A Tale of Two Trips
2017 Audition Tour with Michael, Lisa and Sam
DMMO’s 2017 audition tour was an exciting one, taking our panel to Cincinnati, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and ending back home in Des Moines. By the end of this weekend, Des Moines Metro Opera will have reviewed over 1000 applications for nearly 450 live audition spots across the country.
The journey began on October 12 when Michael Egel and I boarded a late flight to meet Lisa Hasson in her home base of Cincinnati, OH. The auditions were held the next day in the beautiful Werner Recital Hall of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. It was a long day, beginning at 9:30am and ending just after 5:30pm, but the auditions were quite fine, and that makes it all worthwhile.
When the auditions ended, Lisa, Michael and I jumped into a rental car and began the trek to Chicago. The drive was meant to be easy, however long traffic delays due to construction played a pivotal role in making the trip far more tedious than expected. Fortunately, we were able to entertain ourselves by playing a rousing match of the ABC Game, in which Lisa and I landed a crushing victory over the highly competitive Team Egel. Dinner for the evening was at Cracker Barrel (a tradition, of sorts) just off the interstate in Indiana, and quite frankly, each of us were happy to have the sustenance of a cornbread muffin.
The Chicago auditions were held the following day in the handsome and historic Fine Arts Building. 56 auditions were heard for positions in the Apprentice Artist Program as well as several auditions for principal roles. Once auditions were finished, the three of us rushed out the door to catch evening flights. After graciously exiting a taxi in standstill traffic, running to the nearest L station, and narrowly making it through the security line (in great part to TSA Precheck), we made it to our respective gates and parted ways: Michael to Milwaukee to judge the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Lisa to Cincinnati, and I returned home to Indianola.
Our team reunited a week later – this time in a new audition location for the Company, San Francisco. It was a day of diverse voices, ranging from young students to the exceptional talent of the Adler Fellowship Program. When the day ended, Michael joined the OPERA America board for weekend meetings, I took a red-eye flight back to Des Moines, and Lisa returned to Cincinnati the following day.
Michael and Lisa joined me in New York on Sunday, October 23. The first three days of auditions in New York City were primarily for positions in the Apprentice Artist Program; the final day was reserved for principal artists. We began auditions on Monday at NOLA Sound Studios and heard the strongest singing of the tour. On Wednesday, Lisa departed, and Maestro Neely joined the panel for principal artist auditions. It was a prosperous four days, and DMMO added a respectable list of singers to its roster for the summer.
This Saturday, Michael, Lisa and I will hear the last round of live auditions of the tour in Des Moines. The audition tour, while requiring a great deal of time and planning, is a rewarding experience because it is a reminder that opera is alive and well. Young singers are learning, interpreting and passionately expressing themselves through this incredible art form. As we continue to build an exceptional roster for the summer, I hope you will consider joining us for our 45th Anniversary Season. I’m tremendously excited thinking about the art that will be made this summer, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
The Audition Process
Auditions are interesting because every company holds them, yet the process is often a mystery to the aficionados of the art form.
The process begins with an artist identifying which companies he or she wants to sing for. The summer festival market is a competitive one, and artists have to decide what repertory and which program will best foster growth at whatever artistic level they find themselves. After this is decided, the artist sends in an application to the program for which he or she would like to audition. While every company is different, most young artist programs make use of an online application host, YAP Tracker. This medium, the brilliant brainchild of a singer who wanted to have a database for singers to learn about opportunities, has revolutionized the application process. Once an application is submitted, our Company uses recorded materials, résumés and personal references to determine who will be heard in live audition; this process is known as “pre-screening.” When we have gathered a list of singers whom we would like to hear live, we send out invitations through the YAP Tracker website. The singers are then able to confirm their acceptance of the invitation, as well as schedule a time for which they would like to audition. Of course, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to scheduling a prime audition time.
