Last week, the Opera Works singers had a session with John McMurray (ENO Head of Casting) and Sophie Joyce (Casting and Harewood Artists Manager). Here is what Vivien Conacher, Mezzo-Soprano on Opera Works 2013-14, had to say:
It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I was applying to audition for the 2013/14 ENO Opera Works programme. In what feels like the blink of an eye, it is suddenly that time of year again and applications have been streaming in for the new intake. For all of us who are in the current programme, and also any singers who have applied to take part in 2014/15, auditions are an inevitable, yet often daunting, part of the journey.
Luckily, part of the ENO Opera Works experience includes a Professional Development session with John McMurray (ENO Head of Casting) and Sophie Joyce (Casting and Harewood Artists Manager). John and Sophie were incredibly understanding and gracious in this Q&A session, offering honest answers to our many burning questions, no matter how small. I’m sure the rest of my Opera Works colleagues would agree that we all walked away with a greater knowledge about the casting process, as well as with some valuable advice about auditions.
Jan Capinski has already written a fantastic summary of this Q&A session in his own blog http://singerjournal.blogspot.co.uk so rather than repeat what he has already recorded so well, I have decided instead to create a brief (and hopefully useful) checklist, as informed by our afternoon with John and Sophie.
Auditions: What you CAN control
- Select pieces that show you fully, but pick rep that you could get through even if you were only feeling 70% on the day.
- Do your research - turn up with a knowledge of the whole role and opera, not just the aria you’re singing.
- If you’ve chosen an aria you can sing from a role you are not ready for just yet, feel free to mention this at the audition. It shows the panel that you’ve thought about it and are aware where you are at.
- Prepare an audition “pack” of 5 arias. Get it right, and this package should last you for two years. Even if you feel like you’ve sung the arias a thousand times, the panel doesn’t know that, so don’t second guess yourself just because you’ve done the repertoire before.
- Pick your first choice aria - you should stick with this choice for 95% of your auditions, again, there is no need to change for the sake of it.
- Try to show some variety in the mood/style of your arias and their languages if possible. But don’t worry if you mainly have Mozart and Handel in your 5 aria pack. It shows that you know where you are at and the type of repertoire that is appropriate to you and your voice type at the moment.
- Aim to keep things simple for the panel: pick standard repertoire (anything totally obscure should only be done for very good reasons).
- Be prepared to do da capos.
- A piece that isn’t strictly opera (e.g. Gilbert & Sullivan, Handle oratorio aria) is fine to include in your set of 5, so long as it shows something that your other arias may not.
- Make sure you’ve performed any new arias under pressure before taking them to an important audition.
- Turn up looking smart and professional. Your appearance should say that you are ready to work (rather than ready to go out to dinner).
- Wear colour! It will make you more memorable.
- Keep it simple - avoid anything fussy or distracting (e.g. big jewellery, crazy colours or patterns) or clothing that is too tight.
- For men, you don’t always have to wear a tie or jacket. For women, skirts or trousers are fine, but bare legs are usually a no-no (flesh tights are fine). As a rule, you should never wear jeans for an audition.
- Whatever you decide to wear, you need to be comfortable in it. Practice before the audition in the chosen outfit to decide if it works.
- Getting the tone right is vital - remember that you want the panel to think you are professional, punctual, well-prepared, flexible, and ready to work.
- If you are unwell, better to cancel than to do a bad job of it. Unfortunately, the negative impression from a bad audition lasts a lot longer than the positive impression of a good one.
- Greet the panel - it is a good idea to shake hands only if it is a small panel and if you have to walk past them to get to the spot where you will sing from.
- It matters how you treat the audition stewards.
- It matters how you treat the pianist - say hello, provide them with sheet music that is in a professional state, and say thank you.
- Reduce your acting choices for an audition situation. You want to show the dramatic context of the aria through your vocal expression, rather than through big gestures or blocking.
- Eyes are important - don’t let your eyes dart around the room, but also avoid eyeballing members of the panel. Try not to sing down to the ground - even if you think it is showing emotion, it usually communicates very little.
- Bring copies of your CV to auditions (just in case)
- Keep it to one page and scrutinise what you include - keep information up to date and relevant to what you’re auditioning for.
- Mentioning directors or conductors you have worked with is good, but be sure that they would speak positively about you - it’s a small world and your reputation may precede you.
The post-audition / follow-up:
- If the casting professionals have been encouraging about your audition, do continue your contact and engagement with them - let them know about any upcoming performances.
- Remember that persistence is good but, but don’t pester them (they are busy people and may not always have time to reply).
- An online presence is essential - even if it is minimal, you must have a website. Keep your online schedule up-to-date (people like John or Sophie will often turn to websites of artists they are familiar with if a casting problem arises). And be careful if moaning about an audition or performance experience on social media - it doesn’t take people long to realise what company/director/conductor you might be complaining about, and word travels, so think carefully before you post.
In the end, there is a lot about an audition that you simply cannot control. You can sing as well as you’ve ever sung in your life, but you might not be right for what the company is after at the time, or it might come down to a question of taste. That doesn’t mean a panel hasn’t taken notice. It’s just that they might not have anything to offer you at this point in time.
For all of us who are just starting out in the profession, we should take comfort in the fact that casting departments usually like to get to know singers and hear them several times. Often the professionals who get cast in main stage lead roles are tried and tested singers that the company have built relationships with over time. When hearing young singers, Sophie and John also were keen to explain that they are basing their judgements on the standard they would expect at that level - if hearing a college graduate, they have an expectation for what that should mean in an audition. They want to hear where a singer is at at the time, and they try to avoid making “snap decisions” about young singers.
In conclusion, when it comes to auditions, try not to worry about the things you can’t control, but take control of the things you can.
Mezzo-soprano, Opera Works 2013-14