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Wolf Trap Opera Company
Kim Pensinger
The Future of Opera
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The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Smanie implacabili

Must the winter come so soon
Svegliatevi nel core
Va! laisse couler mes larmes

Voi che sapete
Wie du warst

Cruda sorte
Que fais-tu

Sein wir wieder gut
Una voce poco fa (mezzo)

Things change Jo

Parto parto

Give him this orchid

Adieu forêts
Nobles Seigneurs salut
Non piu mesta
O mio Fernando
Pres des remparts (Seguidilla)
Vois sous l'archet (Violin aria)

All'afflitto è dolce il pianto
Je vous ecris (Letter scene)
Pauline's aria (Podrugi milïye)
Thy hand Belinda / When I am laid in earth

As I was saying (Baba the Turk)
Chacun à son goût (Ich lade gern)
Connais-tu le pays
Deh per questo istante
Dopo notte
Enfin je suis ici
Faites-lui mes aveux
I shall find for you (Lullaby)
Iris hence away
L'amour est un ouiseau rebelle (Habanera)
Me voici dans son boudour
Priva son d'ogni conforto

A Prayer (The Mighty Casey)
Ah! mon fils (Le Prophete)
Batti, batti
Beppe's Aria ( L'amico Fritz)
Cara speme, questo core
Che farò
Contro un cor
Dal crudel che m'ha tradita (Tamerlano)
Di tanti palpiti
En vain pour éviter
I am an actress (Nina's aria)
I am easily assimilated
Je vais mourir
Lyubasha's Aria (Tsar's Bride)
Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
My father left me here (Therese Raquin)
New York has Changed Me (An American Tragedy)
Nimmermehr wird mein Herze...
Non . . . vous n'avais jamais (Les Huguenots)
O! la pitoyable aventure
Or la tromba
Perfido, di a quell'empio tiranno
Povero amico
Romance from La Damnation de Faust
Sgombra è la sacra selva / Deh! Proteggimi
Sta nell'Ircana
There is a garden
Vedro con mio diletto
What a movie
Where shall I fly
8 years ago |
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The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Dies Bildnis

Here I stand
Una furtiva lagrima

Ah lève-toi soleil

Ah mes amis

Ah la paterna mano
Dein is mein ganzes Herz
Il mio tesoro

Addio fiorito asil
Ecco ridente
Fra poco a me ricoverò
Frisch zum Kampfe
Ich baue ganz
It's about the way people is made (Sam's aria)
La fleur (Flower song)
New York Lights
O wie ängstlich
Outside this house
Pourquoi me reveiller
Tarquinius does not wait
Total Eclipse

Che gelida manina
Dal labbro il canto
De Miei Bollenti Spiriti
Fantaisie aux divins mensonges
Firenze è come un albero
Kuda kuda (Lenski)
Lonely House
O Colombina
Parmi veder le lagrime
Quanto è bella
Questa o quella
Salut! demeure chaste e pure
Sì ritrovarla
Un aura amorosa

Ach so fromm
Ah fuyez
Ah! Je vais l'aimer - Béatrice et Bénédict - Berlioz
Albert the Good
Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden
Amor ti vieta
Aria of the worm
Barbaro fato
Be not afeard
Care pupille
Ch'ella mi creda
Ciel e terra
Deserto in terra
Di rigori armato il seno
Divinite des grands Aames
D'ogni pieta mi spoglio
E un folle un vile affetto
Heaven helps those
I know that you all hate me
Im Gegenteil (Tanzmeister)
In that country (Adventure of Pinocchio)
Je crois entendre
Jour et nuit
Languir per una bella
Magische Tone
Mein lieber Schwan
O blonde Ceres
O Go! Go! Go Away!
O nature pleine de grâce
O paradis (L'Africaine)
O Souveraign
Oh jours heureux
Once when I was a young man
Open Thou my lips, O Lord
Peter Grimes’ mad scene
Povero Ernesto
Prologue - Turn of the Screw
Se all'impero
Se fosse in torno al trono
Tradito schernito
Tu vivi e punito
Un momento di contento
Va pour Kleinzach!
Vainement ma bien aimée
Vedrommi intorno
Wie eine Rosenknospe
8 years ago |
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The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Hai gia vinta la causa

Ah per sempre
Mein Sehnen (Pierrot's Tanzlied - Die Tote Stadt)

O du mein holder Abendstern

Avant de quitter ces lieux

Bella siccome un angelo
Come Paride vezzose
Lieben Hassen

Largo al factotum
E fra quest'ansie (Silvio)
Votre toast (Toreador)

