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zurich_audition.jpg
Audition room - ZŁrich Opera Studio audition, London.

Blog 7 - Audition Tips

You can read all you want about audition technique, but you really only start to improve by doing.

I think it feels completely different than a regular performance, because it is a competition. That makes it a heck of a lot more stressful than anything else you will ever do - singing competitions excepted.

Firstly you always need to sing repertoire that demonstrates you are capable of singing anything they are likely to ask you to sing - so usually something rather difficult and you need to demonstrate this with an absolute technical mastery and artistry, because there Is a very long queue of singers also wanting the job.

So you need to be healthy, rested, relaxed and thoroughly prepared in advance, with all that in mind, here are my rules of thumb which I have learnt from many audition failures & successes:

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You will see lots of trains before the end.

Preparing for the audition

OK, you have got the audition. You have the e-mail or letter with a possible list of audition dates and times. They will probably request a list of arias as well that you intend to sing. What now? Before you even respond, you have to make sure itís going to work.

1. Check how far away the city is and how to get there by train or car.

Can you get there and back in one day? Or will it take 2 or 3 days out of your schedule? If so, can you still fit this audition into your schedule?

In Germany, the Deutschebahn has an excellent trip planner and tells you all the connections you need to take, how long it will take and how much the trip will cost. Assume the train could be significantly delayed Ė it is very, very common.

For cars, we are very lucky to have Google maps! Print out the directions.

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Hamburg Opera House

2. If you have to leave home before 9am just to make your audition, itís better to go the night before.

Waking up too early can tire you out for the whole day. For any other job, thatís fine. For singing, thatís suicide.

So here comes the story of what I will call The Hamburg Audition.

I will never forget my Hamburg Opera Studio Audition. I was up at 6:30am to leave at 7:05am. It was a 4 hour 40 minute train trip and the train was 50 minutes late and I ran to the theatre to make my 2pm audition. I was feeling under the weather, I didnít get a warm-up and I picked my easiest aria. I still sang very badly and I was told, ďThank-you very much. Good-byeĒ (literally) and my audition was over in less than 4 minutes.

I just think of the money I could have saved by not doing this audition - the return train ticket was 88Ä, the cheapest hotel I could find (not always recommended - see below) was 44Ä, breakfast at the hotel was 5Ä, so the audition cost at least 137Ä before lunch and dinner.

So in cases like this, leave the night before!

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Theater Augsburg.

3. Book a suitable hotel at least a week in advance.

When searching, make sure your hotel is recommended in a good area and has received good reviews from clients - especially when it comes to noise and comfort of rooms. Donít go cheap.

You can be left with only very expensive, or very inconvenient hotels if you havenít booked well in advance. So donít forget to do this as soon as you have a date locked in.

More on The Hamburg Audition, I decided I wanted to watch the Hamburg production of Madama Butterfly so I booked myself into the cheapest hotel I could find in Hamburgís Red Light district. At 2am, I had to put up with a drunken football team screaming at and fighting (no joke) each other, smashing things up and repeatedly knocking on my door until 4am in the morning. I was at the end of the hallway in the roof, and the phone was broken, so I could not even escape or ring reception.

Now this didnít affect my audition, which was already ruined, but I did have a performance of Falstaff the next day. I was so tired that I remember coming offstage the first scene and wondering what Iíd just done. An audition would have been even worse.

So the lesson is, donít go too cheap with the hotel! Especially when you have already spent 88Ä on train tickets!

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Sydney Opera House.

4. Know the repertoire that the theater might offer you for the coming season

If the theatre havenít given you a list of roles for the next season, ask.

If you have done an aria of one of the roles they are offering, itís a very good idea to at least offer it on your list - provided you can do a good job singing it of course.

And lastly, if you are in the enviable position of already having contracts already, you may as well find out whether the position is even interesting for you to cancel your current one.

5. Preferably, select arias to sing that you have performed in public at least once before

Not only from a vocal point of view, you will have figured out how you can make an aria work dramatically in a concert situation rather than just in your head.

If necessary, organize some sort of performance in front of people.

Theater Aachen
Sydney Opera House.

The day before the audition

1. Know who you are expecting to talk to and sing for

I have a horrible memory for names, so a little secret of mine (not anymore) is making a little PDF document with photos and names of the KBB, Intendant and the General Music Director and putting them in my phone the night before an audition.

It doesnít guarantee that I will still remember the names (but thatís OK because they will introduce themselves anyway), but when I see the faces I recognize at least who Iím speaking to. Itís not really that important, but it makes me feel a little bit more connected to these otherwise faceless people.

2. Print out a map of your journey from the train station to the hotel and theatre

3. Pack your things

Checklist:
  1. Waterbottle full of water
  2. Sheet music - make sure every page of every aria is there
  3. Maps
  4. Metronome/Pitch Pipe
  5. Anything you want to read or work on on the train

4. Set your mobile phone to silent the night before the audition

I just did an audition recently where a friend of mine from Australia rang me at 7:24am in the morning of an audition, which lost me over an hour's worth of sleep. Totally wrecked me for the day and I didn't sing well.

5. Double check your alarm before going to bed

Nothing worse than sleeping in and missing your train!
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View from the stage.
Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden.

The Day of the Audition

So, you have done the work, now you need to get there and prepare to perform. Hereís whatís important.

1. Enjoy the audition!

Forget about what an audition is supposed to be.

