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Life in the Opera Mafia

Audition OracleWed 25 Jan 2017 @ 11:00

Our latest guest blog comes from the Australian stage director Greg Eldridge.

 

Greg Eldridge

 

Greg rehearsing at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden - (c) ROH / Signe Roderik

Life in the Opera Mafia

When I was first asked to write this blog, my mind leapt to two immediate concerns – firstly, how was I going to follow the sensational piece written by the wonderful Rachel Nicholls (with whom I’ve had the insanely good fortune to work with on several projects, including a Ring Cycle and Isolde at Covent Garden); and secondly, what kind of thing could I write that would be interesting to an audience made up mainly of singers? I’ve worked a lot with groups of actors and directors, but they’re a special breed all of their own (as we all know!) – and I hate pieces that have been written from the point of view of giving advice (“The Top 10 Things We Want to See in a Rehearsal Room”), because those things differ so markedly between people, and what works for one situation may not be so great for another.


So, perhaps that’s a good place to start – subjectivity.


Whether we like it or not, the business that we’re in is largely one based on personal taste. This huge level of subjectivity is a feature of every aspect of our work, from auditions through to performance, and is often the single most important thing in determining whether we get work. It is also the single thing that is most out of our control. Here’s an example: I directed a production at the Linbury Studio in Covent Garden. Two reviewers from different respected media outlets, seeing the same show with the same cast on the same night, emerged with wildly different opinions. One loved it and gave it 5-stars (the best review of a piece I’ve ever had), the other hated it and gave it 2 stars (the worst review of a piece I’ve ever had). Neither was right, of course - they had each experienced the show differently and their written critiques reflected that – but this was a huge lesson for me about the deeply subjective nature of theatre. It also taught me, once and for all, that reviews don’t matter (…and saved me a lot of money when I didn’t renew my subscription to the newspaper that reviewed me badly...!)

But this isn’t just the case for reviews after the fact. When I’m invited to audition panels (which, more and more frequently, directors are not), I’m often asked afterwards for feedback. I’d really love to be able to highlight the one thing that could be improved upon to ensure that that singer could breeze through the next audition they do, but it isn’t that simple. Singers at auditions are human – we know that waking up in the morning with a sore throat or having your boiler break down robbing you of a hot shower before the audition can impact your performance. We try really hard to have done our homework on people and to have heard some clips on youtube or asked colleagues that have worked with you what you’re like in a room. But, of course, we can only go on what we experience first-hand.

Which isn’t to say that the audition panel experiences everything the same way – just as auditionees are victims of human subjectivity, so is the panel. I don’t think I’ve ever come out of an audition (or a performance!) and been in perfect agreement with my colleagues. Tastes vary enormously, and while I’m more adept at picking up on dramatic strengths and weaknesses, I’ve been in enough rehearsal rooms to have developed an ear for the kind of sound that I like. And sometimes it’s at odds with the music director or the casting director or the artistic director who have been sitting alongside me. But decisions must be made – and so discussions are had, and cases for and against argued, with the result that someone gets the job and someone doesn’t. And so, when asked for feedback afterwards, it’s almost always impossible to provide a silver bullet answer.


The lesson I’ve learned from this, in the same way as the different reviews I mentioned earlier, is that we have to be true to ourselves and maintain our self-belief regardless of what we get told by others. The importance of auditions, and meetings, and presentations, and competitions looms large over our lives as freelance artists, but we have to have the courage of our convictions in saying “I have a spark within me that needs to be seen”. In many ways, freelance artists must become much more inured to the criticism they receive than those of other professions.

Like a porous rock, a teacher of mine once said, we need to be able to meet the wave of criticism head on without giving way and then slowly filter things through until we have access to ideas we can actually use. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.


This resilience also applies to looking for work as well. When I first arrived in the UK, I wrote to every London-based opera company I could find on the internet (a few hundred) to ask for a meeting. The response rate was less than 1%, and of those that did reply, only a few were willing to talk with me. But out of those companies that were interested in meeting, I was able to find work that helped pay my rent and allowed me to continue to explore the new world I’d arrived in.

 Compared to freelance directors, there is an abundance of opportunities that exist for young singers, and services like Audition Oracle have made it much easier to access these. But, of course, applying for auditions is only half of the story – the other half is in knowing people and finding champions from both within and beyond the performing arts industry who will help us as we pursue our dreams. In previous talks and workshops I’ve given, I’ve referred to this as finding your mafia. 