The last step is to sing a live audition, an equally thrilling and nerve-racking experience for singers. The opportunities to be had can be career changing, and many young singers need such an opportunity to pave the path to becoming a full-fledged professional artist. Nerves are always high, however, because the ability to make an impression as a young artist is confined to seven minutes. Now, one should know that this also provides a difficult task for administrators and artistic staff. All of the information that needs to be gathered to make informed and thoughtful casting decisions must come from a seven minute audition. Additionally, the administration is responsible for sticking to the audition schedule, which, as you might imagine, can be a herculean task. At the start of an audition, an artist is greeted at the door, and the door monitor collects audition materials. Generally, companies like to have a copy of the artist’s most up-to-date résumé, a list of the repertory that the artist will offer for the audition, and, occasionally, a publicity photo. The monitor brings the materials to the panel, and the artist has a brief discussion with the pianist regarding tempi, moments of breath, etc. The singer introduces herself as well as the piece that he or she will begin with. We, and many other companies, allow the artist to select the first aria. As the singer performs, the panel makes observations about the quality of the voice, expression, interpretation, diction and overall artistic engagement. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what we are looking for, and that’s likely because there is not one single thing that distinguishes a singer from another. What we are looking for is “specialness.” We don’t look for perfection – that’s boring. We are looking for a uniquely distinct instrument and a story.
2016 OPERA America Marketing Conference with Scott
In early October I traveled to New York City (the city that never sleeps) for OPERA America’s annual Marketing Conference. During this two-day trip, I met with representatives from 18 other opera companies to exchange ideas and learn about the new and emerging technologies in the fast-paced world of opera marketing.
After flying into LaGuardia late on Wednesday, October 5, I made my way to this lovely little hotel room in the heart of Koreatown, less than one block from the Empire State Building. Though I arrived at the hotel around 12:15am, my room still wasn’t quite ready because one of the previous guests unfortunately broke their leg and had to be rushed to the hospital before they were able to check-out (true story). Luckily, everything turned out okay and I was able to check into my room around 12:30am.
The morning arrived far sooner than anticipated (curse you, EST!), but all one needs to do in NYC to find some coffee is simply walk a few steps in any direction…on the walk to the National Opera Center (only 6 blocks, mind you), I counted at least 7 different Starbucks locations. Upon achieving a proper level of caffeination, I was energized and ready to get this conference started.
The first day of meetings included the standard (and not so standard) breaking the ice sessions (like BINGO!), as well as presentations and discussions concerning digital marketing strategies, building opera audiences, successfully negotiating with unions, using social media efficiently and effectively, dynamic ticket pricing methods and even opera in virtual reality! After a day filled with meetings and presentations, I decided to head uptown to Lincoln Center to catch one of the most popular operas of all-time…Wozzeck. Just kidding! It was actually the Zeffirelli production of Puccini’s masterpiece, La bohème, at The Metropolitan Opera. Since this was my first time at the Met, I decided to treat myself and opted for one of the box seats (photo below). Needless to say, it was a stunning production with out-of-this-world singing by soprano Ailyn Pérez, who played Mimì. Undoubtedly, this was an experience I won’t soon forget!
The second day of the conference featured a few more meetings and discussions in the morning, focusing on what each of us had done in the past year to bring about meaningful change at our respective companies: Joe from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis discussed their upcoming child-care service that they are offering during select performances; Ryan from Opera Philadelphia shared his company’s success in attracting young professionals and their development of the Opera Philadelphia mobile app for their Fall Festival; Megan from Opera Carolina highlighted her effort to turn old marketing materials (brochures, magazines, flyers, etc.) into fashionable gowns (one of which was even showcased during the New York Fashion Week!). The conference adjourned early that afternoon and everyone went their separate ways. After successfully negotiating the subway system (I had cheated on Wednesday and took an Uber from the airport…), I eventually made my way back to LaGuardia and was able to relax a bit before flying home. I landed in DSM around 11:45pm on Friday evening and headed back to Indianola so I could get some sleep and get to work bright and early the next morning with a bunch of new ideas bubbling around in my head! All in all, the trip was fulfilling and wildly successful. Until next year, NYC!