More questions via the comments section:
Do you have any advice about how to enter the audition room, greet the panel, and set myself up to sing? This always feels so awkward. Are there any things singers do as they’re making their entrances and exits that are turn-offs?
First of all, there’s no reason to walk to the opposite end of the room to shake hands. I know panel members who are positively phobic about this and others who are simply irritated by it. I have no strong opinion, but it does slow things down terribly. And it’s almost never not awkward. You get a limited amount of time allotted, and you want to use it to sing, not to work the room.
If the panel is paying attention when you enter, it’s perfectly appropriate to greet us with “Good afternoon” etc. We try to greet everyone before they have a chance to wonder what to say/do, but sometimes we get caught up in paperwork. The niceties aren’t compulsory, though – it’s just fine to say nary a word, give your music to the pianist, position yourself by the piano, and then speak.
It is always helpful for the panel to hear your name. If our system is working well, we’ll know who you are; but sometimes things get out of sequence and we confused. “Good afternoon. My name is Kim Witman” should do it.
If you know for sure that you are to choose your own first selection, announce it. But don’t over-announce it. “I’d like to sing Aria Name” should be plenty. If it’s a rare piece, then expand into “I’d like to sing Aria Name from Opera Name.” But no need to turn it into an exercise in public speaking (as in “I’d like to sing Aria Name, Character’s third act aria in Opera Name by Composer Name). We either have a rep list, and/or we’re smart enough to fill in most of those blanks if we know the name of the aria. You’ll probably just end up getting tongue-tied even if you’ve practiced it to within an inch of its life.
How do you feel about singers who hold on to the piano?
I have no trouble with singers using the fact that the piano is there as part of their physicality during their arias. No need to pretend it’s not there. If you touch it, momentarily use it or lean on it, no one is going to object. But if you’re grabbing onto it for dear life as part of your vocal support system, or as any other crutch, we’ll perceive that pretty quickly. Not a good idea. Since you used the verb “hold on,” I guess I’d have to discourage the practice.
I’ve heard that auditors know within the first few seconds whether they like a singer’s voice or not, and then pretty much stop paying attention. If I get off to a weak start am I doomed?
I won’t deny that we do make certain judgments fairly quickly. First impressions are not infallible, but they are valuable. Two things work in your favor, though.
First, almost everyone is nervous when they begin – especially if you’re new to this whole process. We actually expect singers to improve throughout the course of their first piece, and we are never surprised that the second aria is better. (You know the phenomenon in a master class when the singer is always better when s/he repeats the aria? The master teacher usually gets the credit, but it usually has more to do with the singer settling in and shaking off the nerves.)
Second, we are always alert for a turn-around. When I review our written comments, one of the most common themes is acknowledgment and relief when someone overcomes a shaky start and ends up turning in a really solid finish.
Doomed? No, not at all.
I’m curious about your screening process for the auditions, and how much or whether the aria list and a candidate’s fach affect things positively or negatively.
Fach really doesn’t affect us because we’re not trying to cast any particular opera. The aria list only enters into the screening process if it is noticeably and unavoidably weird. Stretching from soubrette to dramatic soprano, or all-Puccini-all-the-time (not meeting our guidelines), or incomplete. Actually, most of the time I don’t even look at the aria list until we’re in the room.
Regarding screening in general: It’s probably not the right verb for the way I look at it. We are not kicking people out when we screen. We are opening the door and deciding which folks we can let in. We do the math for each day (how many hours we have the audition space times a maximum of 6 singers per hour) to come up with a total. Then we make a first pass through the applicants for that day, determining which folks are so highly qualified for our particular program that they receive an audition time with no questioning. Depending on how many open slots we have left, we make 2 or 3 or 4 more passes, each time picking up a few people whose materials look really strong: high level competition awards, acceptance into competitive graduates schools and other YAPs, a strong list of roles. (I’m referring to the Filene Young Artist Program at this point, not the Studio Program.) We cycle through all of the applicants for that site until it’s full.
Answers to more questions tomorrow. Keep bringing ’em on.