Preparing for Auditions – Part 1

What are general directors and other panelists looking for when you audition? Read first hand from someone who sits on the other side of the table–Florentine Opera General Director William Florescu. He opens up and gives you details of what exactly they’re looking for. This is part 1 of the article and part 2 will be published tomorrow. The entire article was published in the October issue of Classical Singer magazine.

While the act of preparing for auditions is an organic process, there are in fact “building blocks” that you can use to make sure you are as prepared as possible. To give you an idea of what I look for in an audition, I offer my thoughts on everything from dress to résumé to exiting and entering the audition room.
The Voice
First and foremost, of course, is your vocal technique. If your technique is not where it needs to be, nothing that follows will mean much. This is not to say that you shouldn’t audition as a vocal “work in progress,” but it does mean that you should have the type of audition and repertoire you do match where you are in your development. An adjunct to technique is your command of the languages you will be using in those auditions. Not only is command of languages important on its own, but also fluency in pronunciation, enunciation, and diction can either hinder or support your technique.
Knowing where you are technically will lead you to choose the correct repertoire for auditions. An audition is not the place to be aspirational. It is the place to show that you know where you are as a singer right now. In your lessons and coachings, stretching yourself is perfectly fine. A saying I have is: You want the person hearing your audition to think that you could be singing bigger repertoire than you’re presenting in the audition. That will not produce a negative reaction. You do not want the person hearing your audition to think that you’re singing beyond where you are now. That will produce a negative reaction.
Musical accuracy and musicality are crucial to making all of your technical work mean something in an audition. While this may seem somewhat obvious, it is surprising how many singers are sloppy musically or are unmusical (I like to call it “clinical”) in an audition. So many of these issues are a chicken/egg proposition. Does good technique allow you to be more musical? Does being musical affect how easily your technique responds? Does ease of diction let the voice work more freely, or is it the other way around? It doesn’t matter! Address it all and you’ll be prepared.
The Body
Once issues with the voice have been resolved, an area that far too many singers leave to chance in auditions arises—how to use the body.
Simply put, you need to have a sense of your body when you audition. Your face, trunk, and limbs either will be your ally in selling the piece or they will be a liability. Make sure you spend the same amount of time working through how you will do this on each piece you prepare. Not only will it give you an edge as a “total package,” it will also allow you to be less nervous since you will know what you are going to do, as opposed to trusting it to on-the-spot inspiration.
An important part of this is having a sense of the room that you are in and knowing how to physically fill that particular space. This process of awareness begins the moment you enter the room, and doesn’t end until you leave it. Tackle these body issues with a dramatic coach or stage director, so that you have someone who can assess how you are executing.
Your Team
A big question many young singers have is “who can give me the best advice on my preparedness for auditioning.” There is no hard-and-fast answer, but they may be the following (in no particular order): a voice teacher, a coach (musical and/or dramatic), a director and/or conductor, and/or an administrator.
Each of these people can give you valuable advice about the specifics of auditioning—some (voice teachers, coaches) can give you the best advice about you. Others (administrators) can give you the best advice about the business, and how you may intersect with it. Finally, others (directors, conductors) will give you a good combination of advice because of how they are uniquely situated in the business. It will be your job to synthesize that advice into the best course for you.
Your Materials
I have been talking about the actual commodity—you—for the audition. But to get in the door to do that audition, you are going to have to supply some “hard goods” to the potential employer to get that audition. The quality of those goods can determine whether or not you get that first foot in the door.
First up is the résumé, and the good news is that with today’s technology there is no reason to not have the right, up-to-date résumé for each situation. Include only relevant information (in reverse chronological order) that will help give the best information about you. Oh, and by the way, be truthful about what you put down. If we are considering hiring you, we will check! There is no need to pad your résumé with filler that doesn’t help you get hired. If you are a young singer just graduating from college, I don’t expect to see a full résumé. I would rather see a half page of solid information than two pages filled with church solos and high school musical roles.
The companion piece to your résumé is your photo—and, again, there is no reason in today’s digital age to not have a quality, up-to-date photo. People use them in different ways today—right on the résumé, on the back of the résumé and, the old standby, separately. The important thing is that it is recent, professional, and looks like you now. I cannot overstate how often I use a photo to jog my memory if I am a bit foggy on remembering a specific audition.
Which now brings us to the recording, which many companies (and competitions) use as the screening tool for auditions—both MP3s and CDs (as well as, on occasion, DVDs).
Here are a few things to keep in mind when making recordings:

  1. If you burn a CD make sure that it works in all machines—a common problem are CDs that play only on a computer.

  3. Make sure the acoustics on different pieces don’t drastically change the quality of your voice. It is surprising how often I hear recordings where, from piece to piece, it sounds like I am listening to different singers. When possible, all recordings should be done in the same space. When this isn’t the case, make sure that each recording presents your voice similarly.

  5. There should not be large lapses in time between recordings, particularly early in your career, because the voice can change quickly. Make sure you are giving a snapshot of you now. This is a companion to the previous point.

  7. When making a DVD, follow all of the visual rules that you follow for a live audition. You won’t get more of a pass for being visually unexpressive on a DVD than in a live audition.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of the article to discuss where to apply, at the audition, and getting feedback.

William Florescu became the General Director of Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company in May of 2005. During the 2011-12 season, he judged the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in various U.S. cities, presented masterclasses for the Classical Singer Convention, judged the McCammon Vocal Competition for Fort Worth Opera, and directed Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah for the Florentine Opera. He also maintains an active blog, The Opera Audition.



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