If you're gearing up for audition season, then you're probably getting ready to record the required pre-screenings. While these recordings are an ideal opportunity to perform without audition room nerves, it may be your first introduction to a college or company, and it's important to make an excellent first impression. Competitive programs receive far more pre-screenings than they have audition slots, and, as Allen Perriello, Young Artists Program Director at The Glimmerglass Festival, says on the Opera Biz podcast, video submissions are the preferred medium.
The good news is there’s no such thing as the perfect pre-screen video. You are a unique artist, and no one else can submit the same video as you! So let’s show them the you who will light up that audition stage. Here are a few guidelines to help best reflect your "brand" in your videos.
Let’s be honest, the easiest solution to the pre-screening quandary is to dust off some old concert or audition videos and get on with the rest of the application. However, would that be an accurate reflection of your current repertoire? If you have changed fach since last year or developed a high C that wasn't there a few months ago, then let your arias reflect that. In the same way, don’t send a video of an aria you wouldn’t be able to nail in the audition room. This video is a recreation of the audition setting, not the practice room, and you may well be asked to perform your pre-screening repertoire if you are invited to audition.
As with any audition, the panel wants to see your full emotional range. Most arias are an expression of your character's greatest or worst day on earth, and opera is not known for its subtlety! Use an aria that shows you are more than capable of conveying those dramatic extremes onstage.
As we all know, the journey to becoming your best self as a performer is not linear. If you’ve made a major breakthrough in your singing or performing since your last video was filmed, make another one! Granted, it may mean some last-minute string-pulling and some extra expense, but these videos should be up to date. You should feel proud of how your current audition videos reflect your progress, because you’re amazing!
If you're recording yourself, be sure to test those sound levels. Before going for a take, record your loudest and highest notes to ensure the sound isn't clipping. If it is, move your device a little further away. Next, record the lowest and quietest sections of your pieces and if the sound isn't being picked up, move the device closer. Finding that sweet spot for your recording device will allow you to show the extreme ends of your dynamic range, something a panel always looks for.
Wouldn't it be great to have instant access to Carnegie Hall and top-class accompanists? Even though this isn't always an option, it is worth considering what your setting says about you. A sound-proofed studio will most likely produce a dry and unflattering sound, while a large, clean rehearsal room or church will provide far better acoustics. Your panel will see straight through any attempt at editing the sound of your pre-screening, so your choice of space is important. Aim to record practice videos in several different spaces and listen back to the sound on your phone, laptop and other devices, using both headphones and speakers.
If you are going to rent a space, make sure it looks professional. If you're unsure about where to record, canvass your accompanist and singer friends in your area.
Perhaps all of your arias are sung by trouser roles but the only outfit in your closet that fits is a princessy dress. That’s okay! You don’t need to be in costume. What’s most important is that you feel comfortable and authentically yourself. There are, however, some options that may not look so great on camera. Colors that help you stand out from your background are best, and stripes should be avoided. Take some practice videos in your chosen space to make sure your outfit works.
It might be tempting to wear flats if your feet are out of shot, but try to match what you would wear in a real-life audition. Heels can make a surprising difference to your gait and stance, as well as your ability to access your character.
Your Perfect Shot
Hiring a videographer comes with the perk of a variety of shots, but if no one is filming your close-ups it's important to get the angle right. Leaning your phone against a bottle of water on top of a score on top of a music stand might be the cheapest option, but small tripods are easily affordable and will save you a lot of grief!
Find a space in the room where the light is shining on you and your pianist. As long as your pianist is in shot you can film straight-on or at a side angle. Try several different takes from different angles to see which best mirrors the live experience. Make sure the camera isn't so far away that any detail is lost, or the sound compromised. Oh, and make sure your water bottle is out of shot!
If your recycled videos fit the brief, then go forward with them! Otherwise, take the opportunity to make an updated video of your incredible talent. Be sure to convey your most professional and artistically creative self, including any spoken introductions you might include in the video. Most importantly of all, you must watch the video back from beginning to end. It might seem obvious but, according to Perriello, you would be surprised at the amount of singers who submit videos with bits of conversations at the end. Not you, my friend, you've got this! Good luck!