My Canadian roots won't let me brag often, but I will say this. Besides a few goofs when I was out of practice or when my voice was in the middle of the long transition, I am more or less really good at auditions. I have learned how to handle the yuckiness of them and sort of turn it all into an exciting challenge. I hope my tips will do the same for you!
My personal caveat(s)
Of course it's about money. All of you know at this point that I hate to see people go into debt to sing, or ruin their financial future on speculation for a career that may not be for them. Besides doing well in big competitions, (and I'm not sure how we decided this automatically qualifies someone for a career, but I digress), auditions are still the most obvious way to get a job in the opera business.
And while this is true, I always recommend making a budget for an audition and see if you can actually afford it, especially a string of them. (For my European readers, it is quite common for an American singer to come to Europe on what we call an "audition tour" and sing for as many houses as possible over 2-3 weeks, which can cost thousands of dollars.)
I know auditions are hard to come by, but it is also not worth going into debt to do one, especially if you're not sure you're going to nail it. People tend to have a long memory when it comes to auditions, and it's a doubled edged sword - do a great one, and you've "bought" yourself some goodwill with a certain company for a while. Conversely, if you blow an audition, it can be hard to convince a house to give you another chance for a long time.
I know many people will disagree with these statements, but as the market gets more and more saturated and the fees seem to keep getting lower and lower, we must be "smarter" than the business, and strike when the timing is right. Last year Norman and I invested thousands of dollars for me to do auditions in Basel, Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, Paris, Bordeaux, Vienna, New York, and probably some more I forgot about. If I didn't think I was going to perform consistently, I would have canceled until I thought I could recuperate those costs by booking a job. Thankfully, based on my progress and confidence level, I made a calculated risk, and ended up getting engagements in Vienna, Bordeaux and Berlin. Had I pushed these auditions too soon however, it would have been money down the drain!
If you know you're still not ready to do extremely well in a high profile audition, there are things you can do to up your profile in the meantime. With social media, there are plenty of ways to create buzz around yourself and catch the interest of people, especially with so many casting directors getting younger and younger and using these platforms. Create an instagram account and engage with other singers and managers. ( I met my current manager more or less on Instagram.) Never be desperate or pushy, but make yourself known. Nobody can hire or collaborate with a person they've never heard of!
Make sure your website is up to date with current, attractive images. Make a good recording of yourself and post it on Youtube, preferably a live video - this does NOT have to be with orchestra. Produce your own recital and take initiative to create your own opportunity, especially if you need experience performing. Finally, attend as many live concerts and performances as you can so you can continue your education and see who is getting hired out there. It will help you evaluate where you are in the process, and at what level you can realistically be engaged. (If you're honest!!)
I say all these things for your encouragement and protection. I know what it is like to be disappointed by having bad outings, and of course, no checklist or advice from another person will fully shield you from such outcomes. I think, however, we can be methodical, practical, and strategic in our careers, and avoid certain traps.
1. Eat breakfast. Something with carbs and protein - the carbs will rev you up, but the protein will make you feel fuller, longer. I like to eat whole grain toast with peanut butter and some sliced bananas. (Bananas also have a lot of potassium, which may reduce anxiety and act as a natural beta-blocker.)
2. Wear something sensible. You may be presenting different characters, but you are also presenting YOU. I never wear something to an audition that I wouldn't be comfortable going out for lunch in afterwards. The United States expects something dressier than Europe. Business casual is always safe on any continent.
3. Pack the essentials. Water, a snack, hairbrush, make up if you wear it, and make sure you've downloaded a piano app on your phone. You never know if there will be a piano in your warm up room. (Or in some extreme cases, no room at all. Eye roll emoji.)
4. Keep your run through with the pianist short. Save your energy for the audition! Check tempi and make sure they know about any cuts, extra breaths, or cadenzas.
5. Focus on yourself. Do not engage with the other auditioners unless you absolutely have to - they are nervous and need to focus too. Some singers will engage in open sabotage of their colleagues for whatever crazy reason. Keep to yourself and let them be weird without you. It's unlikely you'll ever see those people again.
6. Always record your audition and listen to it as soon as you can!! It will eliminate any head games you may be tempted to play with yourself. The recording doesn't lie!
7. When you walk on stage, always introduce yourself. You can try to do it in the native language of the country you are in, but only if you are prepared to answer any follow up questions that may arise!! Better to be comfortable and answer in your native language, or English.
8. Keep your first aria short, and make sure it has at least one impressive high note! Be prepared that if you offer Mozart, you will most likely be asked to sing Mozart. I have no idea why. I think singing Wagner is much more demanding, but for some reason there has been some attitude of late that if you can sing Mozart, you are able to sing anything. Well, we know that's not true! Sing your best piece and do not worry if they don't ask for another one. I once got a huge contract off one aria. I have also sung my ENTIRE list and not been hired. There is no rhyme or reason behind this, so don't even try to speculate on it!
9. If you're not sure about something, ASK! This is for any portion of the audition experience, but here's an example: as soon as your audition is finished, check in with the person running the audition and make sure you can leave. Last year I was singing an audition at the Bastille and several girls left before doing so. It turned out the Maestro actually wanted everyone to stay for an impromptu ensemble audition. Always ask!
10. When it's clear to leave, LEAVE. Don't stay behind to listen to other singers. It's annoying for them, seems desperate, and will just make you start to second guess yourself. You've done the best you can do on that particular day, and now it's time to get on with your life.
Congratulations, you've done a really hard thing and you should pat yourself on the back. It's time to reward yourself with a nice lunch or coffee. Of course, you're already dressed for the occasion, AND you've budgeted this cost into your audition plan, so you're set! I'm proud of you!