Posts > The Audition Room: Interview with Susanna Phillips

The Audition Room: Interview with Susanna Phillips

Summertime means many things to a singer: young artist programs, training opportunities and thinking ahead to the Fall audition season; updating or preparing your complete audition packet should be high on that list.  Setting aside the time to update your recording is essential, but how can you ensure that you present yourself in the best light possible in the studio?

In this interview conducted by OPERA America, renowned soprano, Susanna Phillips, discusses the ins and outs of a productive recording session. A brilliant artist on stage and in recital, Phillips recently released her first solo album, Paysages: Debussy, Messiaen & Fauré, on Bridge Records. Thank you to OPERA America for their efforts in putting together this great interview with Ms. Phillips and sharing it with YAP Tracker and our members.

Audition season is fast approaching and a high-definition audio recording is the first step to getting a foot in the door! With that in mind, OPERA America has created Recording Days, a new program which offers artists the chance to create quality high-definition audio recordings at an affordable price. Each registrant is allotted one hour in the acoustically excellent Audition Recital Hall at the National Opera Center to work with professional sound engineers. At the end of the session, artists will leave with a flash drive that includes the final mix down audio tracks. To learn more and register, visit

Susanna PhillipsLast season, you released your first solo album, Paysages, on Bridge Records. In working on that project, what did you learn about the recording process? 

The recording process is both very different and very similar to a live performance. A recording needs the same energy and spontaneity as a live performance. You have to forget that the microphone is there. Close your eyes and put yourself in performance mode, envision that a live audience is there in the studio with you. Yes, it is very challenging because you can get in your head really easily. You can get focused on every flaw and mistake, wanting the take to be perfect. Rather than making sure that every single little thing is perfect, make sure the broad musical gestures are portrayed. If you mess up, you can do it again.

How did you decide what to record?

I found a piece that I felt didn’t have a strong existing recording: the Poemes pour mi song cycle by Messiaen. I had been working on the Debussy songs for a long time and felt good about including them. The album is rounded off with Fauré. I felt very strongly about every piece that I recorded. For anything that you sing (recorded or live), you must have a strong opinion about it. If you don’t have something interesting and unique to say about the work, don’t sing it.  

How did you prepare yourself to have a productive recording session? Is it similar or different from preparing for an audition?

In comparing recording and auditioning, or any short performance, a recording is more like a marathon while an audition is like a sprint. In the studio, it’s a lot of singing and a lot of focus. You must conserve a little bit and think long term. Planning is really important. Before you go into the studio, you need to decide what you want to accomplish. After singing a piece through completely, you can go back to work on smaller sections and then incorporate those into the final sing through of a work. But, to be productive, you should know the overall musical gesture you want to portray before you start.

For singers who are strapped for cash and only have a limited time in the studio, how can they make the most of an hour-long recording session?

Planning. Try not to do too much. You’re not going to record five arias in 45 minutes. If you need to have any version of a work, you can try to record many works with only one sing through. But, if you want the ability to edit and experiment, be realistic about time constraints. Even if you don’t want to do any editing, you may want to have different versions to choose from. Working with your pianist, make musical choices in a rehearsal beforehand. You should record with a pianist with whom you communicate very clearly and openly. It’s a gift to have time to record, but you have to use it wisely.  

What is the best way to communicate with the recording engineer?

Be open. Be very honest. If you have any concerns, voice them. Ask them questions like: Should I stand farther away from the microphone? Am I singing flat? They know how to help you, so let them.

What advice would you give young singers who are going into a recording studio for the first time?

When you begin, sing through the whole piece. Don’t stop. Do it once so you at least have the musical gesture. If you make a little mistake, you can always go back and fix it. Let the little things go, it’s the big things that are hard to fix. If you keep stopping, you can easily eat up your time and not have enough complete takes to be usable.

Also, you have to be nice to yourself when you’re in the recording studio. Don’t torture yourself with questions like: Why can’t I end this note differently? Give yourself a break. If you need a minute, take a minute. In the beginning you can be really nervous and get in your head. At the end of the day, the recording is going to be a single version and most likely not perfect. What can be very fun about recording is that the take can be better than you envisioned. You can plan all you want, but at the end of the day, you have what you have. Don’t set your expectations too high.

Last thoughts

I encourage you to try something a little different. You can always delete it. Give it a shot and see. Nobody has to hear experimental takes that you don’t like. The last thing you want is to leave the studio thinking, “I wish I had done something different.”

Alabama-born soprano Susanna Phillips, winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 Beverly Sills Artist Award, continues to establish herself as one of today’s most sought-after singing actors and recitalists. 2012-2013 saw Phillips in her fifth consecutive season at the Met, as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni; her return to Carnegie Hall’s mainstage as Stella in Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, a role she reprised at Lyric Opera of Chicago; and her solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall, where she was joined by pianist Myra Huang in Weill Recital Hall.

Following her return to The Santa Fe Opera, Bravo! Vail and Aspen this summer, the soprano looks forward to starring in three important productions at the Met in 2013-2014: Così fan tutte and La bohème, which will both be featured in the company’s celebrated Live in HD series, and Die Fledermaus, which will open at the Met’s New Year’s Eve gala. Read more at

Susanna Phillips

Susanna Phillips: photo by Zachary Maxwell Stertz.

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