Finding Your Mafia


Take, for example, the whole of the performing arts industry itself – a large, sprawling artistic network of producers and theatres and companies and donors and theatre-goers. Within that, there is an Opera Mafia – people who really dig opera, as opposed to text-based theatre or ballet or contemporary jazz (although, of course, they can like these things as well!). Within the Opera Mafia, there might be an Early Music Mafia, and within that a Handel Mafia, and for a young soprano with a passion for that sort of music and an instrument that complements it, this can be a wonderful place to find people who share that passion and have maybe accrued more contacts or experience that might help with starting a journey down that specialisation. But how to find these Mafiosi?? Music libraries, performance venues and, of course, the internet can reveal many Societies, Clubs, Journals, Periodicals, even Facebook Groups that can be incredibly useful sources of information, scholarship and assistance. And, of course, it doesn’t end just with specific genres of music – unlike the real mafia, you can belong to several clans all at once! When I first arrived in London, I sought out the Australian Mafia who were able to provide me with advice and support about their own relocations to the UK. I soon found the New Writing and the Shakespeare Mafias (both enduring loves of my days at drama school), and through them I was able to explore lots of theatres that I may not have come across as easily without their guidance. Like most of my compatriots, I am now a seasoned veteran of the Visa Mafia – a clan which may get a sudden upsurge in numbers when Brexit details are announced – and I can now discuss the relative merits of Tier 5 and Tier 1 visas with a reckless abandon that betrays the economic and emotional hardship that accompanies citizenship of a non-EEA country.

"...you don’t need to do it alone"


But perhaps the thing that the Mafia idea underscores most clearly for me is a concept that I was forced to learn right at the very start of my career – you don’t need to do it alone. I can still remember the pressure I felt as a first-time director working on a low-budget show and feeling that I had be on top of every element of the production process from scheduling to painting the floor. I have always by nature been a perfectionist, and I felt that I’d be letting the team down if I wasn’t completely on top of every little thing. It certainly made for some creative diary-balancing, but it became apparent that while it’s entirely possible to isolate yourself in pursuit of your Art, it’s not always necessary. Opening up my artistic life to colleagues and friends and family has enriched it rather than, as I feared then, watering it down. Several opportunities have been created as a result of reaching out to others – of allowing my Life into my Work. Not everyone has this particular problem, I know, but for me it opened up a huge avenue of possibilities once I realised that talking about process and endeavour and failure and dreams and the work that I pour so much of myself into is the best way to strengthen the connection between my artistic life and my personal one.

As artists, we have chosen to eschew conventional career and life paths and have embraced the deep need inside us to create, to express and to paint –with pictures, words, movement or voice – the world around us. We each have within us a spark, and by believing in its ability to become a fire, by searching out those who will keep it safe from the winds of doubt, and by sharing it with those who will appreciate its warmth, we can join our flames with others and play a part in shining light into the darkness.

Thanks for reading!

Greg

PS: 

Greg Eldridge

Headshot: (c) Royal Opera House

Greg is an Australian-born director specialising in opera. Following training in drama and law in Melbourne, he moved to the UK where he was on the Trainee Resident Director Scheme at the King’s Head Theatre before becoming the youngest ever director to join the Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Named ‘One to Watch’ by The Independent, in 2015 he was appointed Jette Parker Associate Director at the Royal Opera and now works as a freelance director and dramatic coach. Greg is on the Opera Committee of Stage Directors UK. www.greg-eldridge.com

 
 

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Moving Over to the Dark Side

Audition OracleTue 17 Jan 2017 @ 9:44

Our latest guest blog comes from voice tutor, public speaker and mentor Angela Durrant on how her move from classical to contemporary training transformed her voice, thinking and income. 

Moving Over to the Dark Side

Is it time for the classical world to stop seeing different vocal styles and training as unhealthy and inferior?

Angela Durrant

Photo: Liz McDermott

 

If you have ever felt like you hit a brick wall with your career aspirations then you will understand when I describe that’s what happened to me. What you may not identify with is what I did about it, and how it not only changed my voice but my thinking, but also my whole approach to music (and my income too).

 
It’s also unfortunately why most people who want to go into a career in singing will fail and live a potentially unfulfilled life not knowing why it isn’t working. When no one is telling you why and how to fix it, and you are singing your heart out with one rejection after another, something has to give.
 
I did the music college thing and started the audition process as every other singer does. It was a mixed bag of some success sprinkled with lots of rejection. It was demoralising at times, but singers are a determined bunch. We know we must keep going and get used to getting the “no’s” that inevitably come with embarking on a career in singing.
 
