Auditioning Resident Artists
by Louis Burkot, Artistic Director
The Resident Artist Program is central to Opera North’s identity. Since the company’s founding 38 years ago, so many of our alumni have gone on to singing roles on the world’s greatest stages, as well as directing, conducting, teaching, and leading opera companies.
This season, Opera North received nearly 750 applicants for the Resident Artist Program. The group of 2020 Resident Artists you will meet soon all auditioned for Opera North last November and December.
Audition season took me from New York to Chicago, Philly to Dallas, Atlanta to Boston, and a few more cities in between. Audition cities are chosen where there are excellent university music schools and conservatories so singers from different parts of the country have the opportunity for a live audition without traveling to NYC (although many choose to do so).
The process of applying to Opera North’s Resident Artist Program has its own online ‘common application’ of sorts, called YAPTracker. (“Young Artist Program” tracker). Singers upload resumes, respond to questions we pose to them, and provide video clips for prescreening. I use these clips to get a sense of the singers’ vocal qualities and communicative abilities, and to begin to think about who might be appropriate for the roles I am working to cast. I keep any eye (and ear) out for applicants who may be particularly well-suited to each particular role in the 2020 season’s productions of The Magic Flute and Rigoletto. My goal is to hear every applicant for a live audition who requests one (singers can also request a video audition); but in cities where we have an overflow of interest (especially New York City), I use the prescreening videos to prioritize which singers to hear first.
One of the most interesting questions for me is how the singer heard of Opera North and our program. It’s incredibly gratifying to see how much past program participants encourage their colleagues and friends to consider Opera North!
Each audition lasts eight minutes, and I typically hear seven singers per hour. At times it can feel a bit like a revolving door but I want the applicants to have the opportunity to sing two selections for me. It usually doesn’t leave much time for conversation; but with each artist, I try to offer an encouraging word, a repertoire suggestion, or a question about their goals as an artist. Impressions of singers are formed within the first few notes. Do they engage me quickly in their storytelling? Does the voice have the ‘bite’ that will soar over the orchestra in the Lebanon Opera House (especially since we don’t have an orchestra pit)? Can I envision them on stage under the tent at Blow-Me-Down Farm, connecting with every member of the audience?
Assisting me in each audition city are a cadre of talented collaborative pianists, many of whom have played for Opera North auditions for many seasons. They are incredibly sensitive collaborators and work hard to support each singer who walks into the room so that they can offer the best audition they can. With no rehearsal time before the audition begins, the singer and pianist have less than 30 seconds to meet and speak, only enough to review a cue or a breath.
The volume of applicants can be overwhelming; but indicates to me a growing desire by young people to express themselves through music, and that they want to do so at Opera North. The days and hours can be long and the audition t might not always meet expectations (you can never underestimate the role that nerves or a cold play in the audition process). Although grueling, I never fail to be moved by the passion and artistry of those who audition for Opera North.
Opera North’s Resident Artist Program has become increasingly known for identifying and nurturing the most promising young singers such as J’Nai Bridges who made her Metropolitan debut in the acclaimed November 2019 production of Philip Glass’ Ahknaten. I am incredibly proud that Opera North plays such an important role in the future of opera through the training and mentoring of the next generation of artists who will continue to give new life to the art form.
And we all offer our deepest gratitude to Resident Artist Angels who ensure the ‘care and feeding’ of our RAs during the summer season. Their generous support makes it possible for us to continue to play this important role. We, and opera audiences everywhere, are better for it.