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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Auditions - Nothing to be scared of...

Auditions week is here at McGill University's Schulich School of Music. This year I'm looking to cast roles and chorus for Handel's Agrippina, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Bizet/Brook La Tragedie de Carmen, Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, Purcell/Britten Dido and Aeneas, and a scenes program.
That's a lot of casting to be done by this Friday!

Most of the graduate students are auditioning on Wednesday, followed by the undergrads on Thursday. I'm posting callbacks for the Friday all-day event Thursday night. This year I'm holding callbacks for the specific shows -- anyone up for a role in the Handel or Purcell will get called back on Friday morning, anyone for the Rake's Friday afternoon, and the late afternoon will be for the double-bill.

Auditions here at McGill are open to the voice faculty and they tend to pop in every now and then in the prelims. Most show up for the callbacks -- it's a good time to hear everyone without the pressure of the grading -- of course there's the pressure of wanting to get cast, more on that later.

Casting at McGill is not done by committee, it's actually done by just little ol' me (of course with huge consultations with our principal and guest conductors and directors). I have to see the overall year plan for each student cast and am looking to try to balance it as best as I can.
New this year for the Masters students in opera: C.O.R.E. or "Comprehensive Operatic Repertoire Experience". I'm going to try to make sure that each of the students in this program get not only experience singing roles, but also experience in covering, singing small roles, a bit of backstage experience, along with professional career development.

The first thing a student learns when they get a young artist contract is that they will NOT be singing the leads -- they'll be singing in the chorus, covering roles, and maybe even singing a smaller role onstage. The most valuable thing I tell any young singer heading into a summer program is "learn your chorus music and be offbook for all assignments". My theory at Glimmerglass was that the young artists who showed up with their chorus music memorized were the ones who ended up snatching management and/or moving forward with their careers. The lazy ones were just that. The book to read is "Outliers"...

Wrapping up this week's blog -- what do I look and listen for at an audition? I'll first tell you what I DON'T look/listen for:
1) Being correct: couldn't care less if you miss a note or drop pieces of text.
2) Coordination with your pianist: I'm much more interested in the music YOU are making!
3) Singing in tune (I know that's a surprising statement, but frankly most singers sing out of tune in some way, shape or form -- why does everyone get so freaking obsessive about this?!)
4) Ornaments: what ever I hear I'm going to want to change anyway, so why worry about it?
5) What you're wearing (many of my students will tell you this is not so, but I only comment on it to them later because I know SO many in the business pay attention to this really unimportant factor).

What I DO look/listen for:
1) A human being making music with their voice
2) Singing sentences that have meaning both textually, dramatically, and vocally
3) Did I mention the making music thing?
4) Character choices - both physical and vocal
5) Good shoes (I know, I shouldn't but I notice) This means no super high heels and no sandals.
6) A singer's physicality
7) Size of Voice
8) Repertoire -- is the singer singing rep that is appropriate for their technique/age/fach etc.
9) Range -- as in high and low and at what extremes the singer is comfortable
10) Range -- stylistically speaking how comfortable/adept with Baroque/Classical/19th/20th/Musical Theatre rep and how many arias are being presented.

That's it, not much! I do tend to judge the aural before the first page gets turned and then take in the visual as the audition progresses.

With all of that said, one of the things singers forget is that the panel wants you to be incredible so that we can cast you! It's not a jury or an examination. There are no grades and there are few hard and stead-fast rules, frankly. Move around, don't move around; gesture, don't gesture; wear a suit, don't wear a suit. All of that doesn't matter with me. I want to hear someone trying to make CHOICES and loving their moment commiserating with the great composers.

If any of the McGill students are reading this -- remember to take a good breath before you walk in the room. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone!