by Katrina Thurman
By now, I think we have all heard of the New York International Opera Auditions. The question is: “Are they worth it?” Here is a history of my experience with the auditions, and my account of what they did for me.
A friend on the “in-side” made me aware of a new style of audition expected to draw numerous representatives from opera companies in Europe to hear American singers in New York. With a tinge of curiosity, I checked out the New York International Opera’s Web site.
It seemed like a long shot. At the time, I didn’t have an agent, and I had heard that for the most part, NYIOP accepted only managed singers to audition. Also, I was more than a little uncertain about the money ($300 for an early registration fee). But I had been told several times that I could do well in Germany, and I thought that this was a better way to stick my toe in and get a feel for the thing, rather than dive right in and spend a bank roll on a little audition trip through good ol’ Deutschland.
So, I sent in my materials and included my friend’s recommendation. You know, recommendations really can help sometimes. I was chosen (lucky me!) to be one of the few unmanaged singers to audition for the NYIOPs in the May 2003 session.
May 25, 2003
The audition itself was quite an experience. It was at the Goethe Institute in New York City—a lovely place to sing, by the way. Everyone was quite nice; David Blackburn and his associates made a true effort to greet us and make all in attendance comfortable.
I found myself surrounded by managed singers!
At the audition, I learned that in general, the committee was hearing only one aria. I went in, sang my favorite “let ‘em have it” audition starter, and to my elation, they asked for a second aria. Afterwards, as I was leaving the room, one of the auditors asked me a couple of questions that showed some interest, and that was that. As I left, I had a good feeling overall about the audition—but I heard nothing for about six weeks.
I received an e-mail from the Intendant at Oper Bonn. The West German city of Bonn had once been the nation’s capital. The Intendant had heard me at the NYIOPs and wanted to compliment me. She let me knowOper Bonn had nothing available for me at the time, but: “Should you ever plan a trip to Germany, we would love to have you audition for us in Bonn.”
Well, that was a fabulous compliment, but: “Gee, what’s the point,” I thought. “If I ever want to sing for them again, I still have to fork out the cash to make a trip to Germany.”
Late January 2004
I was taking advantage of a little down time, looking forward to a nice spring and a couple of gigs here in the States. One morning, big cup of coffee in hand, I was leisurely checking my junk e-mail folder, skimming through various “cheap foreign prescription drugs” and “lower your mortgage rates!” e-mails, when a message from Oper Bonn caught my eye. I nearly spit out my decaf when I read it. The company had just learned that their fest soprano was pregnant, and they needed a replacement right away for Jean Phillipe Rameau’sDardanus, and Satyagraha by Phillip Glass. They wanted me to come out and audition for them immediately—rehearsals were starting Feb. 2!
Jan. 27, 2004
I found myself on a transatlantic flight. Oper Bonn had agreed to pay for half of my flight from New York and to put me up in a hotel. The fact that we shared the cost of the flight showed that both parties were interested in seeing this partnership come to fruition. I believed I had a strong chance of being hired, because logic told me the company wouldn’t spend the money without having a serious interest, and because of the time constraints they were under.
Jan. 30, 2004
Audition day at Oper Bonn. I had rehearsed the previous day with the coach, so that helped with the comfort level. The audition itself was onstage and played out differently than what I am used to in the States. It was so quiet out in the house, where eight to 10 “decision makers” were poised to make their judgments.
I performed two arias from my audition repertoire list, and then the committee asked for an aria that wasn’t on my list at all! They had seen the role on my resume and wanted to hear an excerpt. I didn’t even have the sheet music with me! That is a thing about Germany: If they see you have done the role, often they want you to be prepared to sing from it. For some singers with long resumes, I am sure that can be quite a list to keep in tip-top audition shape! When I managed to get across that I was not prepared to sing that aria, they chose a third from my list and all confusion subsided.
The audition ended rather unceremoniously. I was not sure it was really over, and did not know what to do next. I waited backstage, hoping that was what the committee expected me to do, for about 15 minutes. Eventually, the coach who had played for me appeared; he asked me to learn an aria from Dardanus overnight and return the next day, so they could determine if the role fit my voice.
No fun sightseeing for me that evening. I spent several hours cooped up in my hotel room, chewing on a salami-and-fresh-mozzarella croissant (assembled in my ever-frugal fashion from the corner grocery store), while picking out notes on my travel keyboard and humming quietly, so as not to disturb my neighbors.
Feb. 2, 2004
I returned home a little depressed, unsure whether I had the job, knowing that I had already let one gig in the United States go due to the possibility of this Germany thing. The Dardanus test had gone rather well, considering the circumstances, but I still had no idea where I stood in regards to being hired. After three days of wondering, waiting, and stomach-turning thoughts of: “You have no work now, what will you do?” a simple e-mail let me know Oper Bonn wanted me, and I had four days to buy a ticket, get my life together, and get across the ocean for the next five-and-a-half months!
Teetering off the train in Bonn, three suitcases in tow, I began a life-changing, initially daunting, exciting time in my life.
The details of my time in Bonn aren’t necessary here—but I learned that being open and willing to sacrifice is a big issue in the early stages of a career. Within a mere four days, I had to decide to leave my life, to take a huge risk. I had a serious boyfriend at the time, someone who truly could have been significant, and I chose to take the leap.
In addition, I discovered so many little things, such as how to move money to my U.S. bank while managing to sidestep 20 percent bank fees, how to deal with phoning the States, getting my American computer set up, e-mailing, how to pay bills (no one writes checks in Germany!), and how much I was really going to take home after the long list of German taxes were deducted from my paycheck.
I found that most agents in Germany work differently; they are more like brokers bringing singers and companies together, while agents in the United States really work for the singer in terms of individual development, public relations, and so on.
I was surprised to find that singers actually go into coachings without knowing their music, and it’s not a big deal! I was handed the Phillip Glass score and asked to coach it two days later, and given a score for another contemporary opera one evening and scheduled to coach it the next morning! This really went against my American conservatory-trained way of doing things—and my perfectionist nature. It became imperative to find a way to be more laid back in coachings and easier on myself.
So there it is, all wrapped up in a nice little package: my thoughts and experiences surrounding the NYIOPs. I have a manager now, here in the States and in Germany. I have been asked back to Germany to guest, and was even offered a fest contract, though it didn’t fit my schedule.
My audition with the NYIOPs and the initial job it got me put me on a path I could have never imagined—but it is great path, nevertheless. You never know where your career is going to take you. It pays to be prepared foranything.
Aug. 26, 2004
I am sitting, pajama-clad, at a friend’s apartment in New York, after several weeks in the States, anticipating a return to Bonn as Alej in Janácek’s From the House of the Dead. I heard a rumor, and I am checking online to see that, yes, it is true: the Bonn Opera house caught on fire Monday, Aug. 23. No one in Bonn has contacted me, nor can I get a hold of them, since the opera house, technically, is closed. I’ve read on the Internet that the building is still standing; there has been damage to the roof, the facade, and the stage and wing areas. The opening of the opera season may have to be postponed.
I pack my bags, and set forth to fly toward this unknown. Just another bit of excitement in this ever-changing adventure. To be continued.