Sometimes I feel like because I’m so young and just starting out on this career, nobody will want to read what I have to say about singing. Why would they, when they can read wonderful blogs by more experienced performers? But over the course of a couple of conversations last night (backstage during opening night of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, and in my car on the way home after the cast party), I realized that I have learned a ton of valuable stuff since graduating from college, and that maybe I shouldn’t keep it to myself, because who knows who might be reading out there in cyberspace? So I’m going to share my current philosophy. Bear with me, blogosphere.
Don’t apologize. Professionally, that is. We all know that “love means never having to say you’re sorry” is ridiculous.
Anyway. No apologizing. Walk into auditions and say, “This is who I am. This is where I am in my journey to become a professional musician. And I am fabulous.” It’s OKAY if you’re not perfect. I’m 25 and I am far from perfect, and yet I find myself working consistently as a singer. Sometimes I catch myself looking at my package of five audition arias and wishing that they were more sophisticated or more “advanced.” But then I smack myself upside the head (figuratively speaking) and I go into my auditions and give my soubrette arias everything I’ve got.
No, I’m not a coloratura or a spinto. I’m not even a full lyric soprano–not yet. Sure, plenty of people sang my core arias in college and then graduated to bigger repertoire, but opera needs all kinds of voices and all kinds of characters–that’s what makes it so marvelously rich. Plus, having sung a lot of my bread-and-butter arias in college with a HOST of vocal health issues and no idea what I was doing, I can tell you that they are much harder than they look. If you don’t think “Deh vieni, non tardar” or “Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen” are difficult, then you’ve been listening to really, really great sopranos singing them.
On the other side of Don’t Apologize, of course, lies Be Realistic. This goes both for what to offer in auditions and what programs/operas/companies to audition for.
For the former, my rule of thumb is not to offer any arias from roles that I can’t sing in their entirety right now. (This is for young artist program and company auditions, not for grad school, which is a whole different animal, and for which it is probably acceptable to offer a stretch aria or two to show where you might be headed.) Do I sing a mean “Juliette’s Waltz”? Sure. Or I would do, if I could get those pesky chromatics under control.
But the rest of the role of Gounod’s Juliette is much bigger and heavier than that aria–too big and heavy for me. The aria might show my voice off nicely, but it doesn’t show the audition panel how they could use me right now. I want the auditioners to see that I have thought about how I might fit into their season.
Because at this point, if there is no place for me in their season, I won’t apply or audition. I will grant you that every audition is valuable, and it can never hurt to sing for important people in this industry. But I will not waste my time, energy or money (for application and audition fees…oh, opera!) auditioning for companies that are only producing Verdi and Wagner. (And when I say Verdi, I don’t mean Un ballo in maschera or Falstaff, which have great roles for me–I mean everything else.)
The same goes for competitions. I placed in a couple of competitions back in March–the first focused solely on French music and had an age limit of 25, and the second was in driving distance and focused on light opera and operetta. So as a 25-year-old soprano who spent a year in Paris and has sung more operetta than opera, both of those were competitions in which I felt my particular skill set would stand me in good stead. I think it’s also important for me to pace myself and not audition for the really big prizes yet, but wait until I’ve had more stage experience and resolved some of my lingering technical issues.
Which leads to my next piece of advice: GO FOR IT. When you find those programs and competitions and shows that would be just right for you at this stage in your development (“journey” sounds so New Age-y, I almost can’t bear to write it), put yourself out there!
What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t get hired or cast. It happens to everyone. But you know what? If you don’t audition, you DEFINITELY won’t get hired or cast.
During my first audition season, right out of college, I went to New York and sang an audition for a pretty prestigious opera festival. I remember it was freezing cold in the audition room that day, and I walked in, looked at the audition panel, and said, “Brrr, it’s freezing in here!” We had a bit of a laugh together, and then I sang my arias. They asked me some questions afterwards, and I told them it was my first audition season; someone on the panel told me–and I’ve never, ever forgotten this–that I should always be myself in auditions, the way I was at that moment. Sure, I wasn’t ready to sing a full opera role, so maybe that audition was a little bit of a reach, but if I hadn’t done it, I would never have gotten that piece of advice, which just goes to show that auditions that don’t lead to roles or contracts can be extremely valuable.
My point is, you can’t wait until you’re perfect, because there is no such thing as perfect. There will never be a point where I say, okay, I’m done working on my voice, I’m done learning about diction and acting. Which means that if I want to get the ball rolling on my singing career–if I’m really serious about making this dream a reality–I have to start auditioning for things. Yes, I’m going to make mistakes. Yes, I’m definitely going to splat high notes in auditions, and I’m going to flub words or sing messy coloratura. We’re people, not machines. I actually won a scholarship in an audition where I ended the big cadenza of my big competition-winning aria nearly a half-step sharp; after the audition my pianist told me she thought she had played the wrong chords at the end. It’s not about those little missteps, it’s about the big picture, which as a detail-oriented person I have often found difficult to see. I’m not saying that you don’t have to be technically sound–technique is incredibly important, and it’s taken me a loooooong time to feel secure in my technique–but going sharp on one high note is not going to be the one thing that makes or breaks your audition.
I’ve already touched on this, but to my mind the most important thing to remember in auditions and performances is Be Yourself. Be original. Have a point of view. Don’t be afraid to let your intelligence and passion and whatever else you’ve got shine through in your singing. Make interesting, organic dramatic choices in your arias.
I was telling my new voice teacher recently that one of the roles I’m learning for my upcoming Artist-in-Residence stint has been hard for me to dig into dramatically; she told me that one good way to approach something like that is to think about who that character would be if she were me, (If she were I? Terrible, terrible construction, sorry) instead of trying to play her the way Renée Fleming did on the recording I have, or the way I’ve seen her played at the Lyric Opera or at school.
So, to sum it all up–be yourself and own it.