A few thoughts on Auditions and Auditioning

As this is officially the Audition season – for summer programs, young artists’ program,s many of you have asked for a Blog on the various aspects of this topic.

WHEN TO AUDITION: The decision to audition is a major one for every young singer – both for the young professional and those still in conservatory or university.   It is a best discussed with your “team” – that is your voice teacher, primary coach and one other knowledgable person i.e. manager, conductor, etc. Experience shows that it is best to weigh the pro’s and con’s of each one separately.

In an interview recently Jimmy Levine claimed that instrumentalists do not present a work in audition unless it is “camera ready” – technically, musically, etc. but  that singers tend to audition even if the repertoire they offer is not fully ready for prime time.

SUMMER PROGRAMS – Have a list of your priorities in auditioning for programs, i.e. focus on a foreign language in the country of that language, to perform a complete role, scenes program or simply to coach a specific repertoire. .  Cost and what you receive for the fee  should also be considered.    Perhaps there is a voice teacher you are interested in working with at a particular program.. Looking into what each program offers is essential.   Audition fees are pretty high therefore carefully choosing one or two that offer what you are looking for and that you are  ready to audition for becomes imperative.

YOUNG ARTIST PROGRAMS: Being part of a young artists’ program is very important these days.  Therefore timing when to audition is imperative as there is a great deal of talent graduating and hoping to get into one of these programs.   It is best to be sure you are ready to audition for specific programs – there are various levels.  Again, it is a decision that should be thoroughly discussed with your team.

AUDITIONING FOR OPERA COMPANIES:  The key to knowing when to audition for a bona fide opera company is to be aware of the operas being cast by a specific company. It is a waste of the company’s time to listen to singers that are not vocally and/or  age appropriate. This could influence the company’s reaction to your taking up a spot,   and it may be difficult to get an audition when there is a role that is right for you at the time of casting. You do not want to turn up at all auditions.  Be selective and wise.

COMPETITIONS:  It may be best to first “get your feet wet” by choosing competitions that are not the major ones.  This way you can get the feel of auditioning without too much being at stake.  This will allow you to get your “sea legs” as it were for the more competitive competitions and a chance to try out appropriate repertoire.

IN GENERAL:     Auditioning  is a major step in career advancement.  Some young singers choose to audition just for the sake of auditioning,   believing it is best to be out there even if the repertoire, the program itself, etc. is not right for you and/or you are not right at this point in time for the audition. Trying to second-guess the auditioners’ tastes, is counterproductive.  Rather, go with your own knowledge and that of your team.  Remember that once you are heard the comments of those auditioners remain long after that audition is over  and could trip you up if you are not at that point of readiness. Again,  if the first audition is not impressive it may be difficult to get another audition later on for the same company.  Auditioning when you are ill or not in good vocal estate is a definite negative and should be avoided.  That  company will hear you again if your resume, your website or reputation covers their needs.

MENTAL APPROACH:  Levine also gave his advice to young singers who are auditioning.  “Do not go out to impress – go out and share with the people listening what you feel about the music” In other words bring them into your world – do not go out to theirs.”.  He adds “Do not second guess the result of the audition. He  strongly advises singers to mentally audition with a positive attitude – not one of “over anxiety” ie. “I hope they like me”.   Keep your own bar high – and bring to you those that are  listening  – do not go to them.  If the audition does not result in a role assignment, an invitation to a program, etc. do not necessarily feel you did not sing well or they did not like you. They have their own criteria as to what they are looking and listening for.  It is imperative that you set your own standard, using that as your benchmark – not trying to please everyone who is listening.

There are legendary stories of famous singers who were overlooked in their early auditioning years.  Belief in yourself is imperative therefore you must set your own bar.

REPERTOIRE CHOICES:  Remembering that competition is keen for singers is the main reason to choose wisely when and what to audition with.  Choosing a “show stopper” aria is not always the right goal. Do not do so  unless the aria suits the singer perfectly and does not stretch them beyond their current capabilities.  Just to be heard is not good enough.

Choose a varied audition repertoire regarding languages, style and tempo.  Mozart and Handel are, of course, imperative for major auditions as to be able to sing this repertoire beautifully means the singer is skilled in all aspects of his or her craft.  The first aria or song should not be a long one so that there is time for your to sing something of their choice from your audition list.    Choose a work that you love and feel very secure with.  It is not wise to present  a newly learned  work for the first time at a major audition.  Test the waters first.


1) DRESS:  This applies primarily to women, of course as men usually have little problem choosing a nice jacket and trousers.  It is best to dress well but not to overdress as the color or style could upstage your performance.  Makeup is essential as the auditions usually take place on a stage or a large hall with strong lighting.  High heels are not good for singing, but attractive shoes that go well with the whole outfit is very important to consider.

2)Arrive early rather than late for the audition.  Have time to “catch your breath” and to  mentally prepare before it is your turn to sing.

3)Have a good copy of the music for your pianist – pages in order – the right key, etc. It is also helpful to discuss certain aspects of the aria or song ie. tempo, where to retard, repeats, etc. with the pianist if there is time.

If the pianist is not taking the tempo to which you are used to singing it is quite alright to stop and politely ask if you could begin again at your tempo. .  It is generally wise not to bring overly pianistically difficult repertoire to sightread  if you are not using your own pianist.

4) Often a company or a program director will ask you to sing something you have not come prepared to do.  It is best to say you would be pleased to come back after you have a chance to look at and prepare that piece.

Above all — have a positive attitude and always be cordial and pleasant.  If you present yourself as a prince you will be accepted as a prince – if you present yourself as a pauper you will be accepted as a pauper.

I hope some of these thoughts are useful to all of you out there on the audition trail this season.


2 thoughts on “A few thoughts on Auditions and Auditioning

  1. Hi Joan, I would love to hear about the future of opera from your point of view. Thank you for posting these wonderful articles.


  2. Dear Followers of Singing with Many Voices,
    If you have any comments or questions about Joan’s posts, or if you would like to ask any questions or recommend any topics for future blogs, please leave a reply here or at the end of any of my posts. Thank you! And thank you for the future comments!


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