Sunday, November 21, 2010

They’re just Not That Into You: Dating and Auditioning as a Soprano

(Disclaimer:  Though I have been a singer for many years, I do not claim to be an expert on the subject of singing.  By the same token, I have also had experience dating for many years, but remain utterly clueless about relationships.  However, none of this is going to stop me from becoming a coloratura Carrie Bradshaw.)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the season of auditions for opera companies’ young artist programs. Singers flood New York City, Nola Studios to be more specific, to sing for anyone who will take their application fee and give them ten minutes of their time.  It is an exhausting period, a true roller coaster ride of emotions.  Along with the hope of beating the odds and being selected to perform with a company, there is a great deal of stress and self-doubt.  Hmmmm…hoping for the best, but picking at one’s own flaws before someone else has the opportunity…this feels familiar.

I cannot help but notice resemblances between the process of auditioning and dating.  I’ve read The Performer Prepares, The Inner Game of Tennis, The Rules, The Game and (aside from The Game) a number of similar aphorisms and affirmations keep popping up.  It makes sense, in both situations, we are opening ourselves up to someone who will be forming an opinion about us that has the ability to change the course of our future. And what is more terrifying than making oneself vulnerable to a near stranger?

The first hurdle in both situations is the process of getting the audition or that first date.  For many opera companies, that includes an application fee, as well as supplemental materials such as a headshot and a resume/bio, giving a brief overview of who you are and what you have to offer as a singer.  Based on those materials, the decision is made as to whether they would like to see you in person.  This sounds to me a lot like internet dating, where one often pays a fee and submits a photo and bio to be viewed by potential dates.  Even if your dating rituals don’t involve the internet, you are still in the position of being reviewed before being asked for an appointment to meet up and get to know each other.

Once one has earned the audition or date, let the clich├ęs fly!  First of all, just be yourself.   This is not a judgment of you (or your talent), just an opportunity to see if you are compatible.  In order to make this task less daunting, singers are told, “the panel wants you to be good.  They want you to be the solution to the open roles that need to be cast.”  Well, I know when I go on a date, I am looking for the best in a person and hoping for compatibility as well.   Now, in order to be genuine, prepare for mantra #2: don’t compare yourself to other women.  Sure, sopranos outnumber the other singers at Nola, just as single women outnumber single men in Manhattan.  You can’t compete with all of them, so just aim to be the best you can be.  You must stay in the moment in order to bring your truest self to the table.  There is no room for negative voices, which are out to inhibit you when under pressure. “That note was ugly.  That joke was stupid.” You don’t have time to say these harsh things to yourself, you have a captivated audience and they want to see the real you behind your neuroses!  Also, more importantly, no matter how long it has been since your last gig or relationship, people can read desperation, and is not attractive personally or professionally.  So, if all else fails, fake it ‘til you make it!  You have just as much to bring to the table as an artist or a fabulously interesting young woman as they have to bring as a prospective employer or suitor.

After the big event, waiting for the phone call can be excruciating.  It is important to avoid white-knuckling your iphone or using facebook or yaptracker to stalk the object of your interest online, a mistake I think many have made, but few will confess.  Such activities will make you crazy…I speak from experience here.

 If your interest wants to see more of you, congratulations!  Now, the advice is to make sure in either case, that there is some level of commitment before stepping into the interested party’s rehearsal room/apartment.  Other action may require one to go back and re-read the “don’t come off as desperate” section.  You are top shelf material. You stay classy, Soprano.

Of course, there’s the other inevitable part of the process when casting a wide net: rejection.  There are plenty of fish in the sea, plenty of companies in the world (even if they are dwindling right now).  People will say on both fronts, “the timing wasn’t right,” “it’s not you, it’s them,” “you weren’t their/his type,” “keep putting yourself out there,” and that can be easier said than done.  You’ve opened up yourself up and your feelings were unrequited.  But never, never, never give up.  You are enough.  The right person or opportunity will come along.  And despite the fact that I roll my eyes at the books that say those things, deep down, I believe them to be true.  I have to.  Because New York is a hard enough city. The weather is cold, the beds full of bugs, the subways crowded, and the rent “too damn high,” but the dream of finding the company that will put me up on the stage or join me as a date in the audience makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We’ve got magic to do…as we go along our way

I’ve been thinking about magic in opera lately.  I think we’ve all had those moments of doubt when we walk into an audition thinking the not-so-constructive thought, “I hope I can trick them into casting me.”  Magic has been a key word that has been popping up in my coloratura repertoire.  Recently, I was working on the role of Tytania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the magic involved in that opera/play.   She may possess her own magic as the fairy queen, but she is also a victim of magic as she falls in love with Bottom, the ass man, as it were.  The role of Nannetta in Falstaff is another obvious role involving magic and trickery, especially as she portrays a queen of fairies in her aria in Act 3.  It’s important to embody such magic, and for me, that translates into incorporating as much “sparkle” into my singing as possible.  But more important than playing characters that are victims or masters of magic, I think singing opera in itself is a form of magic.  We are making the audience think we are effortlessly making sound, when in reality, we have been practicing our “tricks” for years.  We are performing a slight of hand (or really, a slight of breath) to accomplish our centuries-old task.  Perhaps the only difference is that our  “lovely assistant” is the one holding the wand, and he/she gives us the support and guidance we need from afar in a pit.

I was reminded of the effect musical magic can have on an audience on Saturday night. During this time of year, the “audition season” for singers, I often feel stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed just hearing the word “opera,” let alone attending one.  However, I felt completely haunted and enchanted by Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place at New York City Opera. The music was not easy.  The subject matter was not easy.  However, the performances were so vocally and artistically magnificent that, as a singer, I often went into my head asking, “How are they doing that.” Sound effortlessly poured out of the performers, despite the fact that the actors were throwing furniture, running around the stage, carrying other actors, or experiencing a complete meltdown.  I also marveled at the magic of the subliminal suggestions of Mad Men, Revolutionary Road, and other recognizable references to dysfunctional nuclear American families by the director and design team.  I felt transformed by the experience, and perhaps that is what makes City Opera the Houdini of New York opera in my eyes.  It brings new meaning to being “outside the box.”  Maybe the next step as illusionists is to make the confining boxes of opera disappear all together.

I hadn’t planned to make my very first blog a series of musings on magic, but the impact of the opera has made it difficult for me to think of anything else.  If you have a chance to see A Quiet Place before it closes next weekend, I urge to you buy a ticket and some waterproof mascara.  And while contemporary opera undoubtedly cast a spell on me many years ago, I hope to use this outlet as a way of exploring a great variety of spellbinding events and genres that inspire me as an operatic artist, but are not necessarily operatic themselves.  So I invite you to please join me, “come and waste an hour or two…doodley-doo.”