The 10 Commandments of Auditioning

By Darren K. Woods and Keith Wolfe

1. Always sing repertoire that you know well, and always start with your best selection.
Regardless of a company’s upcoming repertoire, your set of five to six arias should represent who you are and what you sing. You are human, and you are going to be nervous! That is why singing your best aria, the one that goes wonderfully 99 percent of the time, is your best bet. Furthermore, you should never hastily prepare an aria for an audition; you must have worked on each piece and performed it for other people before trying it out at an audition. If you have learned something at the last minute in the hopes of being considered for a specific role, you will not be as prepared, nor will you present yourself as well. Trust us to make the leap from what you are singing to what we are casting.

One caveat: Do not choose any extremely long arias. You want the panel to want more. If someone sings a big coloratura aria, we will then want to hear him or her sing a legato line and will ask for another piece. By filling the entire auditions slot with one aria, you deprive us of a chance to hear another side of your voice, and you deprive yourself of the chance to keep singing for us.

2. Practice your arias in front of a mirror.
At an audition, we usually know within five notes whether or not we like your voice. After those first few bars, we are waiting to be entertained. We want to see you act, but it should be within the context of the piece. We don’t expect you to tap dance while singing Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon.” What we do expect is that you have connected with the character and can express all the emotions that he or she is feeling in that aria. Remember that we are hiring the whole artist, not just a pretty voice!

In order to give your best performance, vocally and dramatically, these aspects need to be rehearsed into your audition performance. Don’t let the audition be the first time you try to act! Work with a drama coach and stage the arias. Practice the dramatic part of the aria as much as you practice the music, so that the movement and expression are as natural as the singing. And do it in front of a mirror.

3. NEVER sing sick! Never!
You will not sing your best and you will waste the panel’s time. Be sure to call the opera office and cancel so someone else can have the time. We will always let you sing next year.

4. If you can’t recite your repertoire from memory without stumbling, type up a repertoire list prior to the audition and give it to the judges.
The way we see it, your goal is to get in as much singing as possible during your time slot, and you want to give us the tools to keep you singing. At Fort Worth Opera, we highly recommend having a repertoire list that you can give the panel so that we can plan what we want to hear next.

5. Bring your own accompanist whenever possible, and always have your music and cuts clearly marked.
Although we don’t necessarily take points off for bad accompaniment, it is a distraction, and you will not do as well if you are not familiar with the pianist. If you are working with an unfamiliar accompanist, it is all the more important to bring music that is easy to read, easy to handle and clearly marked with any special cuts or notes.

6. Have a professional photo and resume.
When we are looking at your publicity materials, you have only a couple of seconds to get our attention. Resumes should list your professional work first, followed by roles performed non-professionally or at your university, and then finally your education and teachers. Your photo should be a headshot and not show your hands, fingers, etc. Whenever possible, have two different looks — one in formal clothes, and one shot in a more casual or business dress.

It is now customary to include a thumbnail photo in your resume. This is helpful if your resume gets separated from your headshot.

7. Dress well.
Men should wear a coat and tie or a suit. Turtlenecks or T-shirts with a sports coat can also work well. If you’re worried about wearing a tie, and feel more comfortable singing without one, remember that many operas were written in the 18th and 19th century — you will almost assuredly be wearing something around your neck when in costume, so you had better get used to it at some point! Women should wear a dress, a skirt and blouse, or a suit. The exception is this: If you are presenting yourself as a “pants role” mezzo, then you can wear nice pants and a blouse. Wearing darker colors on the bottom with lighter colors toward the top will draw attention to your face. Both men and women should avoid having hair in your face!

8. Only audition for appropriate programs or companies.
Be quite sure that you are ready for a given opportunity the first time, as you may not get another chance to sing for the same person. Research the program and/or company by talking with your colleagues, your teachers and your network of professional contacts, and by using OPERA America’s Career Guide for Singers. Then, be honest with yourself. Are you really ready for this opportunity? Do you have a realistic shot at being chosen or cast? If not, wait until you are and you do. It is easier to get another chance to sing the first time than to correct a negative first impression.

9. Set specific goals for the audition.
With each audition, try to convince yourself that success does not depend on getting the job. Set short-term, specific goals for each audition — goals you can achieve if you work hard and concentrate. Then pat yourself on the back when you do achieve them.

10. Remember, we want you to do well.
Every person on the audition panel is there to hear YOU! We want you to sing your best, and we want to like you. Our job is to find great talent. Imagine how depressing it would be for us if everyone sang badly and we were hoping for people to make mistakes — not a happy career! So don’t regard us as the enemy. Instead, share the joy you have in singing. We will in turn be grateful that you shared your talent with us.

Darren K. Woods is general director of Fort Worth Opera, and Keith Wolfe is the general director of Opera Birmingham. Wolfe previously served as executive director and managing director of Fort Worth Opera.

This article was originally published in OPERA America’s Career Guide for Singers.

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