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International Baritone Roderick Willliams OBE talks to Audition Oracle

Audition OracleFri 20 Oct 2017 @ 9:20

Roderick Williams | Audition Oracle

This week Audition Oracle have been talking to baritone Roderick Williams OBE about opera, art song, composition and the importance of preparation. 

 

AO: You are one of the few British artists who have combined a true career in art song alongside one in opera, how have you achieved this?

RW: It would be lovely to think that this was part of some clever planning on my part.  But the truth is I have simply said yes to lovely jobs when they are offered to me.  Perhaps some singers who specialise in opera don’t want to bother with Lieder recitals or feel their voices aren’t right for baroque or contemporary oratorios.  My voice has always been fairly flexible so I have enjoyed working in a variety of musical styles.  It keeps me interested.  I’ll give almost anything a go.


You had a career as a teacher before becoming a professional singer, how difficult was it to give up a regular income for an irregular one?!

RW: It was definitely a hard decision to give up my teaching career as I had thought up till then that I would be a music teacher for ever.  I rather stumbled across singing as a profession when I saw some of my friends and colleagues heading in that direction.  I was told that singing was precarious as an existence so I reckoned I could always go back to teaching if things didn't work out.  I think that if I had waited much longer than perhaps giving up a reliable, weekly salary could have been even harder so I’m glad I tried it when I did.  As it happens, I now manage to do some coaching from time to time in various schools and colleges so that has helped satisfy an urge to teach still. 


Was there a significant role in your early career that you now consider your breakout moment?

RW: My career has been one of slow and steady progress rather than a single, stellar role.  My lucky breaks have been numerous and relatively small scale.  But I’m hugely glad that it has happened that way; it has helped me deal with the pressures of performance while keeping things in perspective.  Thus when it has come to moments like the Last Night of the Proms later in my life, I have felt comfortable rather than out of my depth.


What piece of career advice would you give to singers just starting out?

RW: Prepare well.  My most agonising, uncomfortable experiences have been when I have felt under-prepared.  I always remember Isobel Flynn once saying to me, apropos of nothing in particular, “there’s always someone who is behind learning their role - don’t let it be you."

 “There’s always someone who is behind learning their role - don’t let it be you. - Isobel Flynn


Your new album with pianist Susie Allan is a tribute to an English art song festival at Tardebigge that has sadly come to an end after 12 years. What role have regional music festivals played in your career?

RW: Many years ago I was awarded a place on a scheme by the National Federation of Music Societies (since renamed Making Music) that sent me on recital and concert tours the length and breadth of the UK.  I really learned how to perform for an audience during this period and especially how to deliver a song recital.  It also woke me up to the simple truth that there are audiences for classical music throughout the country, not just in London nor just in major cities.  I’m very grateful for that experience and the connection with people that it has helped me to forge.


Your renown as a composer has grown this year with the world-premiere of your choral piece Là ci dare la mano at the Proms and a new recording by pianist Maria Marchant featuring two of your pieces/arrangements for solo piano. What drives you to not only interpret existing repertoire but also create your own?

RW: I have always written music, again in a variety of styles, mostly in order to fill particular spots in programmes for myself or my friends.  I used to arrange and compose music for ensembles at home, school, university and beyond, not so much because I felt an urge to create music and ‘express myself', but because I have enjoyed the feeling when others play something that I have written.  It’s quite a buzz.


Many singers dream of performing at the Last Night of the Proms, what were the challenges of a such a high-profile event and how did you prepare for the performance?

