It’s Summer Program season — all those auditions you did back in the fall and over Christmas are starting to send out invitations, and soon the agony of waiting will be over. The celebrations over getting the program/role you wanted and the agonizing over why you didn’t get into Program X or get that desired role or got cast in something weird begins.
For those of us mulling over hundreds of applications, listening to hundreds of auditions, and making casting decisions, it’s also agony. It may not seem like it from the singer’s side of the table, but administrators love young artists and it’s painful to have to tell someone “no” or to decide between several viable candidates for a role. It’s very important to me to find something really good, fun, and useful for each of my singers. I wish Spotlight on Opera were a big enough program to do more shows and have more roles to offer. Un bel dì vedremo , if we’re lucky.
In the meantime, while this season’s crop of talent is fresh on my mind, here are some tips to help you get cast next time.
START YOUR AUDITION OFF RIGHT
Did you know that your audition is MUCH more than the five or ten minutes in which you actually sing? Your audition begins at your first contact and ends … well, never, really, as long as you’re in the business. So make sure you get off on the right foot by doing your homework.
First, know what you want. Before you can decide which programs you should audition for, decide what you’re hoping to get. Are you looking to get some intensive training over the summer so you can ace your fall auditions? Do you need to get some stage time? Are you looking to add a role to your resume, with piano or with orchestra? Is foreign language immersion on your wish list?
Research the opportunities you’re interested in. This is only common sense, especially if this is a program you must pay to attend or audition for. Identify which programs have your candy, and then take a closer look to see what level of artist tends to win roles there. Check out the program’s website, and Google stalk artists from previous seasons —- that should give you a rough idea. See who you know who attended or taught there, and talk to them. Ask your team for recommendations as to which programs might be good for you. Then, you can decide if and where you fit in.
3. Ask good questions. It’s 100% kosher, and even smart, to contact program admins with questions —- but only if you’ve done your homework first. If your first inclination when hearing of an interesting opportunity is to email the person in charge to ask about it … think again. Visit the program’s website and read it thoroughly before you ask questions.
4. Know who you’re talking to. In the age of email and social media, for many young folks, the art of writing business correspondence is, to put it charitably, unfamiliar. No matter what the medium you choose to make contact, if your topic is business, you need to be businesslike. Remember that many of the people who are running programs are older and tend to be more conservative when it come to professional communication.
All correspondence should begin with the appropriate salutation. Never send a professional email that has no salutation or begins simply with “Hello”. You will impress these people if you take the time to discover their preferred honorific, title, and correctly spelled name (and make no assumptions about gender, either —- do some research). If you can’t find this information, you can’t go wrong with “Dear Mr. Lastname” or “Dear Ms. Lastname” Never address a woman as “Mrs.” if you don’t know for sure that that is her preferred honorific. If you can’t find a contact name, use the name of the Executive or General Director or the Artistic Administrator; and if you can’t find any names at all, simply address correspondence to “Dear (Name of Program) Administrator.”
SUBMIT A PRISTINE APPLICATION
Believe it or not, the simple act of filling out a form can say quite a lot about what kind of student you are.
PROOFREAD. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization all count. They show that you are meticulous and well-educated. A sloppy, error-ridden application indicates that you are likely to be a sloppy, lazy musician. Be sure to carefully check proper spelling and capitalization for opera titles and character names, and by the way —- accents are a part of spelling!
FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of carefully reading and following directions. So few people actually do it that if you are one of them, you’re automatically a superstar. For example, Spotlight requests bios in a very specific format. Every year without fail, five or six people will ignore the instructions and example, and send their regular bio. Do not be one of those people. If you’re not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification - assuming you’ve checked the website to see if the info you need is there.
DON’T MAKE MORE WORK FOR THE STAFF. The quickest way to make yourself unpopular with any program is to create more work for the staff (see the aforementioned wrong-bio-senders). Making more work for the staff is a big, big no-no. If we have to follow up and request correct formats or specifics or missing or late items, we’re taking time we could be spending on creating a better experience for you, just to handle administrative BS. And we might start to hate you just a little tiny bit.
DON’T HAVE AN ATTACHMENT DISORDER. Most applications are submitted electronically these days, which is a great blessing to everyone. But there’s a right and wrong way to attach! Make sure your files are properly named —- do NOT send a resume whose file name is “resume2019.doc.” Do not send a photo that is gigantic or named with a string of numbers. Part of your job as a singer seeking work is to make it as easy as possible to be found —- and hired. So learn to name your files “CSadlerResume2019” or “FirstNameLastNameHeadshot2019”, etc. And for the love of Callas, learn to size your headshots for email!
CHOOSE YOUR REPERTOIRE WISELY
We get it. Young singers, those recently come to opera from other genres, and artists who are returning to singing after a hiatus very often have limited audition-ready repertoire. (That’s why Spotlight on Opera accepts art song and musical theatre for our auditions, even though we mostly stage opera). Now is a great time to learn how to find the repertoire that will show you off the best in auditions.
Evaluate: what repertoire do you have which is ready, or that you can get ready, quickly. “Ready” means notes, rhythms, and diction perfect; technically sound and comfortable; every single word translated (by you, not by Nico Castel or whoever wrote the singing translation); having made a thorough study of the opera plot, how your character fits in, why you are singing this aria at this particular moment including what happened immediately before and what other characters may be present; and having developed and practiced communicating a dramatic point of view. (Hint: gestures alone do not equal drama).
