Thursday, June 21, 2012

FAQ to the 2012-2013 Application

After much anticipation, the 2012-2013 application for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions is now available.  Our group here in the Eastern Region is organizing the auditions for the second time after taking over from seasoned veterans, and we look forward to meeting all the new singers and having another successful season.

I am the contact person when it comes to asking questions about the application and the audition process, so I thought it would be good to provide you with some answers to last year's most frequently asked questions with regards to the application.  Check back in a few months to get info on what to expect at the District Auditions (such as what to wear, what to do when sick on the day of your audition...)  As usual, our contact information and so much more can be found on our website, and feel free to email me with any questions you have.  Plus check out our other articles to go behind the scenes of the 2011-2012 season.

  • Read the Governing Regulations carefully and don't forget to sign them when sending in your application.  A few things to pay specific attention to:
    • Age: Your birth date must fall between August 1, 1982 and July 31st, 1992 in order to audition during the 2012-2013 season.  
    • Past Audition Participants: If you have auditioned in previous seasons, you may participate again this season.  Singers who have reached the Grand Finals Concert or who have been in the National Semi-Finals twice can no longer apply. They can, however, apply to be heard by the Metropolitan Opera National Council Education Fund.
  • You may audition in any District you wish, regardless if you live in the area or not.  If you are selected to continue on to the Region Finals, you must do it in the region of which you were a district winner.  For this group, that is the New York District and the Eastern Region.
  • At the auditions we will provide you with a pianist.  If you wish to bring your own accompanist at your own expensive, you are able to do so.  You can mark your choice on your application, and it is okay to change your mind at a later date as long as you let us know.
  • The application asks you to provide us with five arias you wish to perform during the auditions.  Of these five, you can choose the first one yourself, while the judges will select a second one for you if they find it necessary.  The five choices on the application are not set in stone.  You can change the arias up to the moment you audition.  If you notify us up to a day before your audition we can change the arias for you in our files.  If you have any last-minute chances, you can announce them on stage just before you audition.  If you continue on to the Region Finals, you can keep the same five arias or you can change them again.
  • If you are not a US-Citizen, it is still possible to apply as long as you show proof of a one-year residency or if you are enrolled in a US or Canadian college or conservatory.  You will be eligible to receive your prize money, however different tax rules will apply.
  • Feedback will not be given at the District Auditions due to the volume of applicants.  Feedback will be available during the Region Finals.
When submitting your application, don't forget to include the following:
    • The actual application and a signed governing regulations form.
    • A résumé (one page preferably).
    • The non-refundable application fee of $30.  This can be paid in the form of a check made out to MONC/Eastern Region.
    • A photocopy of your legal proof of age, such as driver's license, birth certificate or passport.
    • A headshot.  If you mail in your application a hard-copy is fine, but preferably we would also like to receive a digital copy.
    • If applicable, proof of one-year residency or college attendance.

There are two ways to submit your application:

  • By mail:  
Stefanie Van Steelandt
250 East 54th Street #10D
New York, NY 10022

  • By email (mail in the application fee or transfer the fee to our Paypal account from yours.  Please attach a confirmation to your application):
The deadline to submit your application is Friday November 2nd, 2012.

Please keep a copy of your application for your records.  Once your application has been received and processed, we will send you a confirmation email.  The exact date and time of your audition will be emailed to you at the beginning of November when all applications have been received.  

Please mark the following dates on your calendar when you apply:
    • District Auditions: Tuesday November 13th through November 15th, 2012 at the Casa Italiana, Columbia University, New York, NY
    • Region Finals: Thursday January 24, 2013 at Merkin Hall, New York, NY
    • Arrival in New York for Semi-Finalists: Thursday February 28, 2013
    • National Semi-Finals: Sunday March 3, 2013
    • National Grand Finals Concert: Sunday March 10, 2013
The District Auditions and Region Finals are open to the public, so tell your friends and family to keep the dates free as well.  More info on attending as an audience member will follow later.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Anthony Roth Costanzo wins 1st Place at the Operalia Competition

Anthony Roth Costanzo won first prize in Sunday's Operalia Competition in Beijing.  In 2009, he was a Regional Finalist here in the Eastern Region, and then went on to win the Grand Finals.  He made his debut on the Met stage in December 2011, first as Unulfo in Rodelinda, then as Ferdinand in The Enchanted Island.

The Operalia Competition is an annual event, also known as The World Opera Competition, and is organized by Placido Domingo.  He started the competition in 1993 to help discover and launch the careers of young opera singers all over the world.  The competition begins with about 1000 applicants who mail in a video recording as their first step in the audition process.  A jury of three opera experts listens to all applications, and picks forty singers who will continue on to the semi-finals and quarter-finals.  In the end, ten singers perform during the Finals, held in the form of a concert with Placido Domingo conducting.  Domingo is involved in every step of the audition process as an adviser, but he never participates in the voting.  Every year the competition is held in a different city and country.  This year it was Beijing's turn, next year it will be Verona's.

I first heard Anthony Roth Costanzo perform in 2010 at a performance of Handel's Partenope at the New York City Opera.  I had never heard a countertenor before and was not sure what to expect, but I was blown away.  Anyone who hears a countertenor voice for the first time can attest to that feeling.  Countertenors are quite rare, and are not to be confused with Castrati (which don't exist any more).  

Wikipedia describes a countertenor as: "a male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano, or (less frequently) a soprano, usually through use of falsetto, or far more rarely than normal, modal voice."  Counter tenor roles are most commonly found in Baroque music.

