Today we had our “mock” auditions in preparation for next week’s house auditions. This is the big event of the summer, a big part of why so many singers apply to be an Apprentice at Santa Fe Opera (1100 applicants this year; over 700 auditions granted; 42 singers accepted). Directors of opera companies from all over will make a special “scouting” trip to Santa Fe next week, and each of us will get one shot at making a good impression. The directors call it “Death by Aria,” as they hear 42 arias back to back over two days. I call it “sink or swim,” as we only get one chance to show our stuff.
Last year’s audition went very well for me, and up ‘til now I have been very nervous about how to follow up on that. I got two job offers immediately after the audition, one of which I accepted, and the representative from the Metropolitan who heard my house audition arranged for my auditions at that house, based on what she heard that day. How can I top that? I finally realized that I can’t, necessarily; I have to sing next week’s audition as its own entity, not bound to last year.
That said, I still want to show the auditors that I have developed over the year. My resume will help, as it has past and future gigs on it that show I haven’t been sitting on my hands. But the aria I present is important for this, too. Last year I sang Nannetta: floaty, not too high, with the focus on the quality of my voice. This year, I’d like to show a high note or two and show more of my range as an actress. The aria that seems to be the front runner, and the one I tried out at the mock audition today, is the Silver Aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe.
I am feeling confident about it, and the main reason is that last weekend I sang it in a very casual public setting. Vanessie, a local piano bar, hosts Apprentice Nights every summer, at which we sing a fun mix of opera hits and cabaret/show tunes. On Sunday, I sang the Silver Aria, in which Baby Doe is trying to convince a gathering of politicians (all men) that the United States should go with a silver standard, rather than gold. It is a poetic, romantic plea, filled with gorgeous imagery; how many different ways can she say “I love silver!” Singing it in a room crammed with people, making eye contact and moving through the room, I got a real sense of what the aria would feel like in context and staged. Which man is the “sage” and which the laughter, who needs to be sung to twice or three times in order to get my point and who is in the palm of my hand from the opening lines.
Creating this context is my biggest hurdle in an audition. Acting a convincing scene onstage with no partners is a real challenge! (This is the main reason why the Presentation of the Rose is not on my aria list; it needs the dramatic shaping of the interaction between Octavian and Sophie. I’m too uncomfortable singing it alone.) So when I sing on Friday, I will see in my mind’s eye the faces of the crowd at Vanessie’s, just as last year I pulled on the beauty of the land around Santa Fe when singing of Nannetta’s magic glade. Work with what you’ve got!