The Audition Room: Opera Saratoga's Laurie Rogers

Opera Saratoga (formerly Lake George Opera) will be holding auditions this Fall in Philadelphia and in New York for their 2012-13 program.  The deadline to apply is October 15, but audition slots are filling up quickly, so don't wait until the last day to apply.  Applications can be submitted through YAP Tracker's online application process here.

The Director of Opera Saratoga's Young Artist Program, Laurie Rogers, gave us a candid "dos and don't's" rundown for the audition room that you (and your pianist) won't want to miss. In addition to being the Director of Opera Saratoga's Young Artist Program, Laurie  is an incredibly accomplished pianist with a great deal of audition room experience both on the other side of the table and at the keyboard. 


Laurie RogersPlease share a little about your background in general and as a vocal collaborator specifically.
I hold a Master's in Vocal Accompaniment from New England Conservatory.  I've been working in the business for 25 years, preparing operas for companies all over the country and in Europe, as well as maintaining a private coaching studio.  Currently I am the Director of Young Artist Programs for Opera Saratoga (formerly Lake George Opera), and an Assistant Conductor at the Dallas Opera, and at the moment I am in San Francisco preparing MOBY-DICK.  Previously I worked for the Opera Company of Philadelphia for 13 years on music staff as well as artistic administration, and regularly accompanied all of their house auditions - hundreds per year - as well as helped to cast small roles, and heard auditions at Young Artist Programs all over the country scouting for OCP.  Every fall/winter audition season I am also in New York to accompany as many auditions as I can schedule.

How important do you feel it is to have worked with a singer beforehand in view of a successful audition?
It helps, but is not necessary.  In Philadelphia, when I played auditions from 10-4 or 5 every day, there simply wasn't time to meet with every singer beforehand.  At the larger houses, the music staff should be capable of handling just about anything put in front of them. 

Is there ever a case where a singer needn't worry about bringing a trusted collaborator with them to the audition?
See above.  It isn't a bad idea to check with the company as well, if they already have a pianist there for the day.  A singer once brought me to play for her at a competition, and the pianist they were using gave us both a hard time - seems strange to me, but it can't hurt to doublecheck.  Also, if you have rep that you consider challenging and you may not be able to bring your own pianist, check with the company ahead of time to see who is playing their auditions, and ask for contact information - a heads-up is always appreciated, and if you have your music scanned as a PDF you can always send a copy ahead, should they ask you for it.  But be sensible about it.  I had someone warn me once in hushed tones that they were bringing the Composer's Aria, which I consider standard repertoire.  Liebestod?  John Adams?  WOZZECK?  Might want some advance warning.

Repertoire advice: what repertoire is ok to bring to a provided accompanist and what repertoire should be dared only with a hired, previously rehearsed accompanist?
 It's hard to give absolute rules in this situation.  I am appalled at some of the stories I hear about accompanists who get thrown by basic rep.  At the same time, I hate to hear singers say they may not include an aria in their audition packet because they are worried about the pianist.  I've had singers ask me at the start of their audition if I am OK playing XXX aria, and they have a backup if that's not the case.  I usually advise singers NOT to remove rep just because of this concern, but to help their pianist by marking it as clearly as possible.  (See the score preparation question below)

Overall audition folder preparation: what do you want to see, and what do you not want to see?
I want to see each aria tabbed clearly.  I love those color-coded tabs that match the index on the first page.  I don't want an Italian section, and a French section, etc.  You have maybe 6 minutes for an audition.  Don't make us waste time while I flip through your book trying to find the aria.  NO plastic insert pages.  I think that is pretty much a dead issue now, but once in a while they pop back up.  They reflect the glare of the lights, and you cannot write on them.  Be sure you have xeroxed the ENTIRE aria.  I've had people bring me music with the bass line cut off (well, gee, they could read their line!) - or so badly photocopied the left hand side was missing - you know, the part with that stuff like key signature, time signature, clef.......  NO loose pages.  Someone actually brought me Zerbinetta in single sided, unbound photocopies.  Of course, I turned one page and the others fell on the floor, so my bosses in Philly were entertained that day watching me try to play with one hand and scoop up the other pages off the floor at the same time with the other.  NO stapled copies.  Someone brought me "Stridono lassu" stapled down the middle - just xeroxed pages.  What does a good pianist do as they are preparing to play?  Smooth down the pages so they lie clearly on the music rack.  You can imagine what happend, and my clear relief at not needing a tetanus shot afterwards...  You will also endear yourself to your pianist even more if you look at how the page turns work when you are putting your book together.  I don't mind one page or two folding out, but any more that that is unwieldy.  For da capo arias, you will be my best friend if you re-xerox the A section so I can continue on from the B and not have to turn back for the recap.

Score preparation and markings: what makes you happy to see and what makes you cringe?
What I DON'T want to see: all of your IPA. Breath marks that are obsolete. (If you have worked hard to achieve that phrase all in one breath but forget to erase the breath mark from your audition book, you will seriously regret it when I slow down like a sensitive accompanist to allow you time for said breath...) The phone number of the girl you met at the bar last night. Your dramatic motivation (i.e. "Think of your dead grandmother in these two empty bars", or "I can't wait to get her into bed!"  Both of these are True Stories.)

