The Callback Game

This is the first tour in which we’re including a provision for a callback or ‘final’ audition for singers that we’re seriously considering casting in our 2008 operas. On four of our days so far this fall, we’ve had no callbacks, and that’s been cause for some consternation. It really shouldn’t be.

In explaining this, I need to speak frankly and bluntly about the parameters of our casting process and our artist pool. But before you gird your loins for that discussion, consider this.

If you didn’t get called back, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have auditioned for us.

A few case studies to illustrate the point.

Today, we’re in Cincinnati, at the wonderful University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). I’ve been coming here for 15 years, and my predecessors haunted CCM long before that.

We heard Anna Christy twice at CCM before making her first Wolf Trap offer.

Nicole Heaston auditioned for us at CCM two years before her successful WT audition at Houston Grand Opera.

In this year’s company there were three recent CCM grads: mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman, soprano Bronwen Forbay, and baritone Joshua Jeremiah. Josh auditioned for us during his grad work at Cincinnati but was ultimately hired during his Seattle Opera residency. Bronwen was an anomaly: she was hired after her CCM audition during her DMA degree. Faith sang for us two times during her grad work at CCM before nailing her New York audition in 2005.

The vast majority of the singers we hire have finished their grad work and have participated in multiple young artist / apprenticeship residencies. Does that mean you shouldn’t sing for us if you haven’t reached that point yet? Obviously not. We screen our applications, and if we granted you an audition, that means that we’d love to get to know you (or have the chance to get to know more about you). There are random Wolf Trappers who pass right through to the finish line on the first audition, but most of them spend a few years trotting in and out of our auditions while we watch them grow.

Moral of the Story: If you didn’t get called back, that doesn’t mean we didn’t like you. (I know that’s a triple negative, but I think it’s what I mean.)

We decided to use our callback system as an opportunity to answer detailed questions about singers that we feel are truly ready to be part of our company. Other companies use a single aria to discern who’s singing well in general, then call back those folks for more information. Since our regular (preliminary) auditions always include two arias (and I believe we’re in the minority there), callbacks serve to answer our questions about exactly what kinds of roles our best candidates are suited for.

Back to the tough stuff.

We expect to hire somewhere between 16-20 singers this summer.

Singers are allowed to sing in two Wolf Trap seasons before they have to move on, so in any given year, we’re looking at the potential return of singers who’ve only spent one summer with us. These folks are not grandfathered in – they have to go through the paperwork and the audition process like everyone else. But if they are singing well, and we can find suitable roles for them in our next season’s rep, it’s likely that they’ll return. This year we have 12 singers reauditioning after having already spent one season with us.

If you’re feeling brave, you can do the math. Not to scare you off, just to give you perspective. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get in. After all, these singers came from somewhere. They once did undergraduate and graduate work at a surprisingly large number of different universities and conservatories. They had to start auditioning somewhere, and so do you. Whenever you can get an audition (assuming that you’re completely prepared to be heard in a professional setting), take it. The experience is invaluable. Just sing well and don’t play the head games that tempt us all.

OK, that’s all I have to say about that. Comments welcome.



If you heard a singer last year, but did not grant that singer an audition this year, does that most likely mean you’re no longer interested in said singer?


I don’t think I can answer this question in the abstract, for the scenario you describe doesn’t have a single explanation. It’s possible that the answer is yes, but just as possible that it’s no. I’d be happy to give you feedback on your application and describe to the best of my ability why we didn’t schedule you for an audition this year. Send us an email ( after January 1, and we’ll try to shed some light.


Kim, I have to say, I really enjoy the fact that you give feedback on auditions. I think you are the only guys out there who do that. And even as a non-singer, I appreciate the option. When I do my job, I love feedback of all sorts – how else am I to improve, change, etc?

Brava to you for offering this in the midst of all else you do for WTOC and yourself.


sorry if this is off topic (which it is!), but my sincere gratitude to your pianist in cincinnati for her beautiful work. it’s so much easier to do your best in an audition when you don’t doubt the pianist for a second :-)


Not the least bit off topic. I am (was) a pianist myself, and I know how important it is to have a reliable, intuitive, and musical partner at the keyboard in an audition.

Donna Loewy is a real pro, and we’re so lucky to have her join us for a couple of days every November in Cincinnati. Thanks so much for this comment!


Speaking as someone completely outside the field, I am in awe at the courage it must take for young singers to audition, knowing that, statistically, it’s almost certainly going to end up as a rejection and it’s going to hurt no matter how much you know it shouldn’t.

And I’m even more moved by the strength it must take to be able to make all those rejections, judge fairly and impartially, and still maintain such a great degree of empathy for the singers.


when would someone who auditions for the studio program be informed of their acceptance, or not?


All singers who did auditions for the studio should hear from us by December 1. At that point we’ll let everyone know whether or not they remain on a short list of finalists. Once our rep and calendar details are established in mid-late December, we will make firm offers to approximately 14-16 singers from the finalist list.


Which came first – the anthology or the aria’s popularity? Looking specifically at the soprano aria list, I feel like I’m reading the table of contents from the Schirmer Opera Anthology series. Do you think auditionees should take an aria’s popularity into account when selecting repertoire, or simply sing what they sing best?

Add Comment

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

Back to Blog