Question: How do you pick good audition rep?
Angela: First, sing what you sing best! But if you already have that down and you want to be more strategic about your audition repertoire, the one comment I hear pretty often from auditors is that they want singers to offer pieces that match where the singer is in the business (in terms of experience) and the kind of gig the auditor has to offer. The upshot of this is that professional auditors want to hear you sing roles that you're hirable for right now in the kinds of pieces that they're casting.
A lot of auditors have also commented to me that this isn't really what they're hearing in auditions, so if you're not getting the offers you want, this may be the area to look at. I'm told that many of the pieces they're hearing are either too obscure, too big for the singer, or too big for the room. Phil Lauriat (former artistic director of Granite State Opera) once said to me, "I don't need to hear a twenty-something soprano singing Norma. I need to hear her singing Susanna, because that's what I'd consider hiring her for."
How To Select Rep
The first questions to ask yourself about a potential new audition piece are:
"Can I sing every note of this piece perfectly in tune?"
- This is the #1 complaint by auditors, so check that pitches are secure, particularly on descending passages.
"Can I sing it when I'm nervous?"
- You would think this goes without saying, but sometimes people get ambitious and don't take into account their uncontrollable physical responses to nerves. For instance, I know that I tend to get all JAZZ HANDS in an audition, so I never sing anything that requires me to stand still.
"Do I know this piece thoroughly, and could I sing it if the pianist was not only on a different measure, but on a totally different page?"
- You can't depend on the pianist to hold you together if something goes wrong. Know your stuff backwards and forwards.
The next questions to ask yourself are less obvious and address strategy:
"Does this piece get performed?"
- Auditors really don't love obscure pieces unless they've specifically been requested. If an opera or oratorio is rarely performed, then it may not be useful for auditors to hear a selection from it.
"Does the company I'm auditioning for perform this piece (or others like it)?"
- Try to present arias from the kinds of works that are performed by the companies you're singing for. If you're participating in the BSR auditions, for instance, consider the kinds of pieces that get performed in the Boston area and which groups are likely to be in that room. Standard oratorio and arias from operas that get performed by small companies (like Mozart and Rossini) are probably your best bet for helping those auditors to seriously consider you.
"Am I hirable for this whole role right now based on the level of skill and experience established on my resume?"
- Audition arias ideally should be from roles that you're hirable for right now by a company that would pay you. Phil also said, "Sing what you would sing in a big house." So if you're twenty-five and just hitting the pavement, for instance, offering pieces from big, expensive operas that don't get performed much (or at all) at your level of the business may not help you to get your foot in the door.
- Young Artist Programs often like to hear young singers doing bigger stuff and frequently cast that way, so if that gets you work and recognition, go for it. For a non-YAP audition, though, your competition is likely to be older or more experienced singers. So even if you're auditioning for a big house that might actually put on those expensive shows, consider how they're likely to cast you and adjust your rep accordingly.
Skill vs. Potential
A lot of this boils down to whether an audition piece represents your skill or your potential. In school, we focus on our potential by preparing the roles we think we're going to do someday, and sometimes schools and young artist programs cast singers in big roles because of this focus. But because these singers are really too young and/or inexperienced to be hirable for these roles outside of the school/YA world, it can create a disconnect from where the singer is in terms of the business, and then audition auditors get frustrated when singers present inappropriate rep. So remember that in professional auditions, the focus is on skill: auditors want to hear you perform what you're hirable for right now.
This doesn't mean avoiding the mature stuff like Wagner or Verdi if they're in your wheelhouse, of course, but do be strategic about where and when you use them as opening pieces. Competitions? Yes. Concerts? Yes? YAPS? Sure, if that's what they're casting. Open auditions? Consider hirability first. If you rock the big pieces, definitely include them in your book just in case, but it's good strategy to make sure the first pieces people hear are the arias that could get you hired today.
Tip from the Auditors' Table: When doing excerpts of pieces for the BSR auditions, leaving out the high notes or trickier passages in ambitious, well-known arias can get noticed. If you're not comfortable performing the whole of an aria, then consider choosing a simpler piece. Sometimes less is more! Auditors always want to hear what you do really well right now.
Angela Jajko, mezzo-soprano, is the Editor of the BSR Blog. She has been praised in such publications as the Boston Globe and the Herald for her “peaches and cream” voice and dramatic delivery. Recent performances have included appearing as a featured soloist with Cape Symphony Orchestra, Prinz Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with the North End Music and Performing Arts Center Opera Project in Faneuil Hall, Miss Hannigan in Anniewith Crescendo Theatre Company, The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot at Theatre at the Mount, selections from Carmen in The Greater Worcester Opera Gala in Mechanics Hall, Tessa in The Gondoliers with The Sudbury Savoyards, Orlofsky inDie Fledermaus with New England Light Opera, Carmen with Greater Worcester Opera, Offenbach’s Island of Tulipatan with New England Light Opera, the roles of Ruth, Buttercup, Phoebe, Katisha, and The Fairy Queen in concert with the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and as a featured soloist in concerts with Opera on Tap, Masstheatrica, FIRSTMusic, Ocean Park Festival Chorus, Parish Center for the Arts and New Hampshire Opera Theatre. Her performances have also included the roles of Carmen, Theodorine, Augusta, Marcellina, Hermia, Savitri, Pirate Jenny, and La Zia Principessa. She has also performed with Odyssey Opera, PORTopera, Granite State Opera, Longwood Opera, BASOTI, Harvard University, and the International Lyric Academy in Viterbo, Italy. She has been honored by the American Prize competition and holds multiple degrees in Vocal Performance from The New England Conservatory of Music and the University of California at Los Angeles. She is currently the Associate Executive Director of NELO, an artist coordinator for Opera on Tap Boston, a Board Member of Boston Singers’ Resource, Vice President and Program Chair of the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and the Vice Chairman of the Board of L’Académie, a critically acclaimed orchestra specializing in performances of French Baroque music in health institutions. She has served as Costumer for a number of productions with companies including NEGASS, Guerilla Opera, Company One, NELO, BASOTI and Longwood Opera. She has also served as a Director for NELO’s Rising Stars program and in other productions as Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and Props Master. Angela also maintains a private studio as an Audition Coach, and she has extensive experience in administration, office management, and event management in a variety of industries. Visit her at www.angelajajko.com.