In the Menotti opera, The Old Maid and the Thief, the character of Bob has a wonderful aria that begins, “When the air sings of summer, I must wander again.” For me, it’s autumn. Every year immediately following the close of our fall opera it’s time to hit the “audition road.” This is the time where we hold auditions for the artists that you will eventually see and hear in the Capitol Theatre and also for the young up and coming artists that we will invite to be a part of our Ensemble Program for Singers and Pianists. Despite the amount of time required on planes and in hotel rooms away from beautiful Salt Lake City, it is an exciting one; a point of departure for future opera seasons and beginning new relationships between Utah Opera and unknown artists.
Currently, Dr. Susanne Sheston and I are in New York holding auditions specifically for main stage productions (e.g. the operas that occur in October, January, March and May in the Capitol Theatre). We’re using a new venue call the Liederkranz Club on the Upper East Side (just off 5th Avenue, equidistant between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim) which is a strange, yet surprisingly productive location for the auditions. We had a long history of auditioning (as did many other companies) at Riverside Church near Columbia University but they made a policy change which resulted in the quadrupling of their rental rates. From what I can tell, few — if any — companies now hold auditions there. It’s turned out well and we’ve had some weather that allows a lovely walk through Central Park each morning.
So…one of the questions that comes up often at the post-performance Q&A sessions is, “how do you find such great singers?” The answer is fairly easy, five hours a day for four days of hearing one singer every seven minutes. We used to do to six and seven hour sessions (not including a 45-minute lunch) but found we can be more selective in our initial screening process and save rental costs and still be as effective. Still…this is a lot of time in a basement or ballroom sitting in an uncomfortable chair. However, when a truly impressive singer comes in and begins singing it is amazing how soon one forgets about the numbness of one’s posterior! To her credit, I gave over the management of the scheduling singers to Susanne a few years ago and she has done a marvelous job. It seems like every year we hear a more consistently high level of artists in our auditions.
I can’t tell here which operas we’re auditioning for (our Marketing Department doesn’t like to be scooped), but can share that we’ve heard a good number of wonderful young tenors as well as some singers particularly suited to Verdi/Wagner/Strauss that have been very exciting.
When we’re not chained to our chairs for these hours, we schedule meetings with stage directors that will be coming to Salt Lake City to discuss direction of the operas and also meet stage directors that I am considering introducing to you. If there are performances where we can see artists we are considering (difficult to find now with the demise of New York City Opera), that is where we spend our evenings. To that end, I’ll be attending a performance at Juilliard on Wednesday where I will see a director’s work and, of course, some of the best young singers who are about to leave the safety of the conservatory and see if they can make it in a very challenging career.
On Friday, I leave for Philadelphia to hear the artists in the Academy of Vocal Arts (another high-level conservatory), see Opera Company of Philadelphia‘s Italian Girl of Algiers (am considering bringing their physical production for our future) and then on to Pittsburgh Opera Saturday to hear their young artists before seeing the next installment of The Grapes of Wrath. I’ll finally come home, ten days after leaving, on Sunday the 17th and will look forward to my own bed.
I’ll let you know how it goes.