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June 2020
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2002-11-06 Head-wrecking agony of performing audition

"Thank you Mr Nelson, that is the best singing we've had all day, but unfortunately you are too large for the role." During my years in London as an opera and concert singer, I endured countless auditions, and on this occasion they just didn't want a 19 stone Lensky in their "Eugene Onegin".


Most people will have witnessed those memorable 'audition scenes' in classic films such as The Commitments or In the bleak mid-Winter, perhaps the 'choir audition scene' in The Vicar of Dibley, or Popstars and "Pop Idol, resulting in the birth of bands such as Six or Hear'say, or the launching of Will and Gareth.

But are auditions really such a head-wrecking experience? Put it this way, I am quite relieved that at the moment I have no need to undergo these often discouraging and even destructive few minutes of a singer's life. The last audition I did was for EMI and it was easier as there were three of us!

This business is hard enough without being demoralised on a twice weekly basis by people clearly on a power-trip (eg. Pete Waterman or Simon Cowell in Pop Idol).

Like competitions, some singers are good at auditioning and some audition badly. However, a good auditionee doesn't always deliver the goods onstage afterwards.

In the same way that many external factors get in the way of a good performance, even more block the route to a good audition. Time of day can be of utmost importance. I also found it unsettling to talk to others beforehand especially if they were going for the same role. It is good to walk in with confidence and a friendly smile, but not over confident and cocky! I would then attempt to put my "Inner Game" theories into practice in order to give the best audition possible. Then, more often than not, a voice from the darkness of the auditorium would utter a tired "Thank you", with an implied "We may be in touch".

It is often impossible to know what the panel are looking for and it can be simply down to appearance. On several occasions I gave a very good audition and was then told "Oh, we're not really looking for anyone, as everything is cast!". I used to dread 'group auditions' where the auditionees were asked to bring something comfy to wear. That usually meant we would end up spending three hours being a tree, a cigarette girl, a Geisha girl, or a necklace - trust me, I have been all of the above within one of those three-hour sessions from hell.

I used to love when someone saw me on stage in a role and would offer me a part on the strength of that performance. Having an agent helped me as well and, as with job interviews, an impressive CV is always an advantage.

However, it is still an unnatural and almost cruel way to judge someone's talent and suitability for a role. Singers often wait for months to get 'heard' for a role in a West End musical and often that tired "Thank you" interrupts their nervous attempt after one or two quivering phrases.

That brief chance at stardom is over and courage and confidence needs to be built up again. A rejection letter received by a soprano colleague of mine from a reputable British opera company read: "Thank you for auditioning for us. Unfortunately we have nothing suitable for you at this time and feel we will never have anything suitable. Please do not contact us again."

Before one audition it was suggested to me to 'imagine the panel naked', so that I would be in control. That audition was a disaster as several of the visions I conjured up in my mind were not pretty. There is of course 'the casting couch' route, a route I have not resorted to.

One tip which I never forgot was to always bring a folder of five or six pieces I could sing under any circumstances which demonstrated every facet of my performance skills (range, acting, languages, etc ) .

A soprano was auditioning for the title role in Tosca in London and sang very well. The panel exclaimed immediately: "I'm sorry, we can't use you."

"Why not?" enquired the soprano. "Because you're a man, for God's sake!".