Choosing the Right Repertoire – CS Convention

Last weekend I had the pleasure of judging part of the second round of the High School Competition at the Classical Singer Convention in Chicago. It was an interesting and enlightening experience. What I loved most about judging was hearing such a large amount of good singing and that the two other judges and myself were completely on the same page regarding what we heard. What I disliked the most was the ridiculous amount of utterly inappropriate repertoire students attempted to perform. Holy cow! And thankfully, my two judging colleagues unanimously agreed that many of the singers, although extremely talented, misrepresented themselves by attempting repertoire that was well beyond their abilities. In fact, there were at least three singers we did not pass on because their poor repertoire choices only highlighted their technical weaknesses.
But let me first elaborate upon the positives. It was so invigorating and inspiring to see so many young people interested in pursuing this wonderful art form. The energy, passion, and enthusiasm that emanated from so many of the singers I heard was infectious. It was really fun to witness their love for the art of singing! I was also relieved to see so many of the participants appropriately dressed. Often when I adjudicate a competition, it turns into a Glamour session of fashion do’s and don’ts, and unfortunately, the don’ts usually dominate over the do’s. Thankfully that was not the case yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, there was still a fair amount of too-short dresses, too-strappy heels, and too-much skin, but it was the exception rather than the rule. And as previously mentioned, there was a great deal of fine singing. Many of the participants showed enormous vocal potential, displaying superb musicality and expression, proficient diction, and a solid technical foundation.
And what about the inappropriate repertoire? Yikes! I heard teenagers attempting such sophisticated repertoire as Leporello’s Catalogue Aria, Gounod’s Jewel Song, Adele’s Laughing Song, Papageno’s aria, Mozart’s Alleluia, and of course, the requisite offerings of Puccini’s Quando m’en vo. Of all these singers, only one was able to impress the judges and sing without struggling, performing incorrect pitches, displaying poor intonation, or running out of breath mid-phrase. Why do young singers continually show judges their weaknesses in attempting music that should be sung at the graduate level? Show us what you can do, not what you cannot.
The majority of the singers we passed on to the Semifinal Round did not sing exceedingly difficult repertoire. However, what these singers demonstrated was that they had beautiful voices and sang their repertoire exquisitely, with musicality and expression. If you’ve got, you’ve got it. Do not try to impress the judges by singing arias that you will be singing in ten years. Instead, find songs that fit you, your voice, and your age NOW.

Dr. Michelle Latour

Dr. Michelle Latour is a Las Vegas-based voice teacher, repertoire consultant, and writer. She is the creator of The LATOUR voice studios, LLC, and maintains a busy studio, teaching both classical and musical theatre genres. She has been on the full-time voice faculties of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Bluffton University. Latour earned a DMA from the University of Southern California and an MM from Boston University, both in Voice performance. To find out more and get in touch, visit