Saturday, March 29, 2008

Letter to Opera News

I'm still stewing over the essay “The Jury is Out” by Brian Kellow on the back page of the March Opera News. My reaction to this is based on my own experiences with auditioning, a process I grew to loathe. One is auditioning for different purposes, but that didn't seem to matter to me. I loathed them all equally. It just wasn't what I was there for. I preferred the expectation of happiness that went with real performing instead of the expectation of judgment.

One auditions for entrance into various schools and then for exit from said schools. This is an up or down thing--you're in or you're not--and carries a high expectation of success. If you fail one of these, you should change your major. I ended up changing my major, but about 20 years after this.

One auditions for contests of various sorts. There is usually just one winner, so they are looking for tenors. If you are a lyric soprano, don't expect to win these.

One auditions for the San Francisco Opera or the Metropolitan Opera. In San Francisco these lead to being included in the Merola program. There would be no point at all in awarding all the places to tenors. What piece would 10 tenors be expected to perform together? Even lyric sopranos might win these. Coming out on top is not really required.

The purpose of these types of auditions is exposure. Presumably you will be singing for people who have never heard you before. I remember there was a big stink the year Janis Martin won the Metropolitan Opera auditions because she had already spent her year at the San Francisco Opera in comprimario roles and did not require exposure. Why not offer the prize to someone who really needed it? I don't have an opinion about this--I'm just relating the opinions of others.

Reasons for awarding to one person or another seem to be mysterious. Old people are not allowed. In that sense it is just like American Idol. If you are 35 and no one's ever heard of you, they don't care. They still don't want to hear you. And if they did, they would still prefer someone younger no matter how good you are. So don't get married when you are 23 and audition in your thirties like I did.

Brian Kellow doesn't want you to know any of this. He wants to be allowed to pass over you without having to face you afterwards. His reasons for not wanting to judge singers appears to be simply cowardice.

There is another kind of auditioning--auditioning for the German agents. I don't know how this is any more, but I know in the old days they could put you into an actual job. They aren't offering training or money--they are offering work. No company requires only tenors, so your chances are the best here. Provided, of course, that you are actually any good. The thing to do here is focus on the operatic repertoire that is hardest to cast. If you can do a decent Queen of the Night, bring it out.

To Brian I say: why worry over the attitudes of the other judges? Worry over the singers who are real human beings with lives you could spend a few minutes caring about. Good riddance, I think.

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