via Wolf Trap Opera, Audition Season 2015: the conversation

via Wolf Trap Opera, Audition Season 2015: the conversation

Kim Pensinger Witman
This is a cross-post from Wolf Trap Opera’s great blog, where Kim Pensinger Witman, Senior Director of Opera & Classical Programming, talks all things auditions. The season is nigh, singers! You’re working away on the great singing, but how do you tell your auditioners who you are? Read and learn.

OK, singers, this is the time of year when the blog turns the full force of its attention on you. Yes, my friends, it’s audition season. We’ve been reviewing audition applications for 3 weeks now, and we’re almost done. But for you, the fun is only beginning.

Even if you’re not singing for us, I know that many of you are strutting your audition stuff for someone this fall. I promise to be back here with reports from the other side of the table at least a few times a week between now and when our own audition tour ends in late October. Today, we kick off the audition phase of the blog.

Previously, I’ve done a whole bunch of posts about the mechanics of auditioning (what to wear, where to stand, what to say, what to bring…) as well as how to get your head in the game so you can get out of your own way (focus, calm, flexibility, sfumato…). Today, I’m going to try to explain what I want you to tell me in the audition room. Not in words, but in actions and in music.

No, you’re not going to do an interview and actually tell me these things. You are going to communicate them by everything you say and do during your audition. They are both subtext and metadata. And when combined, they are the best indication I have as to whether I am able to consider hiring you. These are the things you want to telegraph – the things that I want to hear you “say”…

“I have high standards. I pay attention to both the detail and the big picture, and I am intellectually curious.”

How do I know this? You aren’t cavalier with the composer’s notes or markings but have taken the care to learn and execute them with respect. Your command of language is at the highest level commensurate with your training level (different, obviously for a student than for a professional.) Your singing contains evidence that you have examined everything from individual articulations to character development.

“I am strong, resilient and healthy. And my voice is, too.”

You communicate this by singing on your interest, not on your principal. Therefore, I am not fearful for your technique or vocal integrity, and I get the feeling that you are actually capable of more than you are having to demonstrate at this particular moment. (As opposed to being audibly and visibly tapped out.)

“I am flexible, open and collegial.”

I believe this when I hear a performance that is detailed but doesn’t feel as if it is locked down and set in stone. If there’s a desperate, overwhelming amount of automated blocking, I worry about what might happen if a director were to ask you explore an alternate interpretation. But if the nuances are integrated with the music and the words, and the approach is confident and relaxed, I am encouraged.

“I care.”

If you’ve prepared a thoughtful resume, arrive with good materials from which the pianist can play easily, and taken care with your physical appearance, I am reassured. If not, I will worry about whether or not you will show up on time, be prepared for rehearsals, and shower positive energy on the company, project. or production for which you’re auditioning.

“I am good people.”

A pleasant hello, a respectful rapport with the pianist, and a professional demeanor in the hallway or registration area (yes, we hear stories from our friends at the desk…) bode well for future collegial, respectful and warm relationships with directors, conductors, other singers, and administration. It means you’ll be kind to wardrobe assistants and not snark at stage managers.

And finally, “I have something to say.”

After all of the notes have been hit, the business acumen has been demonstrated, and the responsible-member-of-opera-society boxes have been checked, this is what matters most. That you can take a 200-year-old song and make it new. That you can tap into something profound that makes it hard to believe that you are only 20-something years old. That your joy and mastery in your well-honed technique infuse the room with energy and beauty. That you can inspire us. It’s a tall order, but by no means an impossible one.

All right, let’s go back to our jobs. I have another 300 applications to review, and you know what you have to do. I’ll be back soon.

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