LEAPS OF FAITH

First published in Classical Singer.

Dear Erda,

I have recently been "burned" by a colleague who I thought was my friend. Others have told me that you can't trust anyone in the opera business. I have no idea how to develop honest relationships among my colleagues without trust. Do you think it's possible to have true friends in this business or am I kidding myself?

Once Bitten

 

Dear Bitten,

Unfortunately, what you’ve experienced is not uncommon, but I don’t believe it is endemic to the opera world. Any highly competitive field is going to have its share of backstabbers. You do have to be careful about which colleagues you choose to befriend, but please don’t write them all off because of one bad apple. Of my closest friends, four are singers and two are mezzo-sopranos who sing similar repertoire to mine; however, we don’t move in the same circles and therefore we are not competitive with each other. I do confide deeply in these people, and I do trust them not to do me harm, but that trust did not establish itself overnight. Trust is earned. Be friendly to your colleagues, be honest with them, but don’t tell them everything. Don’t make yourself vulnerable until you’ve known someone for a while, have seen them in action, and feel very sure they have your best interests at heart.

 

Dear Erda,

I am a mid-twenties soprano who earned a degree in vocal performance and performed for about a year and half after graduating. I then took three years off from performing to work on vocal technique and make money at a "real job". I now want to audition again, but my resume is sparse.

Should I explain my situation on my resume? How do I let the judges know why there is so little there? I'm especially worried about the young artist programs --- will they even grant me an audition?

Lady in Waiting

 

Dear Waiting,

First of all, your age works in your favor --- in your mid-twenties, no one is going to think you’re a granny. For all they know, you could have been in grad school up until now. Secondly, I wouldn’t be too worried about the YAPs, unless you’re going for the biggies (and maybe you should wait until you have more performing experience before you do that). They don’t necessarily expect you to have a lot of experience. They are training programs, after all.

You can minimize the importance of that gap in your resume and its paucity, especially if your current level of performance reflects the polish auditioners are looking for. Here are some ideas that may help:

1. Even though your resume is sparse, make the most of it. There are ways of plumping up a resume without exaggerating or padding. Make a list of every singing performance you’ve done --- everything! --- and then carefully select the things that are the most relevant to the kinds of roles you’re trying for now. List your most important accomplishments first. Include categories for roles studied or roles in repertoire that you know well but haven’t performed yet. List names of important teachers, coaches, directors, and conductors with whom you’ve worked. Leave off the dates for now --- no need to advertise your weaknesses.

2. Be prepared to answer questions about your lack of experience. People may to want to know what you’ve been doing with your time, but you don’t need to explain yourself on your resume, or at all, unless they ask. That should always be your policy in any professional situation: never volunteer information, and never explain more than necessary. Let your performance speak for itself, and if your auditioners want to know more, have a concise answer prepared. Say, “As you can see from my resume, I did some performing after college, but I came to feel that my technique needed some refining. I dedicated three years to working with my teacher, and now we both agree that I am ready to get out there and sing!” Basta. Don’t babble on and on, don’t make excuses, and don’t mention that the other reason you stopped singing for a while was for a day job.

3. Get some performing experience. Do a recital, audition for the smaller local opera companies or community theater productions, join a caroling group, do some of the better pay-to-sings … get something on that resume. It always looks good to list upcoming engagements.

4. Choose appropriate auditions. Start no more than one level above your most recent level of experience. For instance, if your last professional gig was singing chorus at a small local opera house, audition for small roles or covers at the same size house.

5. Get some good recommendations if you can. Producers are reluctant to take a chance on unknowns, but if your performance is exciting and you show that you are polished, they may give you an opportunity. Still, it helps to have personal recommendations. Make a list of everybody you’ve worked with in the business, and put a star by the names of those who you think might be willing to make a phone call for you. When you have a specific goal in mind, ask someone to call a presenter and talk you up.

6. Work with a drama coach to refine your audition skills. Auditioners have often told me that they can tell which arias I’ve performed as part of a role --- they are on a different level than the ones that have only seen the light of my studio. A drama coach can help you explore your character and use your physicality to add a layer of polish and energy.

7. Practice performing for audiences. Get a group of friends, hire a pianist, bring snacks, and turn your living room into Carnegie Hall one Saturday a month. Practice performing for each other and work out your nerves, issues, and new ideas in a friendly, comfortable environment. Every once in a while, take the show on the road to a senior citizens’ home. Eventually, you can host a showcase and invite local producers.

In short, don’t despair --- you’ve got time, your situation isn’t as dire as you think, and there are plenty of proactive measures you can take to bring yourself up to date. Go get’em, and good luck!

 

Dear Erda,

When in a singer's career is it "time" to make the big move to New York, and what exactly do you do when you get there?

I Wanna Be a Part of It…

 

Dear Wanna,

It really depends on what you like, what you’re comfortable with, and what you hope to accomplish by moving to New York. If you thrive in a highly energetic, competitive atmosphere; if you make friends easily and enjoy the hustle and bustle of a big city; if you’re not daunted by the challenges presented by establishing yourself in a brand new place, you can really move any time. If you’re not really a big city type, aren’t sure how you’d like it, or think you might end up being a guppy swimming among the Great Whites, you might want to wait until your career is well-established (at which time you may realize that it’s not absolutely necessary to live in New York); or sublet for a few months and see how you make out.

There are two schools of thought about moving to New York. Some singers swear that they never would have gotten anywhere if they hadn’t moved to where the action is --- the largest concentration of some of the best teachers, coaches, managers, conductors, directors, and singers in the country, the place where the most companies come to audition, a world class city with world class art happening every minute of every day. But for every singer slowly clawing her way up the ladder amid all that splendiferousness, there are a hundred wretched singers-who-temp. Talented folks who just can’t seem to break very far into the business, whose day jobs eat away at their resources, who have to fight for every second of singing time while they’re struggling just to pay the rent.

So, I would say, go to New York if and when you feel sure you won’t get lost there. Go to New York when you feel like there is a compelling reason --- you have to be a part of it the same way you have to be a singer. Have enough of a life going that you can be happy even if you’re not doing the work you want to do, or when you believe that the energy and busyness of New York will enhance your life and your career and not detract from it.

And what do you do once you’re there? You find a great teacher and a couple of great coaches. You hustle for auditions and maybe get an agent. You network like mad with other singers and pick your coach’s brain for every audition that might be coming through town. You take advantage of New York’s wonderful, kooky, unique culture --- go to museums and concerts, sit in Grand Central Station and people watch, stroll through Central Park, sing at Caffé Taci a time or two. If necessary, you find a day job that won’t suck out too much of your soul while you’re pursuing singing. You do everything you have to do to keep on singing.

But you won’t know what that may be until you get there.