Research: what operas and roles are available? What voice types typically sing those roles? Opera is usually fairly specific as to what types of voices can sing which roles. Spend a few hours in the library or on YouTube listening to great singers singing these roles (the full role, not just the arias) and see which ones seem to match the qualities and characteristics of your own voice. See where the big challenges of the role lie, and decide whether you’re ready to essay such a role at your current level of technical development.
Target: Program applications often ask which roles you’re most interested in. The reason is twofold: one, it helps us find repertoire we hope will both benefit and please you; two, it shows us whether you have done your homework and/or have a good understanding of what types of opportunities you are right for at this stage in your development.
This season, Spotlight is producing Cosi fan tutte and The Consul. An embarrassingly large number of the sopranos applying listed, under desired roles, Magda, Fiordiligi, and Despina . But my dears, each of these roles are for very different voice types. It says a lot about singers who don’t bother to find out or don’t have a clear idea which roles are realistic for them.
4. Compare: which pieces in your repertoire not only show off your artistry to the highest standard, but also show that you could sing the roles you’re asking to be cast in? Young and emerging singers frequently neglect to think about demonstrating key elements when auditioning for specific roles. It’s not necessary to sing an aria from the role (though if you can, by all means, do), but you do need to show that you’ve got the goods. If you hope to be considered for a role like Carmen, Despina, or Alice Ford, for example, you need to show that you can be lively, vivacious, clever, and funny, and that your voice moves well and has some sparkle. If you’re auditioning for a pants role, you need to show that you understand how to realistically stand and move like a boy. If you’re going out for a villain role, you must demonstrate that you can be authoritative, scary, or oily as required.
No matter what, start with what you sing best. You may have heard that you only get a few seconds to make the impression that gets you into the “yes” pile. It’s absolutely true. So always start with something that you sing spectacularly well and feel good about, every time. Show’em that you’re a viable candidate first, and the panel will ask to hear pieces that show them what they need to cast you in specific roles.
It should go without saying that you always want to put your best foot forward when auditioning. Much has been written about how to audition successfully, and that could be its own blog post, so let’s stick to the basics.
If you’re auditioning by video, it’s vital that you make the highest quality video you can manage. That means making sure you’re in an acoustically generous environment, have good lighting, a tuned piano, and proper microphone placement. It’s not an invitation to make shortcuts —- you still need to dress up as if you were auditioning in person. Be sure to slate for each video, even if you’re making them strictly for this audition. (“Slate” means to announce your name and the titles and info for the pieces you’re offering). Also, if the application is requesting a video, it means a live video of you singing, either in concert/audition format with a piano, or a clip from a performance. Putting a sound clip in a video format and slapping your headshot on the screen does not count as video, my dears.
Auditions are performances. They’re weird performances for a very small audience, but they’re still performances! So when you walk into an audition, walk in ready to perform. Know that the panel is on your side —- they are hoping that you will thrill them! And nobody cares about the little mistakes. We can tell when you are well prepared, when you’re just a little nervous, or when you’re sick. No need to make excuses or apologize.
Your job is to gift your audience with everything you can bring to your art at that moment on that day, and not to worry about the rest (well, you can worry about it later, if you must). If you go into an audition with the idea that you are there to share your gift, your skill, and your love of music, you will have a successful audition.
FOLLOW UP LIKE A PRO
Regardless of whether you are offered a role, decide to accept an alternative offer, or have some kind of conflict emerge which might affect your ability to attend a program you’ve applied for, you have worked to establish a great impression and the start of a relationship that could end up helping you down the road. So treat it well.
Communicate clearly. Be politely up front about your needs. If you decide to accept another offer before you get a reply from a program, or if you are considering a conflicting offer, it’s polite to let the program know. If you need a scholarship in order to be able to attend, don’t wait until after you’ve been offered a role to request one. Ask when you apply.
The sooner and more forthrightly you address a problem, the easier it is to handle. If, for example, you find yourself short of funds and in need of an extension to pay your tuition, don’t ignore it. Let the program director know as soon as possible. If you have been a dream to deal with so far, chances are they will work something out with you. If you discover a conflict for which you might need a release (permission from the program to be absent for part of the time), the earlier you ask, the more likely they are to be able to accommodate you. Give people a chance to help you.
Reply promptly. I know, I know —- you’ve waited weeks or even months for a peep out of the program to get your audition slot or find out whether you’ve been cast. It doesn’t seem fair to have to jump on it when you start getting inquiries from them, does it? But this is no time for quid pro quo. If they’re asking you questions, it’s because they are interested and need this information to proceed. Even if you’ve already been cast, remember —- you’re still auditioning for future opportunities! —- so it’s in your best interest to respond quickly and accurately.
Of course, you can do all these things and still not be cast, or not get the role you wanted. Casting is a complicated issue involving many factors. If you end up going to a program where you didn’t get the role you wanted, or aren’t sure why you were offered a different role, screw your courage to the sticking point and ask for a sit-down with the faculty to get feedback. After all, you’re there to learn! Regardless of whether you get exactly what you wanted or maybe exactly what you needed … handling your applications and auditions in a businesslike manner only helps you appear more polished, professional, and desirable. And those things can absolutely make the difference between you getting cast over someone who performs just as well, but isn’t quite as put-together as you are.