RW: Of course the pressure was on me for this event.  In essence, though, the only thing that really worried me about that concert was remembering the verses of Rule Britannia. The other pieces - the Strauss Taillefer and the spirituals in the second half - were more under my control. My memory can sometimes be unreliable and I hated the thought that I might get lost without the words in my hand and for it all to end up on YouTube for ever after.  During rehearsals, I kept making minor memory slips which didn’t help my confidence.  My intention had been to sing the verses every day for about three months so that I could do it in my sleep.  But that didn’t happen; I guess I was just too busy with other things.  (“Prepare well” - didn’t I mention that before?)  So, in the end, I panicked and grabbed the text in a black folder at the very last minute to take on with me.  And it helped settle my mind.  In the end I didn’t need to refer to it at all; my brain relaxed and I had full and total recall.  I really enjoyed the moment.

It’s funny to think that The Last Night could be the 'dream of many singers'.  Really?  Why would anyone dream of being put under such pressure?  It was a huge honour to have been asked, there’s no denying that, but there is also no doubt that one gets to face one’s demons at such a moment!  Be careful what you wish for!


You performed a selection of pieces from Showboat made famous by the great bass singer and actor Paul Robeson, have you ever considered writing an opera about him? (It seems long overdue!)

RW: My father (a retired management consultant and general polymath) once wrote a libretto about the Jamaican hero Paul Bogle and we tried to interest various people in this opera to celebrate the anniversary of Jamaican independence.  It never happened though.  Writing an opera is such a huge undertaking for all concerned.

Telling the story of Paul Robeson’s life would be interesting but one problem I could foresee is how to cast him; he had such a unique voice.  How could one replicate the effect he had on people?  One would have to wait for the perfect replica singer to appear on the scene.  Such voice and personalities occur only once in a blue moon. 

 

Roderick's latest album with pianist Susie Allan 'Celebrating English Song' will be out on Friday 27th October and is now available to pre-order on line

Celebrating English Song | Audition Oracle

 

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We need to talk about women

Audition OracleWed 27 Sep 2017 @ 10:58

This weeks guest blog post from comes from the Artistic Director of Head First Productions Sophie Gilpin. This blog really resonated with us at Audition Oracle - a female led company employing predominantly female staff. 

We need to talk about women.

Sophie Gilpin, Artistic Director - Head First Productions | Audition Oracle

 

Earlier this month, Victoria Sadler wrote a, quite frankly, depressing article about the lack of work by female writers being programmed in the leading London theatres. The only theatre to come out in a positive light was Vicky Featherstone’s Royal Court, with a stonking ten out seventeen plays in the 2017 season written by women. At the other end of the scale was the Old Vic Theatre which programmed - can you guess? - zero plays by women in 2017, and only one a year in 2015 and 2016.

But let’s talk about opera. 

For the purposes of this blog I’m more interested in the people running the opera houses than I am about the horrifying balance of male to female composers; that’s a different can of worms and one I’m not sure I know where to start to investigate, although special mention must go to Roxanna Panufnik (composer) and Jessica Duchen (librettist) for Silver Birch

I run a theatre company called HeadFirst Productions. I am also a woman. It’s very easy to reel off a list of small- to mid-scale, female-led opera companies: 

Opera up Close (Robin Norton-Hale)

Pop up Opera (Clementine Lovell)

Time Zone Theatre/Opera in the City (Pamela Schermann)

Helios Collective (Ella Marchment)

Size Zero Opera (Laura Bowler)

Celebrate Voice (Lynsey Docherty)

Unexpected Opera (Lynn Binstock)

Metta Theatre (Poppy Burton-Morgan)… the list goes on. 


But jump up in scale and every single major opera company in Great Britain is led by men:

Royal Opera House - male Director of Music and Director of Opera

English National Opera - male Artistic Director and Music Director
(and an outgoing female CEO, Cressida Pollock)


Glyndebourne - male General Director and Music Director

Opera North - male General Director
(currently no Music Director, but previously all have been men)


Scottish Opera - male General Director and Music Director

Welsh National Opera - male Artistic Director and Music Director
(but a female Managing Director, Leonora Thompson)


Opera Holland Park - male General Director and Director of Opera

The Grange Festival - male Artistic Director and General Manager

Grange Park Opera - male Executive Director
(but a female founder, Wasfi Kani)


Garsington Opera - male Artistic Director
(but a female Executive Director, Nicola Creed)


English Touring Opera - male General Director and Music Director


So what’s happening?