I don’t think things have changed but when I was at college there was a belief that if you were with the “right” teacher, somehow the career of that retired performer would fall on you and the mantle would pass from one to another.  In other words, the opportunities would be yours and you would be noticed and shepherded towards the bright lights.
 

"...I left music college not knowing anything about the anatomy of the voice"

 
 
In fact I left music college not knowing anything about the anatomy of the voice, it’s workings, and an understanding of where exactly my strengths and skills lay and how to plan the way forward. I was waiting for someone to see the potential in me and give me a chance, but I thought I could really sing and it was just a matter of time.
 
One day I stopped and I looked around me, and I was frustrated. I was frustrated with not knowing why and how to fix it, so I checked out. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and I felt a strange shame, like I had betrayed the cause. I cried for a week.  It was like a dream dying. I was over 30 by this point and I wanted a family too before it was too late. It’s perfectly fine to want a career and not want children and vice versa. What wasn’t right for me was putting things on hold believing that the career alone would answer my need for happiness, or that I would only feel I’d “achieved” or “arrived” as a singer or a person when I got into X college or Y company or sang Z roles.
 
What rose out of the ashes was a desire to really understand everything I could about how the voice worked. I married and had a baby but my music desires wouldn't die down so I decided as others do to supplement my income with some teaching. That’s when a light bulb hit me. Firstly I was savvy enough to see that the 80 per cent of people coming to me were not wanting to sing classical and if I wanted to keep this thing going I needed to look in a different direction.
 

"I couldn’t teach what I couldn’t do."

 
 
I couldn’t teach what I couldn’t do. It simply wasn’t enough to rely on what I had been taught, it wasn’t enough. I thought I understood singing until I had to teach it. Telling people to “brighten the sound”, “support it” and other such phrases was simply not landing with people.
 
I decided to seek out as many approaches to singing as I could and I what I discovered over 8 years ago now, transformed my own voice. I began studying a method called Speech Level Singing at first. It was the work of Seth Riggs, a classical singer working with contemporary singers like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Barbara Streisand. The method is based on traditional bel canto techniques brought up to date in terms of exercises and language. They had a teaching program and I enrolled on it. I continued with a spin off organisation called IVA (Institute of Vocal Advancement) and am still a tutor with them now.
 

"...technical issues that had not been solved in 15 years were eradicated in less than 18 months."

 
The result was technical issues that had not been solved in 15 years were eradicated in less than 18 months. I began to understand how to sing through the passages and actually began to develop  a bottom as well as a top to my voice. The effect was marked on my students too, with success after success. I was discovering my own voice as well as the voices of others.

I also did some study with the Estill model and the science behind how the works works. I was like a sponge. A new world had begun to open up to me and for the first time in a long time I could see why I had failed before.
 
My teachers encouraged me to explore singing in others styles and develop my coordination so that I could sing more contemporary theatre and pop. It was a challenge but within a couple of years of studying and teaching I had been able to master singing all styles of music. I was able to belt as well as project a classical voice. Singing became the most natural and easy thing in the world. I had to leave the world of classical teaching in order to actually find my voice in all it’s aspects.
 
As I write to you now I have worked with over 700 singers 1-2-1 and began to mentor all singers in a way that I only wished I had been mentored. Truthful feedback and a specific path to build their voices, their repertoire, artistic styles and confidence. Many of my singers not only gained the voice they always wanted but career opportunities too. Not because I was a guru, but because I could walk them through every change needed to get their voices to actually work. Once they found it, the biggest comment was that it felt easy and natural.
 

"...it felt easy and natural."

 
Had I not sought out teachers working in other genres and pedagogies I would have remained a music college casualty. It’s a total passion of mine now that no singer should fail for lack of understanding about how their voice works and how to choose the right path for them. It’s simply not ok to keep training singers towards ignorance. We are in a new age where singers need to be as entrepreneurial as well as artistic. There is little funding for the classical arts and if singers are going to have any form of sustainable career they will need to know how to be versatile, how to create a website, a marketing plan, and the ability to really teach is all as important as knowing what roles to audition for. 
 

Do I regret moving over to the “dark” side? (contemporary training and singing) - not at all. In fact it’s what led me to the light.

