Five Things a Conductor Wants from Your Next Audition

Make sure you cover all your bases when auditioning with these helpful ideas from a seasoned conductor.


How tall you are, whether your voice will fit well with the ensemble, if and how you gesture while you sing—these are some of the aspects of your opera audition that will likely be taken into consideration by those listening to you. In addition, of course, auditors will be listening to the beauty of your voice and your skill as a singer.

But what might a conductor watch and listen for? These five ideas from a conductor will better prepare you for your next audition.


1. Your Ability to Connect with an Audience

Conductors want to hire an artist whose dramatic presence and personality will project off the stage and into the house. Avoid being overly dramatic, however. Show us your stage presence by being centered and authentic, simple and powerful in your affect. Don’t worry—we’ll sense it without it being in our face.

Never sing a note until you are ready. An artist does not give off an air of being rushed, in a hurry, or off balance, but rather a sense of poise and comfort with being the center of attention.


2. Your Demeanor with Everyone in the Audition Process

Conductors are sensitive observers and want to work in an artistic environment with artists that are open to direction and quick to take it without being defensive. They know that time will be of the essence in orchestra rehearsals and that tension can be high as a result. They prefer to work with someone who creates a good vibe of collegiality and someone who shows respect for the art.

Be friendly and professional with everyone you meet at the audition. When we have a choice, conductors will hire people who are not only right for the part but who are also a joy to work with and not high maintenance.


3. Your Tempo Choices

Study the tempo markings and honor them. This does not mean, however, that you must sing exactly according to the metronome markings you find in the score. Everyone’s voice moves differently, and conductors are aware of this and want to hear you at your best.

If the music should feel like a waltz, however, choose a tempo that conveys this. If the tempo is lento, be sure that the music feels markedly slow. If it is marked presto, be sure that it almost feels “out of control” fast.


4. Your Fealty to Score Markings that Indicate a Change in Tempo

There will be limited rehearsal time, and conductors prefer to work with singers who have done their homework and interpret the music in a way that honors the musical indications on the page.

If there is a fermata, be sure to both observe it and motivate it with intention. And ask yourself, “Why has the composer chosen to suspend time in this way?” Decide the length of the fermata based on the dramatic impact in the moment.

If the score says “a piacere,” demonstrate your artistic sensibility and make the phrase your own (incorporating musical logic in your rubato). If the score is marked “in tempo,” make music with the color of your voice and the intention of your words but don’t sing with obvious rubato.


If there is an accelerando, make sure the tempo change is gradual and not sudden. If the orchestra continues a ritardando after you’ve finished singing, be sure the end of your phrase is not too slow. Project the slowing of the tempo in your inner ear to be sure the entire phrase will make musical sense.


5. Your Knowledge of What Is Happening in the Orchestra

It is much easier for a conductor to lead an ensemble of orchestral and vocal artists when the artists onstage and those in the pit know what their colleagues are doing. As you are singing in your audition, we can tell if you are aware of what is happening in the orchestra. (Please don’t show us this outwardly with cues, however!)

Does the orchestra enter immediately after you end a phrase? Hear the orchestral music in your inner ear as you approach it and the orchestra’s entrance will make sense and seem motivated by your character’s intention.

Do you lead into a tempo change? Know what the subdivisions are in the orchestra and be sure that your tempo change is logical and gradual.

Does a wind player or other instrumentalist play a duet with you? Know their part and internalize the duet so that you can adjust subtly with them (as well as with the pianist at your audition).


Knowing the score and interacting professionally and in a collegial manner will help you feel confident and enjoy your audition experience.

Nyela Basney

Maestro Nyela Basney is the founder of the Trusted Alliance Masterclass series, a masterclass created to empower singers in their work with conductors by helping them further develop a set of analytical, communicative, and vocal leadership skills in a safe and inspiring atmosphere. To attend a masterclass, go to