Why is there such a drastic gender balance switch from the small scale to the large scale? Every event I attend aimed at early career Directors and Artistic Directors is full of young women hungry to lead an organisation or to run a building, and yet even if I include non-opera producing houses I can count on two hands the number of women in senior leadership positions.


My experience is that creative teams also lean the same way. For a long time I have considered myself a fairly vocal feminist. But until recently I’d become so used to working with more men than women over the years that not only had I not minded regularly being the only woman in a room, but I suddenly realised that I hadn’t even been noticing it. The gender imbalance of my working life had become my new normal and I had accepted that. 

Unfortunately I am particularly drawn to the music of the 18th and 19th century which means that to some extent it is inevitable that the work I prefer to direct is composed by men. Nothing is achieved by lamenting the lack of female opera composers from 200-300 years ago but we can - and should - redress the balance by ensuring that women can contribute artistically when we stage these works in the 21st century. 

I’ve been following with fascination - and great admiration - Alice Farnham’s tireless efforts to engage with more female Conductors. From the weekend courses at Morley College in 2014 for young women interested in a conducting career, to the recent announcement of the collaboration between ROH, NOS and RPS to establish a Women Conductors course in 2018, she’s doing an astonishingly good job at tackling the archaic belief of some dinosaurs that conducting can be too physically demanding for women and that “a cute girl on the podium” can make musicians’ thoughts drift elsewhere. Whilst I acknowledge that people who hold extreme views like this are probably (hopefully?) in the minority, the paucity of women conducting at any level is indicative of a greater problem.

As an Artistic Director (or General Director, or Music Director or Director of Opera…) we have a responsibility to continue to have conversations about gender equality in the industry, both in terms of the representation of woman on stage and in terms of the people we choose to work alongside. 

At the end of this month A Festival of Sex, Love and Death opens at the Pleasance Theatre. Our flagship production is Don Giovanni, arguably one of the most problematic operas when considering the objectification of women. The opera can so easily be overly concerned with male desire and the women become little more than Giovanni's playthings. However, our all female production team is approaching it from the point of view of the women. Whilst we are not altering the libretto at all, we will ensure that not only is the action driven by the three women, but that they are strong, active characters with their own identities outside of their association to the nearest man. Being desired can be intoxicating. So what happens when a simple flirtation changes gear, and an innocent seduction becomes sexual manipulation? And worse, what happens if - by the time you’ve realised what’s happening - you’ve already fallen for the one man you know you shouldn’t?

So with this festival HeadFirst Productions is doing our bit to throw some more light onto the problem. Across the entire festival, the gender balance is in our favour; where there's an all male show it's been programmed as a double bill with an all-female show. Where there's a male writer, there's a female producer, and where there's a male Music Director, there's a female Director. 

Our all-female creative team for Don Giovanni consists of our Conductor, Director, Designer, Production Manager, Language Coach and Assistant Director. 50% of our orchestra are women and our Young Artist répétiteur is also a woman. When the entire company is in a room at the same time, women are going to outnumber men for the first time in my professional career. 

Going back to the gender gap between small and large scale, I do feel optimistic that things are changing. I hope that as the women currently in their twenties and thirties continue to develop their careers, they will shatter the glass ceiling so completely that we’ll soon see truly equal representation of gender across the board, and can finally stop having this conversation.


Ladies - the one thing I urge is that every time we take a step up the ladder, we reach back and hold out a hand to someone who needs it. If we don’t, who will?


Don Giovanni and A Festival of Sex, Love & Death takes place at the Pleasance Theatre Islington from 26 October - 4 November. 
Tickets are £12-£15 and can be bought online at pleasance.co.uk
For the full festival lineup, see headfirstproductions.org/current-production(includes a masterclass with Sir Thomas Allen)

Don Giovanni | Audition Oracle

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10 step check list for audition application success!