 
 
Angela Durrant was born into a musical family, her uncle was the famous George Formby and she was performing on stage from the age of 3. She spent 4 years as a sound engineer before completing a 4 year stint at the Welsh College of Music. She was a lecturer at the University of South Wales on their popular music degree course for 6 years and has trained over 700 singers and speakers. Angela has appeared on radio and TV talking about all things voice and now also runs a communications company called Talk Skills working with organisations like the Ministry of Defence. Her passion still remains with music and plans include a membership site for singers of all styles to embrace online learning so they can plug the gap in their knowledge and never have to stay in the dark when it comes to understanding their own voice and potential.

Angela can be reached at her current website www.angeladurrant.com or on Facebook under her group 28day vocal bootcamp or @angeladurrant on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Jorge Navarro-Colorado wins award to prepare for role debut with the International Göttingen Handel Festival

Audition OracleWed 11 Jan 2017 @ 17:29

Jorge Navarro-Colorado wins award to prepare for role debut at the Göttingen International Handel Festival

£500 Audition Oracle Singers Preparation Scholarship

Jorge Navarro-Colorado

Photo: Jamie Capewell

The first recipient of the Audition Oracle £500 singers preparation scholarship will be Spanish tenor Jorge Navarro-Colorado. Having enjoyed performing chorus and small roles/covers for several companies like Glyndebourne, Garsington & Wexford, Jorge is now making the exciting step into a solo career. The award will pay for vital lessons and coachings to enable Jorge to prepare thoroughly for his role debut of Berengario in Handel’s Lotario for the Göttingen International Handel Festival 2017. Read more about Jorge HERE

£300 Award from Anonymous Sponsor

Nazan Fikret

Photo: Raphaelle Photography

Audition Oracle are delighted that an anonymous sponsor has come forward to enable a second award of £300 to help another singer from the shortlist of six. This will be awarded to British soprano Nazan Fiket to support her in the preparation of two role debuts, Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice for Longborough Opera and Arasse in Hasse's Siroe for the Nederlandse Reisopera. Read more about Nazan HERE

 

The number of high quality of applications received and variety of projects submitted has been wonderful. If you would like to support the Audition Oracle Preparation Scholarship in the future please contact [email protected]e.com

Audition Oracle would like to thank international baritone Donald Maxwell and soprano, public speaker & mentor Nadine Benjamin for their part in selecting the recipients of these awards.

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Happy New Year! Already?

Audition OracleTue 3 Jan 2017 @ 16:32

Happy New Year! Already?

The media is awash with positive thoughts and vibes for 2017. Everyone is talking ‘game plans’, ‘goals’ and ‘measurable objectives’.  It is exciting, invigorating and infectious.


However, the reality for many singers is that during December you have sacrificed your vocal chords to the descant of Hark the Herald angels for as many gigs as those two amazing tiny little muscles will get you through and, as inspiring as the turn of a new year is, the energy tank is running on empty.

Robbie Williams

'Must stay healthy - just this one last gig to get through!'


Big Ben has chimed and (if social media is to be believed) you have then arisen like a phoenix from the ashes on the 1st of January 2017 a whole new person. You are killing it in the gym, slaying it in the practice room and for good measure are ploughing through your tax return, all without the aid of chocolates, cheese, sleep or a glass of wine. If this is you, all power to you. Keep going. We salute you and are here for you. Get on and apply for those opportunities on the Audition Oracle work & auditions board!

Perhaps though, the raft of New Years Resolutions began to vanish from view at about the time someone offered you a bacon sandwich. Do you now find yourself reading this whilst eating contraband treats and fiercely ignoring the three vocal scores and five audition arias that have been on your New Years resolution lists for the last five years?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein

You know what, if you are, it’s fine. Performers work hard during December so that others can enjoy their holidays. Now, you can take a little time out and then start implementing the New Years revolution bombarding you on social media a little later once you too are rested and ready to go again. Decide your own back to singing work date to fit your needs.

If you woke up today raring to go planning to email five choral societies a day because this year you know you want more oratorio work. Great. Do it. Check in with the helpful tips on a great CV (auditionoracle.com/securing_auditions_part_1_a_guide_to_your_one_page_cv) & covering letter (auditionoracle.com/creating_your_covering_letter).

"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day-in and day-out." - Robert Collier

 
Maybe you want to sing through the whole role of Butterfly just for fun to reconnect with why you love to sing. Fill your boots. 

What if all you really want to do is take an hour to sit and read a paper cover to cover because you haven't managed to do this for the last three months? Then give yourself that gift and enjoy it, guilt free.  

 “Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax.” — Bryant McGill

Happy New Year from all at Audition Oracle!

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