1. Be unprofessional.
Professionalism is part of the opera singer’s package. You must take the time to develop your own set of best practices: know your music, show up on time, and treat your colleagues with respect. Put yourself in the shoes of the audition panel or musical director. What type of singer would you like in your production?
Finally, there is no professionalism on/off switch. Each production deserves your expertise and excellence. Note: if the production does not deserve your expertise you will learn how to decline professionally.
2. Don’t focus on a niche.
There is an adage that works well here: jack of all trades…master of none. While being well-rounded is important, being recognized for that which you do better than the rest of your competition is more important. Choose your niche wisely. Carl Sagan is famous for saying, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” It is better to start with a narrow scope if you are young. Do not profess your chosen prowess until you have the “extraordinary evidence” to back it up.
3. Fear the audition panel.
The main goal of the audition panel is to find the right person for the production. They listen to countless auditions hoping for a handful of singers that will take their show to the next level. They are not cruel or unfeeling. In fact, most auditors are rooting for you to be their next big thing. Do not let fear or nervousness hijack your potential opportunities.
4. Don’t let your personality come through.
Singers are a naturally social bunch. We make friends easily. We like to share stories and tell jokes. We tend to lead fascinating and intriguing lives. Why should we all become so vanilla in an audition? Remember, professionalism reigns…but let your personality shine.
5. Listen to the gatekeepers.
These people are the gatekeepers, the tastemakers, the “connectors.” They tell us what is worth having, what has taste, in a seemingly arbitrary, symbolic, and status-driven economy.” —The Warhol Economy, by Elizabeth Currid.
A gatekeeper is someone who controls access to something. By design, they will belittle your dreams and question your ambition or talent to keep you from achieving that something. Credentialism is rampant in the opera world for good reasons and sometimes for trivial reasons. What some may say is a hard and fast rule may not always be. Liberate yourself from having to follow a path set by the gatekeepers.
6. Put singing on the back burner.
There are many times when other details, events, and people must come first in our life. However, when we begin to let the little issues get in the way of practicing and performing we are putting our careers on the back burner. If you love singing, make it a big priority. The longer you pursue the craft the more time you will spend on it, the more energy you will expend, and the more dedicated you will become. Don’t fail because you’ve forgotten the first blush of opera singing romance.
7. Never send out your materials.
Don’t laugh out loud just yet. Although very obvious this is a popular pitfall. Why would anyone not send out their materials? They might want to wait until they have the perfect recording. They might not know where to send their materials. They might be afraid to risk rejection. Do these examples sound like any of the excuses you have used in the past? Yep, me too.
We all know that we can’t expect perfection. Our materials are just an overview of what we are doing now. Your résumé, your biography, your headshot will not decide your future. They are just credentials… all part of the game. Get out there and play.
8. Only apply to the Met and Merola
There are literally thousands of singing opportunities out there. Even a fleeting glance at yaptracker should give you courage. Granted, most of these are not the big, glitzy programs but how do you think those resident artists got there? By being excellent in whatever two-bit show they could find. The ubiquitous young artist mistake is to assume there are no opportunities nearby.
9. Plug your ears.
News flash: you are not the only musician in the world. There are millions of people performing in different styles; with different instruments; in different venues… you get the idea, right? It is not only beneficial to your musical development to listen to a lot of music. Being that familiar face in your local music scene is also a positive career move. You will start to become a connector – even a tastemaker.
10. Always the audience – never the star
While being a great audience member is admirable – don’t let those organizations forget that you are also a performer. Use your familiarity with the scene to drum-up some auditions. When attending a production try to meet the people around you and those in charge. You will show them that you appreciate their mission even when you are not part of the production. Take action on all of the insight that you have garnered during your “field research.”