You are doing what you love. You have a professional pianist playing for you. You might be singing as in a real theatre for the first time. I sang on the Sydney Opera House stage for the first time two years ago. If I never get to sing there again, I still got an enormous buzz from the fact I got to audition there. It was a dream come true (at least part of it) and I will take that to my grave. Smell the roses!

An audition should be treated exactly like a performance. You have an audience of people who love opera to entertain, you have a character to portray, a story to tell and the chance of showing how much you love doing what you do. If you can make them enjoy it, you are doing one heck of a job Ė so enjoy it yourself!

2. If you are sick, cancel the audition

I have often thought, ďIím sick, but I can still sing.Ē. Unfortunately, the stress of travel and the stress of an audition will compound any vocal problems you have on the day. Better to reschedule or even cancel. People remember. The agent who sent you will also remember.

Do not be afraid to cancel on the day. The theater or agent will understand why and there is quite often an opportunity to reschedule Ė especially for agents.

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ZŁrich central train station.

2. Provide for train delays and traffic jams.

If you have a four hour train trip, assume it will take at least five. See The Hamburg Audition above.

4. Donít enter the audition venue too early before your warm-up time

This is a personal thing for me and goes against everything I have ever read about auditioning, but once Iím inside an agentís waiting room or theatre, the adrenalin kicks in. One hour of waiting thinking about what I am about to do there drains my energy significantly.

I prefer to get to the city early and then taking a walk and grabbing a coffee. Firstly, I get to know the place I am auditioning in and secondly Iím not expending my mental energy being stressed. When I came in for my Paris audition, I made sure I saw the Eiffel Tower. My last audition I spent the morning at the beach!

5. Practice what you are going to say

The audition panel, be it an opera house or an agent, will always ask you your name, what you have brought with you and what you wish to sing first. Be prepared (and practiced) with an answer so you donít stumble and sound inarticulate. If you are in Germany, use the polite Sie form.

Good first impressions count!

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Typical Warm-up room.
If you are lucky enough to have one!

6. Donít sing too much in your warm-up.

You are nervous, you are unsure of yourself. But how is your voice? Resist the temptation to try out the high C for the fifth time. Itís not going to vanish - on the contrary, the more you sing it, the more it's likely to vanish when you need it. You donít need to practice all your arias before the audition Ė youíve put a lot of work into them. Trust that the work is already done!

I have worn myself before auditions, but one story I want to tell is about something I witnessed at an audition I did rather recently. There was another tenor singing for the same spot as me. He was sounding great. I thought he would do well. But he didnít stop singing. An hour later, that high C, which was sounding good before was starting to sound strained. And his high B. From that point, I could already tell he had messed up his audition.

7. You will be more nervous than usual, so be aware of your body and learn to relax.

I get nervous like everyone else, but I am not the sort of person to be overwhelmed by nerves, but auditions will do that to me every time!

I have learnt to be hyper-aware of my body during an audition and I have to actively remember to relax. There is always tension that is not there during a normal performance and I have to remember to make sure Iím not gripping my shoulders (freezing cold hands are a dead give away) or my neck. I have to make sure my legs arenít stiff so that I if I decide to move, I donít look like a robot. If you feel tense, a good stretch can go a long way.

8. Enjoy the audition!!!

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Bayerischer Staatsoper, Munich.
(Bavarian State Opera)

After the Audition

Auditioning is very intimidating and no matter how prepared you can be, like any performance, it can (and will sometimes) go wrong. You should never be too overly upset if you are not successful. Maybe there is no suitable position available (especially true for informative auditions) or they simply donít like your voice or presentation.

Or dare I say it, there was a really amazing, or more experienced singer who is just a better fit than you are. There is a lot of competition, so you just need to be persistent and as lucky as you are prepared.

Not only is auditioning a skill that takes practice, and indeed failure, but even if you pull off a great audition, the chances of getting the job is still exceptionally low.

I was looking for photos for this blog and I have noticed just how many houses I have auditioned for in the last three years: Opťra National de Paris, KŲln, SaarbrŁcken, Hamburg, Augsburg, Braunschweig, Wiesbaden, DŁsseldorf, Opera Australia mainstage, LŁbeck, Dessau.

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Opťra National du Paris (Bastille).

Then before this back in Australia for Victorian Opera (Chorus), Opera Australia Chorus, OzOpera Schools, Opera Queensland, Melbourne Opera Company (three attempts), Lyric Opera of Melbourne, Chambermade, not to mention for the professional productions of The Lion King, Wicked, Royal Carribean Cruises, Walt Disney Cruises and even for a music theatre workshop (Nostradamus - The Musical).

The bold entries are where I actually received paid job offers. All the European House auditions came through agents (Braunschweig excepted). I have also, so far, auditioned for at least ten agents in three years. Two are working for me.

So the strike rate is really not very high. And if you actually take all the rejected applications to agents into account, I have been rejected by letter probably an extra thirty or forty times.

You just have to get out there and do it and be prepared for the good and the bad and take it as much in your stride as is humanly possible!

Thank-you very much for reading and TOI TOI TOI!!!

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Sometimes you see some amazing things on the way to an audition.
Smell the roses!
Links:
  1. Checklist (PDF) - All my points here as a checklist for reference. PDF format.
  2. Operabase - Your one stop shop for theaters, performers and AGENTS around the world.
  3. Operabase (Agents in Germany) - A list of all German opera agents listed with Operabase.
  4. TOWARDS AN OPERATIC CAREER IN EUROPE - The audition process (Martin Cooke) - Wonderful website from Australian baritone Martin Cooke, currently a permanent member of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.
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