Friday, December 3, 2010

Crested Butte Opera Auditions

Many people have given me hundreds of points of advice over the last several years about opera auditions.  I am not sure the validity of many of them.  Honestly, most of the horrific audition stories I hear tend to be a little fabricated.  Some are simply absurd - much like the conspiracy theories many people love to entertain like "the government caused 9/11", "the CIA killed JFK", or "NASA faked the moon landing".  They may be great for certain publications and tv specials, but these extreme plots of historical fiction are simply irrational and unreasonable.  I've heard "don't wear your wedding ring because so-and-so will only like you if you're gay", "don't write down that you're getting your doctorate because people will think you're a bad artist so you have to teach", and "give weak handshakes to appear more sexual".  I am usually pretty shocked when I hear certain things, and I don't give much attention to the person after they tell me such things.  I have many friends who are gay and it is simply unreasonable to think that they would show prejudice against me because I'm straight and married.  I don't think that a panel of judges would hire someone based on their sexual appeal in a profession filled with very intelligent people and musicians.  And I think that even though I may have several degrees, it is just a description of my work ethic and intellect - something that they should want in an employee.

Well, today I had Crested Butte Opera auditions in New York.  The program features people from the Met and Covent Garden.  However the auditions were quite unique.  It began with person after person leaving the audition in near shock.  One girl began crying because the piano player purposefully played her slow aria very fast at the end just to make her finish the piece.  He did not slow down when she was trying to direct him. The next guy walked out and said that they had asked him all kinds of history about his character and why he would sing that Verdi aria at only age 31 and gave him all kinds of derogatory questioning all before he sang one note.  He sounded amazing by the way.

Well, I felt like I was in good voice.  I was one of the youngest men there.  I had planned on singing part of Lenski's aria from Eugene Onegin.  I went in, gave them my information, and announced that I would like to sing Lenski's aria.  I have won a lot with Lenski, and it may not be the best audition piece, but it was my most impressive and my most comfortable aria.  So, I chose to begin with "Lenski".

When I announced my first peice, one of the two people at the desk in the front of the room yelled to the accompanist next to me, "Is that alright with you maestro?" He said "yeah" and then asked me "do you fee like a promiscuous king?"  I said, "what".  He asked me the same thing over again.  I didn't know what to say other than "sure".  So many things were going through my head - the loudest of which was, "is this what he wants me to sing Lenski's death-and-sorrow aria as? a promiscuous king?"

Well, then he began to play Questa o quella.  A completely different aria that was in my binder of music.  It is a famous aria, and famously provocative, promiscuous, and high.  I don't particularly enjoy singing it, but many enjoy listening to it.  I couldn't believe that he just chose, out of the blue, to just play what he wanted without asking me, or at least bluntly saying "I want you to sing ____".  Why didn't he do that?  It was like he was trying to trick me.

When he started, he played it at Presto speed.  At a normal tempo, the piece hits dozens of high notes in only one and a half minutes.  I'm sure at his speed it was only about one minute.  It was so fast, I couldn't breathe correctly.  As Mel Brooks would say - we were going at ludicrous speed.  I barely hung on to complete the unbelievably brief aria.  Keep in mind, that there are many many high notes in this song, and I am a tenor with a full lower resonant sound.  So high notes have lots of body and take quite a bit of energy for me compared to other tenors.  As soon as I finished, the pianist - the maestro - asked me to sing a C (meaning the high C).  I said he would have to wait because I just finished a very difficult and high ending to a Verdi aria. I told him I was more comfortable singing B obviously because it is a little lower and I had an aria with a B in it, but he asked "if we did wait, could you sing a C?".  I said I could not offer them one today. They said they just needed the high notes - that this wasn't a college jury and didn't need to hear my language skills (making reference to the Russian in Lenski's aria).  Then they said, "thank you for coming" and led me out the door.

The high C is a difficult problem for tenors.  Most tenors do not sound very good with a C, and the vast majority of tenor roles do not even go up to a high C.  Yet, we are all judged by "the C" and most unfortunately we are judged against the kings of the high C's - Pavarotti and Florez.  Very honestly, the C is far from my comfort zone and I would only sing it in very specific situations.  I am not Pavarotti, and cannot sing like he did.  Sorry world, I just can't do it.  But, there are many other things that I can offer, and I do things well that Pavarotti did not do well (like sing in English!).

I understand their need to hear what they need to, to make their roster and invite singers, but for the first time, I really felt uncomfortable and given an unfair chance in an audition.  I have worked insatiably hard to complete all that I have.  I feel proud to list my accomplishments like anyone would.  Most of my experience has been with universities and colleges, and for some reason, it would seem that I was penalized for that especially with the crass comment at the end of the audition.  Of course this is not a college jury, but I have given all my attention to perform as best as I can.

I won't give any reason for the small remarks, as I am sure there are many reasons we all become a little grouchy at times and some take advantage of people just for the heck of it and I'm sure they had a stressful and long day of many auditions.  I won't make an excuse for them though, as I truly had an unpleasant experience. I do hope that the rest of my auditions go well.  I am excited for my two auditions scheduled for tomorrow, and I will pretend like this never happened.  I tried my best, under difficult circumstances, and I have hope that this business isn't filled with stereotypical conspiracy theories.  Perhaps this is a great lesson of forgive and forget.  Thankfully, Dusti and I had a great rest of the day and my hope for tomorrow's auditions will motivate me to give it my all. 

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who have bid in the KCVI charity auction.  The auction is supporting scholarships for free music education for Kansas City children and families.  For more information and to view the items, please visit www.kcvocalinstitute.com/auction.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh, what monsters!!!! I had a contract with Aspen this past summer and almost stepped in to sing Monostatos in their production of Magic Flute last minute as Aspen and Crested Butte are just over the mountains from each other...and now I'm sure glad I didn't. How totally and incredibly rude! Screw 'em.

    -A fellow leggiero

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