Audition OracleThu 14 Sep 2017 @ 8:05

10 step check list for audition application success!

 

10 step check list for audition covering letters | Audition Oracle

You have found a fantastic audition or work opportunity for which you:-

  1. Fit the brief.  If you don’t, save your time and energy. Be selective.
  2. Are available for the rehearsals period & shows as required. Companies have limited audition slots. If you knowingly audition for them when you aren’t free for the work, you risk frustrating the company and being blacklisted next time.

Now it is time to make a thoughtful, clear and concise application. Your cover letter, email or message is the first thing reaching the opera company before they even open your CV. Give time and attention to this initial contact to give your applicaiton the best possible chance of being selected.

Have you...

 

Filled out the subject line?

Have they requested specific info here? If not, make the subject line useful by including name, voice-type and role to be considered for.

 

Addressed the email/message or letter apropriately?

If one is not given, research an appropriate name within the company. No names available? Include a polite introduction such as 'Dear Sir/Madam,'.

 

Remembered to state why you are contacting the company.

They may be advertising for many different positions. “I am a bass-baritone and would like to be considered for the role of happy sprite in The Miserable Ghost as advertised on Audition Oracle”. We have seen ‘I want to audition' or "would like to audition for opportunity above" as the ONLY text included! 

 

Been asked for a motivational paragraph?

If so, it is vital that you take the time to do this. Ignore it and you risk appearing disinterested. Keep it succinct (they don't have time to read a thesis) and be sure to answer any questions.          

 

Attached all requested documents or files?

If they ask for a filled-out application form rather than a CV, do take the time to do it as this will be part of their selection process

 

Attached a one page CV saved in your name as a PDF and under a specific size?

It takes second. Open the document, click 'save as' then select PDF from the drop-down list of formats. Google can tell you how to change the name of a file or re-size a document depending on the computer you use. More information about creating your one page CV HERE.

 

Included sound files or links to sound files?

Links are quicker to access and do not clog-up inboxes. Lots of free media sharing tools exist – soundcloud, vimeo, you tube.

 

Signed off politely and correctly?

“Yours Josephine” is a little different to “Yours, Josephine!”

 

Checked your spelling and grammar one last last time?

Auto correct has a lot to answer for!

 

Included your contact details?

Ensure your electronic signature with suitable contact details and links to your online casting profile / website are that the bottom of your email. Make it as easy as possible for a company to consider and contact you. 

 

You're good to go! Toi, toi, toi for the opera audition season ahead.

 

First Impressions Count | Audition Oracle

 

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Are you ready for the opera audition season ahead?

Audition OracleFri 1 Sep 2017 @ 9:15

Are you ready for the opera audition season ahead?

Ready for the opera audition season? | Audition Oracle

So, you have finished up your summer season contract and if lucky, have had a holiday and are now refreshed and ready to go. Or are you?

Have you…

Prepared your audition repertoire?

  • Do you have five contrasting arias up your sleeve and ready to go at the drop of a hat?
  • Is it repertoire that you can be cast in right now?
  • Can you sing it even when you are only firing on 80%?
  • Does it show off your unique qualities and abilities that help set you apart?


Updated your CV?

  • The predominant UK preference is a one page CV saved as a PDF
  • Check the file size and reduce if over 1MB.
  • Make life easy for the administrator or casting assistant and save it in your name and voice type
  • Read more about creating your CV HERE


Got an eye-catching, up to date photo?

  • Out-of-date or poor quality photos can seriously hamper your chances of being selected for an audition.
  • Make sure yours is a good representation of you and catches some of the spark of your character
  • Include your photo within your CV


Recorded your audio & video files?

