When I finished graduate school and it was time to begin pursuing a professional career, I was completely mystified as to how singers get hired for opera roles and concert appearances. Clearly you had to audition in order to be hired, but I didn’t know how to find out when and where auditions were held and how to request a hearing. I knew that once you joined the roster of a reputable artist manager that they would help set up auditions for you, but I also knew that under most circumstances an artist manager would not be interested in representing you until you already had some significant professional performance experience under your belt. So how do you go about getting this experience?
The answer is to educate yourself about the business and to be proactive about pursuing opportunities that are a good match for your skill set and level of experience.
Resources for learning about the business of classical singing have evolved since I emerged from graduate school. Audition sites like YAPTracker have made it easier to learn about and apply for certain categories of opportunities. But they have also made it more difficult to understand what it means to be proactive. I know many singers who apply only for those auditions that are announced on these web sites. This greatly narrows your options, because the majority of professional opera companies and concert organizations that hire singers do not post public audition notices. If you want to audition for them, you must approach them directly.
When I came of age, the best resource for researching opera companies was a Career Guide published in book form by Opera America and updated every two years. Opera America now offers an online, searchable version of their Career Guide that they are able to update with much greater frequency. Click on any opera company’s listing for data that includes their annual budget, how many productions and performances they offer each season, and recent performance history. They also describe the level of experience they are seeking from the artists they hire and sometimes their preferred procedure for requesting auditions.
Here is Boston Lyric Opera’s Career Guide listing.
According to Boston Lyric Opera’s Application/Audition Procedures page, they are willing to hear unmanaged artists and hold auditions in both Boston and New York.
Here is Fort Worth’s listing.
Fort Worth provides much more robust information about the type of artists they tend to hire as well as detailed instructions for submitting an audition request.
As you can see, the Career Guide features a highly extensive and varied list of opera companies! Rather than allowing this to overwhelm you, I recommend that you let it make you feel optimistic about the process of launching your career. There are so many producing organizations that hire singers, and if you take the time to comb through their listings you are likely to find a number of them whose needs align with your skills and experience. Take a realistic inventory of your abilities and, when possible, seek the advice of industry professionals about your readiness to audition for the companies that interest you. Look for companies that have recently hired artists with your level of experience and produce repertoire for which you are well-suited.
You should of course follow whatever procedure a given company lays out for requesting an audition, but most will want a formal written audition request, a head shot, and a one-page résumé. In many cases, it will also be to your advantage to offer links to video or audio recordings of your work. Keep your request formal and brief. Most companies prefer electronic submissions, but a few still prefer to receive hard copies of your materials. Here is Opera America’s recommended template for a cover letter. Before submitting your request, it’s a good idea to call the opera company to ask who you should send it to, as their staffing may have changed. Be sure to confirm correct spelling for all names and email addresses.
I encourage you to be as proactive and comprehensive as possible in researching and pursuing performance opportunities. It is true that emerging artists are sometimes scouted by opera companies and directly invited to audition. Participating in Young Artist Programs and Competitions can put you on the radar of casting directors, conductors or coaches who are always on the lookout for fresh talent. But if you wait to be scouted, you may find that you are waiting a very long time when you could instead be taking charge of your career.