Repertoire thoughts

March 27, 2013

I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the audition table, and, as you can imagine, I have a few opinions.  Here are a couple of points I’d like to make about what people sing.

Point 1 – Having technique problems does not mean you’re a dramatic sized voice.

I’ve seen this countless times – someone sings too heavily, pushing the voice in a way that sounds big on the inside, but outside?  Not so much.  Because of this, they cannot sing works that are lyrical and demanding and appropriate for them, and so feel they are ready for the dramatic sized roles.  They are aided and abetted by teachers who only know voices in small rooms, who went to one school for undergrad, grad, and then joined the faculty at that same school.

If you can sing Puccini, but not Verdi, you may need to fix things.  Puccini fits very easily into the voice – his phrases tend to start high and descend.  That is why everyone starts with “Caro mio ben” – it is easy to sing those lines.  Verdi, on the other hand, starts in the middle and goes up, which takes some real chops.  You can’t get away with anything in Verdi, or Mozart, or a lot of French rep, and so they come highly recommended!

How to know?  All the big-voiced people I know and have worked with say they feel like they’re doing nothing, not working at all.  If you feel like you’re pushing your voice, if you get tired before three hours, if you can’t sustain the high-flying phrases, get some help.  Look in the mirror.  If everything in your neck is sticking out when you sing, if your tongue is up like a cobra, you need to fix it.  Find someone, a conductor, coach or teacher, who has experience with real world voices.   Bob Spillman said it at Eastman years ago, and it still holds true:  When you get to a new city, work with the coaches first.  They know who the good teachers are.  And contact me 😉

Point 2 – Who will hire you for what?

This will take some real soul-searching, but can help tremendously in repertoire choices.  When you look at a role, ask yourself what companies do this opera, and whom do they hire?  You could also ask yourself if you want to sing in big houses or small houses.  I think it’s better to do small roles in big houses than large roles in little ones.

Now, there are some arias that are good for Opera Pops events and the like, but are from operas that are seldom done.  I’m thinking pieces like that baritone aria from Die Tode Stadt.  First of all, the opera is never done.  Second of all, it has nothing to do with the rest of the baritone repertoire.  So, don’t bring it to an audition, unless they’re doing Korngold.  Same with “Zaza, piccola zingara” or “Nobles Seigneurs” etc.  Good arias for a party, but not for auditions.

In master classes I’ve given, auditions I’ve heard, and opera concerts I’ve conducted, I’ve had lots of mezzos want to do Dalila.  So, who does this opera?  Big houses with an orgiastic ballet.  There are only three roles in it, basically, so they’ll spend real money.  Also, the orchestra is big and thick, so even for opera love-ins it is difficult.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t experiment, explore new repertoire, find some new niche.  But, you should do your homework, and research the companies you’re auditioning for.  What operas to they do?  Who have they used in the past? Where would you fit in?

In the end, what to bring to auditions?  Some questions to ask yourself:

What do I do best?

What are they hiring for?

Who have they cast in the past?

For me, I’d rather tell someone, “Hey, you should try this” instead of “You shouldn’t have done that.”



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