  • More and more companies are selecting candidates not only on CV but also on audio & video files
  • Upload your files to Soundcloud, Vimeo or similar so that you can provide a clickable link from which companies can access your audio & video without clogging up thier inbox or exceeding attachment limits
  • Add a choice media link to your CV


Done your audition research?

  • With more singers than ever competing for less and less audition opportunities, it is important to get your application in early. Don't wait for the deadline
  • Since the introduction of company accounts, Audition Oracle has had more and more exclusive opportunities
  • With our mobile friendly work & auditions board you can save opportunities for quick reference/to apply later, keep track of your applications
  • Make applications on the go. In one click send your CV direct from phone to employer through Audition Oracle
  • Receive instant alerts for the opportunities that mater to you and get regular round ups of the opportunities available


Remembered?

  • Main house companies rarely publically advertise principle auditions. Their casting is largely done via agents but it is possible to get heard
  • Many companies have a policy to hear people that contact them direct
  • Update your materials with them whenever you have appropriate notable additions to your CV in line with the level of opportunity they would offer or once to twice a year

 Toi, toi, toi!

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Soprano Nazan Fikret organises Grenfell Tower Benefit Concert

Audition OracleThu 10 Aug 2017 @ 9:00

Grenfell Tower Benefit Concert -17th September

Singers involved in Grenfell Tower Benefit Concert | Audition Oracle

Soprano Nazan Fikret tells us about the origins and plans for the upcoming Grenfell Tower Benefit Concert:

My motivation to do a concert was simple: I woke up on 14th June, my 30th birthday incidentally, and heard the news. I was angry, shocked and desperate to help. For me it summarised everything that's wrong with our society: ignore the poor, cut corners to line to pockets of the rich and don't do anything to change things until disaster strikes. This was a tragic and avoidable incident. However, like so many singers, I haven't a penny to rub together, so thought doing a concert and raising money was the logical thing to do. I envisaged a church hall, a slightly out of tune piano and a few colleagues. I could not have imagined the high profile event this has evolved into!


The music community has been so generous- from singers of all ages and stages, to conductors, orchestral players, the Cadogan, Philharmonia, ROH, ENO, Garsington, Sarah Playfair, Henrietta Bredin of Opera Magazine, The International Opera Awards, Sophia Tuffin my Project Manager, Cantate Communications for Printing the programme, Annie Rushton for designing.....and Petroc Trelawny for presenting on the night! The list is endless!

All of this support has enabled us to plan a truly extraordinary concert which we hope will be a suitable commemoration for the victims and a fundraiser for the London Emergencies Trust.


For further information about the concert please visit www.cadoganhall.com

Tickets: from £20, available from Cadogan Hall Box Office
Online: http://www.cadoganhall.com/event/grenfell-tower-benefit-concert-170917/ Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London SW1X 9DQ
Box Office: 020 7730 4500

Singers to include: sopranos Lee Bisset; Francesca Chiejina; Samantha Crawford; Nazan Fikret; Janis Kelly; Louise Kemény; Anna Patalong; Gweneth-Ann Rand; Natalya Romaniw; Kirsty Taylor- Stokes; Ailish Tynan; Jennifer Witton; mezzo-sopranos Katie Grosset; Anna Huntley; Maria Jagusz; Héloïse Mas; Christine Rice; countertenor Jake Arditti; tenors Luis Gomes; Robert Lewis; Stuart Skelton; Jack Swanson; baritones Gary Griffiths; Martin Häßler; Benedict Nelson; Alan Opie; Ricardo Panela and bass-baritones Keel Watson and Joseph Padfield.

Pianists to include: Eugene Asti; Dylan Perez and Linnhe Robertson
Conductors to include: Edward Gardner; David Angus; Douglas Boyd; Richard Hetherington; Timothy Redmond; Matthew Morgan and James Sherlock
Super Orchestra composed of players from the leading London orchestras including: Philharmonia; Royal Opera House Orchestra; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and others

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