What I DO want to see: Cuts marked cleanly and clearly. Best is to re-xerox with white paper covering up any music you will not be singing so there is absolutely no doubt. We have very little time to communicate, so I like to say, mark your music like it is Accompaniment For Dummies. If you can mark it down clearly instead of telling me, that's more time you save for your six-minute audition to actually SING. Be sure the breath marks and phrasings and cadenzas reflect what you currently sing, instead of every option you've ever tried. (You know how they tell flight attendants to cross-check before departure? Cross-check your binder before EVERY audition. Pages fall out. I played an audition once for a soprano singing Liu, and the middle page fell out of the Schirmer anthology, so all I had were pages 1 and 4.  Total disaster.  I actually had to stop the audition.)  I want to see the aria in the language you are singing it - if you are singing in Russian, don't give me a copy in French.  This Has Happened.
 
This may seem obvious, but please mark clearly where you BEGIN and END the aria.  Sometimes there is more than one option.  I remember one audition a long time ago where I finished playing at what I thought was the end of the piece;  the singer had his head down for a dramatic moment, and hissed under his breath without looking at me, "there's MORE!"  Sheer mortification on both sides.
 
I regularly play "News" from NIXON IN CHINA for Jonathan Beyer - he has marked up his copy with clear beat patterns and harmonic changes - C Major, A-flat Major, C Minor - written over the top of the bars, and huge bar lines when the patterns change.  I owe him a lifetime of drinks for this one.
 
What you want to avoid is having to walk me through the entire piece while the panel waits.  You are wasting their time as well as yours.  If you mark clear breath marks, cuts, and cadenzas you shouldn't have to explain them to me as well.  You create the road map for us.  Most of us can follow it pretty well - IF it is marked accurately and reflects your plans.

Setting the tempo of a piece with a pianist before we begin: what do you find is the best method for getting it right?  Is there anything that should be avoided?
Please avoid anything tacky like banging on the piano (been there) or conducting while you sing (also been there).  It only makes you look unprofessional.  The most important thing to me as an accompanist is seeing a metronome marking.  We are going to set what we hope is the tempo you want - bel canto is the hardest thing - but all of us have a pretty good basic internal metronome - almost anybody can come up with 60 and 120, for instance - so take the time to write down a ballpark metronome mark at the start of the piece, and at any transition points.  Steinway has a great iPhone metronome App now that I use religiously.  You can sing the first phrase under your breath to us, but it is often not the same when you sing it full out.  Take the reins with setting your tempo - one of the classes I love to do is to deliberately set a bad tempo on a piece to see how the singer will rescue themselves.  If you are proactive, 9 times out of 10 we will follow you.  If you start the aria and it is clearly the wrong tempo and the pianist is just not following you, I don't mind as an adjudicator if you stop and ask to start again. Don't apologize, just explain that you'd like to take it a bit faster, or slower.   But telegraph your intentions, and be aware of certain points - when the piano is holding a chord, or when you have a pickup or moving notes - where you can gain control of the tempo without resorting to this.

Since you are also on the other side of the table hearing auditions for Opera Saratoga, do company administrators take a view on the accompanist/singer dynamic in the audition room as part of their overall decision?  If so, what should singers be careful of to set the right impression?
 For Opera Saratoga auditions, we hire pianists that we know and trust, that we believe are capable of handling anything given to them.  (As a side note, I'm also playing for all the HGO Studio auditions in NY and Philadelphia this year, which require contemporary repertoire as part of the audition.)  A pianist may tell us later that the singer was all over the map musically, so be careful - the accompanists are also a source of feedback about you.  (as are the audition monitors, but that gets off topic - however, sometimes Curt Tucker's wife is our monitor, so you never know who is out there!)

Any additional etiquette that singers should be aware of in terms of a successful collaboration with their audition accompanist?
Just make everything as clear as possible for them - the tabbing in your book, being sure everything is xeroxed properly and completely and that all the pages are there, the cuts and cadenzas and breath marks clear and up-to-date - then take the lead yourself and sing assertively.  We love to collaborate with singers who are secure in their rep and show us what they want.  Come out of your cadenza cleanly and strongly so I don't have to guess - if you write ALL the notes in your score there will be no doubt involved.  And remember to thank your pianist! (I once played for a singer who even wrote "thank you!" at the end of a tough piece....)

Laurie Rogers, the Director of Young Artist Programs for Opera Saratoga, is currently an assistant conductor at the Dallas Opera, and on the music staff for the San Francisco Opera’s production of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. This past summer she made her Opera Saratoga mainstage conducting debut with Offenbach’s Le 66. She served as assistant conductor for the Opera Company of Philadelphia over the course of 13 seasons, also serving for many years in artistic administration for the company. She is a New England Conservatory of Music alumna and has prepared productions for San Diego Opera, Utah Opera, Atlanta Opera, Green Mountain Opera, Arizona Opera, Opera New Jersey, Michigan Opera Theatre, Washington National Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Sarasota Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Glimmerglass Opera, and others. Ms. Rogers has been a faculty member and conductor for The Professional Advantage vocal studies program in Mercatello sul Metauro, Italy; she has also taught at the Lake Placid Institute for the Arts, the Chautauqua Institution Voice School and the New England Conservatory Opera Department, and accompanies regularly for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Astral Artists. She was integrally involved in the creation of Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner and David DiChiera’s Cyrano and most recently helped prepare the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick at the Dallas Opera, and assisted the composer with editing and preparation for the published piano-vocal score. Ms. Rogers gives master classes on pianist/singer issues, and has been published in “Classical Singer” magazine. She lives in Philadelphia, where she maintains an active coaching studio.

Laurie loves playing auditions! If you'd like to be in touch with her to work with you for coachings or future auditions, she can be reached at lrogers@operasaratoga.org, or found via Facebook.


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