Sunday, May 27, 2012

Opera Girl?

Greetings readers,

It's official: I am back in Pro Coro Canada for another season. What a huge relief! I saw the e-mail yesterday afternoon in my inbox and my stomach just twisted in upon itself. My heart raced as I opened up the PDF document... thank goodness, I saw my name printed. Although some friends did not seem to be surprised at my good news, I prefer to live with the perpetual fear of rejection. It's just how I roll.

While I still have more Podium interview posts to compose and publish, I thought I would fill you all in on my last audition project: the Edmonton Opera Chorus. This is new territory for me dear readers. I have never considered myself an "opera" singer. I watch opera. I enjoy opera. I don't sing opera. Alas, it's always good to come out of my comfort zone as an artist. I approached the audition as a musical experiment rather than a make-or-break career opportunity.

First, I needed to decide what I was going to sing. I am a choir girl through and through. Therefore, I do not have suitcase arias I can just bust out. I looked through some repertoire for standard mezzo opera arias; the thought of performing some of them seemed daunting. After consulting with some music friends, they suggested some Handel operas. That seemed like a happy compromise due to my familiarity with performing choral works by Handel. Thus, "Ombra mai fu" and "Sevgliatevi nel core" were my final choices. Personally, I felt like I was breaching my comfort zone with the latter choice because it's a pretty vengeful, power-packed pants role; however, what's life without a little bit of risk?

On the day of the audition I arrived 20 minutes early for my audition. I learned my lesson from my Pro Coro audition experience: do not start projects you cannot finish before you need to be somewhere. Actually, a good piece of advice for most things in life.

I strolled into the backstage of the Jubilee Auditorium and followed the directions from the security guard to the rehearsal hall. I was greeted by the receptionist and directed to a music stand in a corridor to wait. While I sat calmly in the waiting room filling out my personal information, I glanced over at the poised girl in black sitting near me. She looked down at her hands, gently placed on her music book, mentally preparing for her upcoming performance, a supportive male companion by her side. I looked around myself. My bag was splayed next to my chair, bursting with a change of clothing and casual shoes for my visit to the farmer's market afterwards. While I was tempted to check my Twitter feed, I reasoned that this would probably be a good time to mentally prepare for my audition as well. I glanced through the Italian I was supposed to communicate. Nothing novel occurred to me that I didn't already consider. The check-in receptionist beckoned me back over to her table.

"I just need to take some photos of you," she stated with a smile. I agreed and waited for her to direct me to an appropriate wall area. "Just down here," she said while walking down to the middle landing on the stairs. On the wall behind her stood a height scale.


She instructed me to stand in front of it. "You may need to take off your shoes," while taking a closer look at my short heels, "actually, they're fine." I proceeded to take them off anyway. As a scientist, I'm all for obtaining accurate measurements. She took a full-on face picture. "Cool!" I thought to myself getting ready to head back to my spot. "Side profile now please," she instructed. I turned to the side and attempted to look poised, parallel to the height lines. "Now a full-body shot," she stated before taking a step back to increase her frame size. If somebody unearthed a weight scale at this point, I would not have been surprised. This was very different from a choir audition! Once my choral mugshot was finished, I returned to the waiting room and listened to my fellow auditionee who was now belting out some serious opera arias. "Holy crap she has quite the a voice in her!" I thought to myself. Strangely enough, it didn't make me nervous or jealous - I was just enjoying the music I was hearing. As soon as she stepped out of the room, I felt the clutch of nervousness in my abdomen. It was my turn.

I went up a few stairs to the rehearsal hall, my heels echoing on the hardwood floor. Looking to the left, I noticed the piano bench was empty. On my right were two smiling figures walking towards me with outstretched hands ready for a welcome handshake. The woman saw my bicycle helmet clanging next to my bag, "You're ready for the audition! You even brought your helmet!" I smiled and alerted her it was for transport purposes only. The opera chorus master, Michael, greeted me second. Yet another Michael deciding my choral fate. Michael asked me what I was singing. "Handel and more Handel," I answered. "What else do you sing?" he asked.

I was silent, unsure of how to answer. Uh-oh... I didn't have any other opera arias from other composers prepared. Sensing my apprehension, he proceeded to clarify, "What other kinds of repertoire do you sing?" I informed them that I normally sing in choral ensembles, so choir music, folk music, early music... I'm sure he noticed I didn't say opera. Michael walked over to the piano to accompany me. I began with "Ombra mai fu." I did feel a bit restrained, trying not to let my nervousness be audible, but I navigated my way through the piece without any major detours. Once I finished, Michael asked how much volume I was using. I thought about it for a moment and came to the subjective conclusion that I was using 75% of my volume. "What does 100% sound like?" he asked me with a curious look in his eyes. " I'm not sure," I replied, "I don't normally sing with 100% of my volume," I said honestly.

Michael proceeded to tell me that singers are faced with the challenge that it is hard to hear ourselves. I agreed completely. He told me that it's easy to hold back in an ensemble. I agreed again. I do feel that after years of ensemble singing I have developed a heightened ensemble sensitivity. A lot of what I do vocally is in response to what I see from a conductor and what I sense from the other singers around me. Thus, in an audition setting where I am singing solo, I don't really know how much sound output I should yield.

"Do the first phrase again, but this time I want 100%," he requested. I sang it again. I felt like I was shoving some pretty serious subglottal pressure through my vocal folds. A ton of vibrato-filled sound emerged from me. Not particularly subtle but it was a lot of sound. Both Michael and the other woman looked at me with excited eyes. "You should always be singing with that sound!" he continued, "even in my chorus I want my singers to be singing." I understood. I continued on with the next song. Since it was more power-packed, it was easier to maintain my operatic core. Upon arrival at the more contemplative B section, I proceeded to pull back a bit. Michael stopped me mid phrase. He reminded me of the sound he wanted. I sang it again with the same operatic intensity. At this point, it was beginning to feel like a voice masterclass; it was fun to stop-and-start sections in the piece and experiment with an operatic voice. They were both so encouraging; I couldn't have imagined a more supportive and singer-friendly environment. He stopped me after a few more phrases and asked me if we could end there. I told him that if he felt like he had what he needed, I was fine to leave things where they were. I left the audition thinking: That was fun!

Although I don't know where things go from here, I was glad to emerge from my opera audition intact and thankful to receive some feedback. Due to my choral commitments for Pro Coro, I already know I have conflicts with 2/3 operas this season. However, who knows what will happen for that 1/3. I am content to just enjoy the present.

Until next time readers, take care!

1 comment:

erin k. said...

congrats on the pro-coro! way to survive that scaaary audition process like a total champ.