I am a semi-professional opera singer (soprano) and am 27 years old. I currently work in Brisbane but am saving to make a venture overseas in a year or two. One of my goals is to go to New York and also live and work in Italy. What would you suggest is a good way to do this? Also preparing for auditions, what is the best things I can do to put be in the best light for hiring?
It’s hard to answer without knowing your background and whether you have a specific coach/teacher in mind overseas.
My first question would be the rationale behind the travel. Italy sounds fabulous – you could enroll in an intensive language course and immerse yourself in the sounds and the culture – people who have lived in foreign countries often sing with greater nuance in the language, so it’s a great idea to live and work there for a while.
NY has some wonderful coaches, of course, but so does Australia, and I feel that often young singers travel overseas to study at great expense without realizing that we have some of the best coaches in the world right here. Of course, if you have family there or a contact or coach you’re keen to work with on specific repertoire, then that’s understandable.
Before you travel, I would strongly suggest that you chat with singers who have spent time in the areas you’re looking at, to suss out the pros and cons and the best studios/language centre/place to base yourself. Actual knowledge from someone who has been through it is invaluable and can save you so much time, and also cut out any ‘trial and error’ in choosing where to live and who to study with. This will be your most valuable source of first-hand information. Also, Google any coaches you’re considering and see who they’ve worked with, and if these are singers whose voices you admire. The proof is often in the pudding (not always), so if they’re producing a line of great singers, you will most probably be in good hands. I would also suggest having a very good idea of your own voice and instinct for what works for you technically before working with multiple teachers, as then you can extract the best bits from each and choose the advice that really works for you, rather than being completely confused and becoming a bit vocally ‘muddled’ trying to be the servant of too many masters.
I’d try applying for all of the possible scholarships on offer – Australia Council, Churchill Scholarship, or many of the ones that exist for specific voice types.
If you’re a dramatic soprano, you could apply for the Elizabeth Connell Prize:
If you’re bel canto, the Sutherland and Bonynge Bel Canto Award:
There are many others – it’s worth a search, as they may make an enormous difference. As we all know, singing lessons are not cheap!
Another option is to wrangle all of your performing friends together for a fund-raising concert. These are great fun and you usually find that people are very willing to help you in your cause, from singers and musicians to venues donating a room.
Now, onto the audition question.
The major things I would look for when on an audition panel would be:
Secure vocal technique and great tone. Voice. First and foremost. Coach those arias (and your voice in general) comprehensively with a great teacher to iron out any technical issues. This will make you sound your best and also give you much more confidence.
Language skills. Make sure you run EVERYTHING with a language coach. Bad pronunciation will do you no favours, and good pronunciation adds so much to the flavour of an aria – use it to your advantage.
Character. “Did they capture the character of the piece/was the acting appropriate?” Make sure you know the story of the whole opera and where your aria fits in, and also the translation of every single word. Treat an audition like a performance and inhabit the character as completely as you can whilst maintaining great vocals!
Presentation. Don’t wear a ball dress, but don’t turn up in jeans. Unless the character would.
Suitability of repertoire. Do NOT sing an aria unless you’re ready for it. You’re better to sing something a bit simpler immaculately than sing something too early and struggle with it. Choose arias that show all of your strengths and have a wide variety of styles. Preferably choose an aria from a role that you could feasibly sing in its entirety. Choose arias you love singing and know you can nail – an audition is rarely the place to try out new, tricky, unrehearsed repertoire.
Attitude. “Does the singer seem amiable and do they seem to love what they’re doing?” I know it sounds trivial, but it really does make a difference if you go in with a positive attitude and a smile.
Accompaniment. Check who the pianist is for the audition and whether they can cope with the technical demands of the piece. Not every audition pianist can play Strauss, for example, and there are so many orchestral cues you need to pull off those arias to a high standard that a struggling pianist can throw you off your game completely. If you’re singing something you know is hard to play, send the music through to the pianist EARLY so that they have a chance to look at it and get back to you if it’s not possible for them to play (they may be a brilliant pianist but just not have time to practice a difficult piece). Bring your own accompanist if possible, especially if you don’t know anything about the ones available.
Rehearse the audition. I would try to run the pieces you’re going to sing under ‘audition conditions’. If you’re used to singing in a rehearsal room, invite some folk in to listen and treat it as a recital. Get a bigger room if you can. Give yourself a little bit of performance pressure and see what works/falls apart – then you know what to work on.
Check out the auditioner. Sometimes, it’s worth doing some detective work on the company/agent you’re auditioning for. What they specialize in, what their preferences are, what kind of people they regularly employ. Tailor your audition to suit them if possible (eg: don’t audition for a baroque specialist company singing Wagner!).
Well-rehearsed pieces with confident performance. Walk into the room with your head high and greet the panel, even if you feel horribly nervous. Your entrance matters. You are being auditioned from the moment you step into that room (and sometimes even before). Stand tall and take a deep breath. If you’ve done all of the above, be confident that you’ve done your very best to prepare for this audition and then just let yourself fly. Whatever happens, happens, and at least you know you gave yourself the best chance.
I wish you luck in your singing future and hope that some of this helps a little!