I had the chance of meeting Anthony at a Young Associates event a few years back, and he is a really nice guy.  He talked about why he sings like a girl and what it takes to be a countertenor.  As is often the case with opera singers, his regular voice does not sound at all like a girl.  You would never know what beautiful music he is capable of when he speaks.

Video courtesy of YouTube

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Costs of being an Opera Singer

With the new ABT (American Ballet Theater) season upon us, I was reminded of a fundraising campaign they held a few years ago.  Every member and subscriber received a letter on how expensive it is to be a ballet dancer, and the item that stood out were the ballet shoes.  Ballet shoes usually last for only one act, so you can imagine how many shoes a ballet dancer wears out during his or her career.

It made me wonder how much it actually costs to have a career as an opera singer.  After contacting Will Liverman, Julia Lima and Cullen Gandy for some insight into what it takes monetarily to be an opera singer, I was surprised by the many hidden costs I had never considered.

The costs start to add up as soon as a singer graduates from college, Will explains.  "Starting off as a young singer is quite challenging if we are talking about finances.  As soon as you graduate from your school nothing is free anymore.  When you're a young singer in school everything is there for you.  Your lessons are free, vocal coachings are free, using practice rooms isn't a problem, acting coachings are free, and depending on how the school's curriculum works different grants can be given to go study a language overseas. These things are absolutely essential for singers, especially young singers.  When school is finished these voice lessons and coachings and perks that we get with our school are basically over."

Attending a well accredited music school is also very costly.  For example, Mannes College charges $17,970 per term; which means you take classes for twelve credits or more.  Lots of singers continue on with their education after receiving their Bachelor Degree.  Will just graduated from Juilliard with his Masters Degree and Ricardo Rivera has just finished his Professional Studies Diploma at Mannes College after finishing his Bachelor and Masters Degree there as well.

Estimated budget for a Juilliard student for the nine-month academic year 2011-12 - Courtesy of 

Of the utmost importance to singers are the voice lessons.  Singers will try to have a lesson once a week, and once out of school voice teachers will start charging them their full fee.  Voice lessons range in price from $150 to $300 depending on the individual teacher, so the cost adds up pretty fast.

Not only do singers need voice lessons, but they also need dictation, music and dramatic coaches who help prepare the music.  On average, these coaches run a little cheaper at $70 to $180 a class.  In order to prepare for a role, music scores need to be bought on a regular basis.  These scores can cost anywhere from $20 to $100.  It also costs money to use practice rooms at different facilities so singers can warm up.  This cost usually goes by the hour or the half hour.  As an example, Merkin Concert Hall charges $35 to $50 an hour for a rehearsal space, and up to $40 for a piano studio.

Julia uses a voice teacher once a week, at a cost of $100 to $120.  In addition to a voice coach, she also takes classes once a week with a music coach who charges about $100.  When preparing new material, she also takes three or four classes with a dictation coach, which costs anywhere between $50 and $100.

Each singer has a different routine, so every singer has different costs.  Julia used to take the Alexander Technique classes once a week (at $80), but now she only does it once in a while.  Because opera is very much a visual arts, it is also important to take some acting classes once or twice a month.  These classes can cost up to $130.  Because the voice is a singer's most important asset, they need to take care of it very well.  Voice doctors can cost up to $320, and when medicine is prescribed, that number can climb to $700.

An integral part of a young opera singer's life is the competitions.  Participating in a vocal competition adds a whole new level of costs, especially since these competitions are often held in different parts of the country.  "Flights can kill you when you need to fly to an audition/competition that's only happening in NYC if you don't live in NYC," Will says.  "A lot of singers will fly for literally one audition or competition, spend a night at a hotel (more $$) and fly back all within a few days. They come back in a few weeks and do the same thing again."

In addition to travel expenses, singers also need to pay an application fee to enter a competition.  This can run up to $50.  The application fee for the National Council Auditions is $30.  Every application requires a headshot, and getting those taken with a professional photographer can be an expensive venture running into the hundreds of dollars.  The head shots are part of a singer's image, which they also need to portray on stage.  Every singer needs a special wardrobe of performance wear.  It is important to look good on stage, and the price to look good can quickly add up, especially for the ladies.  Competitions often require the singers to perform in a certain attire: tuxedos for the men and evening wear for the women.

Deciding to participate in a competition can be difficult.  "Once you are out of school, the major inferred costs are application fees, any outside coaching and lessons," Cullen Gandy explains.  "You have to be the CEO of your own voice, which means that your time is also the most premium resource.  Always do a cost/benefit analysis on every offer and engagement."

As Will concludes: "Between the flights, lessons per week, coachings, and music/application fees etc, what it costs to be a singer can go well over $1000 within one month if you are consistent with keeping up with things. Let's not forget about rent and cost of living.  The funny/sad thing about all of these daily expenses is the fact that none of this guarantees you success.  Only preparation to try and get the job or to win that competition is what it gives you."

An average based on the info provided by the singers
As you can tell, being an opera singer is a costly endeavor, but you can help.  By donating to the National Council Auditions Eastern Region you are making sure that singers get a chance to audition and you provide them with valuable prize money that will help them further their careers.

If you would like to make a donation, please go to the MONC/ER website and read our blog post "Taking some mystery out of the National Council Auditions" for more information about the make up of MONC and what your donation can do for the organization and a singer's life.

If you are serious about opera and its future, donate now.