I often refer to the “standard” audition repertoire as having a useful analogy in gymnastics compulsories. There’s a checklist of things that the panel needs to know that you can nail, and the most efficient way to do that is to attack the warhorses. Yes, I know everyone sings them. And because of that, you have to work harder to distinguish yourself from the pack. And they’re so hallowed that you can’t possibly sing them as well as the generations of phenomenal artists we’ve heard on recordings. Still, they are the best way for us to get a glimpse into your basic command of the craft and the depth of your musicality.
More on the athletic analogy: Think of it this way. Each aria has its profile – lowest notes, highest notes, difficult phrases, linguistic challenges, important articulations and dynamics – the singer must dispatch all of those “compulsory” requirements and make music at the same time. Just like the best floor routines aren’t just a checklist of tools, but examples of how to impose your own artistic stamp on standard territory.
But we are always happy to have the chance to hear something different, and we love to see artists immersing themselves in new and different music. We don’t always have the time to hear these rare gems, given the exigencies of the audition tour schedule, but sometimes just seeing something uncommon on the list makes me smile. Occasionally we’ll get to hear a bit of it. Its presence is an indication of a healthy artistic curiosity.
So yet again, it’s all about proportion.
Let’s assume you’re shooting for your optimal 5-aria package. Allow one of these to be quirky – maybe 2oth/21st-century music, maybe a rare aria in an historic idiom. (Just be sure the accompaniment isn’t impossible to play – and if it is moderately difficult to play, be sure that you can sing the spots off it even if the pianist struggles.)
The remaining 4 arias are probably going to have to be dedicated to fulfilling requirements. We need to know that you can sing in Italian and at least one other language, that your voice is capable of both lyricism and agility (on a sliding scale, as appropriate for your Fach), and that your characterizations aren’t all monochromatic. (No, I’m not really asking you to be all things to all people, just to show enough differentiation that I don’t get bored in 10 minutes.)
So go ahead and stretch your artistic boundaries a little. Try to make the offbeat arias short ones, so they have a fighting chance to ever be heard. And revel in the chance to make them truly yours, in a way that’s intimidatingly difficult to do with Caro nome. :)