and vocalism are ideal for his rep, etc. However, in the event that he sees himself differently than we do, this will be a major problem. If he is a light lyric tenor or character tenor stuck in the mindset that Verdi and Puccini are the only “real” opera composers, and the only exciting tenor roles are the impassioned romantic lead, he could set himself up for failure.

Singer #2’s package is extremely diverse. 5 composers, 4 languages, 4 centuries (technically 3, but Previn is still composing, of course), some fast, some slow, some high, some low, and very diverse character types. First of all, anyone that could make it through the whole role of Magda (not just the song) has no business singing some of these other roles. Chances are, however, that the singer has never really looked at the rest of Rondine or they would realize it is a BEAST of a sing. That possibility is not something you want us to speculate on. Also, if you look at the professional singers who are making these roles successful at major companies around the world today, they generally don’t overlap on lots of rep. If the singer in question really can represent themselves flawlessly across this broad board, that is a major accomplishment. But more likely than not, it simply reads as trying too hard to show us you can do ANYTHING. Versatility, in this case, verges on schizophrenic.

So the questions I pose are:
How can versatility be demonstrated (if that is in fact something you wish to demonstrate) while staying more true to what you do best, or in what genres you would be most convincing? Especially at the YAP level, you may be told very specifically how many languages, centuries, and styles to represent. But I would suspect the average singer can be more successful choosing repertoire that fits the application’s requirements while still appearing more authentic and appropriate. For example, if you really ARE a Magda, you are probably a more convincing Rosalinde than Adele. If the character of Adele fits your youthful, bubbly personality, you are probably NOT a convincing Blanche DuBois. Cleopatra is cast all over the map these days, so this one COULD fit, I guess. Still, she is a young girl, right? If you give off a serious Blanche DuBois vibe both in terms of personality and vocalism, and are required to sing Handel, consider an aria from Alcina, who is equally, um, nuts, and also of nebulous age.
Some advice: follow the careers of historic singers and current singers whose voices resemble yours. Also consider the historic and local trends… Liu in Europe is cast much heavier than here, for instance, and tweety-bird Gildas are common today although in the past they were cast with very much the same singers as, say, Violetta. And remember, when you are Angela Gheorghiu, you can start singing Traviata and Carmen and Rondine wherever you want. But if you aren’t, consider that her repertoire is more allowably varied while backed with major star power than yours will be in the early stages of a career. Ask your coaches and teachers to recommend some singers to you if you can’t think of any. See what they sang when they were 25, 35, 45 … also, where did they sing them? Did those roles become signatures, or were they disasters? Do YOU like them in those roles? Obviously every voice and singer is different, so don’t be too literal with this. I do suspect, however, this search will provide food for thought about expanding or contracting your own versatility.

Something to chew on over the weekend. And…


One week from today (October 2) for LA, Chicago, Cincinnati & Houston.

Two weeks from today (October 9) for New York, Philadelphia, & Vienna.

Don’t wait until the last minute! I sure hope our internet servers can handle it, but I don’t want to find out…

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Blog