ENO Opera Works Response Weekend 3 Audition Arias Prep

Saturday’s workshop was with course director Martin Constantine focusing on using the exercises we did with Barbara and Paul.

We all tried the following exercises –

walking the sentence, walking the punctuation, creating a spectrum and walking between the two points as the scene changes.

Then we watched each member of the group perform their audition aria using an exercise of their choice and discussed how well we felt it worked.

One of the most effective exercises was the spectrum, Martin also suggested that we put a bottle at each end of the spectrum that would represent that thing e.g. past and future, or fear and confidence so that we could interact with that thing using the bottle. For example, throwing it, squeezing it, hugging it, shaking it etc.

This was really effective as the movement between the two points clearly illustrated the twists and turns in the scene and having a physical object at each end meant that you could interact with that thing in a number of ways.

Another effective exercise was to draw a picture of what you want/what is going on in the scene. This was particularly useful for creating focus and stillness both in the voice and physically.

Another interesting exercise which we took from Paul’s work was for the group to set a number of tasks for the singer, of which they were unaware. The point being that they spend the entire aria trying to figure out what tasks they need to complete in the room e.g. moving a chair, putting their hands on their head etc which takes the focus away from the singing and creates interesting moments in the aria which aren’t usually there. This one was good for fun and freeing up the voice.

On Sunday we chose the exercise we would like to try best on our chosen audition aria and then revisited it in the afternoon with a view to applying the same focus and movement in an audition situation (where you obviously can’t run around hugging bottles etc!) It was really interesting to see how much the freedom obtained in the exercise could be put into performance when standing still because your mind was still visiting all of the things you had focused on earlier.

It was really nice to practice and get feedback on the whole audition situation. How to walk into the room, naming your pieces, talking to the pianist etc. The more we practice doing this the more comfortable and natural it becomes and in time you have a system which works for you.

In the Sunday session we were also joined by the wonderful Jayke Branson Thom with whom we have worked before. She is a Master NLP Hypnotherapist and Creative Performance Coach. She specialises in mentoring opera singers, helping them overcome their fears and bad habits and sits on many audition panels at ENO, ROH etc.

She gave us a number of physical and mental exercises to focus the brain, calm adrenaline and release negative energy – particularly useful for audition nerves.

We also played with the effect a mental warm up can actually have on the voice. By just imagining the vocal warm up you do you can actually warm up your voice. This is particularly useful for those not so ideal audition situations when you turn up and there is no warm up room or you are asked to go early etc.

We also noticed that a sense of mid focus in the room was crucial. Often in an audition there is a sense of us and them. You’re either locked inside yourself or staring at the wall 30 feet away. However, often in opera you are singing to people who are on stage with you, you’re in a forest/in a palace etc. So a sense of mid focus is crucial. See how much you can imagine and create in your mind. Create points of focus and play and a sense of flow in the body. If there is a sense of movement in the mind you won’t be stuck physically. There is a difference between being rooted to the spot and being reasonably still but ‘in the moment‘.

Keeping what you do with your aria fresh is important, repetition makes things dull. Don’t find one thing that works and stick with it. If you were in an opera it would be different every night, try and apply this to solo performance as well. Make your objective and obstacle as clear as possible. If it is clear in your head it will be clear in performance.

In the same way, don’t let you arias become one dimensional. Sad arias are only sad because of the happiness that once was or could have been. Focus on specific memories/fantasies and then your work will be specific instead of general.

Doing is more effective than trying. Auditions tend to bring on the trying part of the brain. Not helpful. Stop thinking of it as an audition but as a place to play. A place to be spontaneous. You influence the environment, don’t let the environment influence you. If you go wrong, don’t show us.


Audition Tips and Feedback – 

Do as much work as possible before hand so that the spontaneity can happen.

Keep visualising when it has gone well before.

Slow down and own the space.

Breathe out and then let the breath in to calm down.

Make it clear you want space and silence to focus outside before the audition. Don’t be afraid to ask for people to leave you alone to concentrate. This is your job.

You have more time than you think. Take time to anchor yourself and become the character before the music starts. Tell the accompanist before you start that you will need some time in between pieces to do this.

More specific thoughts. If you say it twice – WHY?

Same with coloratura – there must always be a reason.

If you’ve chosen a long aria bear in mind this might be the only thing they hear, so if you do choose a long aria, make it for a good reason.

Parallel movements often aren’t organic.

Keep the magic when you’re walking out. Don’t show the panel how you feel it went.

Be an authentic version of yourself. 

Don’t stress about audition rules. They are guidelines but essentially you need to find your way of auditioning. An authentic way.

Visualise the stressful situation whilst doing your calming exercise. Do this every day.

Choose an atmosphere to bring in with you, the audition will be what you make it. 

Time is travelling quicker for you than it is for the panel. Don’t be afraid to go slow.

Don’t bring in choreography. Or a production you have done before.

There must be an impetus for every line before you sing it. 

Your eyeline can be lower than you think. Someone staring high above your head can be a bit creepy.

Whatever you’re feeling, however your day is going, once you’re in the audition room keep your status high and be generous. Aim to make the panel feel comfortable. Have fun. 

Tips from your Accompanist – 

You are not alone when you audition – there is a pianist.

Make sure the music is easily turnable.

Mark your music clearly.

Don’t feel apologetic or rushed when speaking to the accompanist – say what you need to say.

If the pianist is going way too fast it is fine too stop. Otherwise, if the tempo is only slightly out change it yourself.

Ask for the accompanist to give you a moment in between pieces if you need it.


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