O vin dissipe la tristesse
Within this frail crucible
Billy in the Darbies

Papageno's suicide aria
Questo amor
Sois immobile

Donne mie
Ein Mädchen
Onegin's aria
Onegin's Act III Arioso
Vision fugitive

And farewell to ye
Aprite un po quegl' occhi
Come un' ape
Se vuol ballare
Vien Leonora
Warm as the autumn light
When the air sings of summer

A quoi bon l'economie
Deh vieni all finestra
Deh, ti ferma
Der Vogelfänger
Di Provanza il mar
Do you know the land?
Du côte de la barbe (Cendrillon)
É sogno?
Fin ch'han dal vino
Friedrich's Aria (Das Liebesverbot)
George’s Aria
I'll be there (Grapes of Wrath)
Io morro ma lieto in core
Madamina, il catalogo è questo
My Friends (Sweeney Todd)
News has a kind of mystery (Nixon In China)
Nothin', that's how you people see me
Nulla, silencio
Nur Mutig, mein Herze
O Nadir
O Rosalinde
Per me giunto...
Prince Igor (Ni sna ni)
Scintille, Diamant
Snooks' Aria (A Wedding)
Ves tabar spit (Aleko's Cavatina)
Voilà donc la terrible cité
Yeletsky's aria (Ya vas lyublu)
Zazà piccola zingara
8 years ago |
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The following list was compiled from the arias listed on audition applications of singers who were heard during this fall's WTOC audition tour. The number in bold refers to the number of singers in this voice type who listed each aria. (This does not refer to the arias actually heard in auditions; that list will follow in December.)

Se vuol ballare

Vous qui faites l'endormie

Come dal ciel
La calunnia
Madamina (Catalogue aria)
O Isis und Osiris

Hear me O Lord
Il lacerato spirito
Vi ravviso

Come master
Épouse quelque brave fille
Gremin's aria
Quand la flamme
Vecchia zimarra
When my cue comes call me
Aprite un po'

I miei rampolli femminini
I rage / O ruddier than the cherry
I'm a lonely man Susannah
In diesen heil'gen Hallen

Aleko's aria (Ves' tabor spit)
Arise ye subterranean winds
Deh ti ferma
Ella giammai m'amò
Schweig'! Schweig'!

Abenlich stralht der Sonne Auge
Als Büblein klein
Di cupido
Ho capito
Le Tambour-Major
Le veau d'or
Leave me loathsome light
Mein Herr und Gott
Nel mondo e nell'abisso
Non più andrai
Oh Beauty, oh handsomeness, goodness
Ombre di mia prosapia
Piff paff
Rucker's Sermon
Scintille diamant
Vieni, la mia vendetta
Voici des roses
Voli colla sua tromba
Wahn!, Wahn ueberall Wahn
Wie schon ist doch die Musik
8 years ago |
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The Saturday morning sunrise from my New York hotel room was some consolation for having to be up at 6am to catch the train to Philadelphia.

My personal tally at the end of this, National Opera Week 2009:
  • 4 operas (Lohengrin, Esther, Stradella, & The House of the Dead)
  • 188 auditions
  • 393 arias
  • 17 monologues
  • 9 interviews
  • 7.5 hours of research
Still working on the Aria Frequency List for this tour; look for it by midweek.

Philadelphia today, and Vienna VA for the next 3 days. Much sleep is needed, but the finish line is in sight!
8 years ago |
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A lunch hour post, for I'm feeling a bit guilty at my blogging track record this time around. Seems that I can either do things or write about them, but not both...

We implemented a callback audition procedure a couple of years ago, and it has served us well. We only have one trip around the country to sort out all of our casting, for we have no other system that allows us to do preliminaries and finals. We can't stay out on the road any longer than we do, and I don't believe it would be fair to ask people in whom we are interested to pay for a special trip to Wolf Trap. That means that we have to think fast and answer a lot of questions in a short audition.

Until a few years ago, we did it all within the standard 10-minute appointment, but now we have the option to ask singers to come back at the end of the day (or midday, if there's a cancellation) to sing again. Not only does it give us a chance to discuss amongst ourselves and then hear some new material, it also gives all of us a chance to push the reset button and see each other anew. (Sounds dopey, but perspective changes, and a second, slightly removed, hearing is often illuminating.)

Anyway, the mechanics involve recording a hotline voice mail message with the names and appointment times for the singers who, based on their initial audition, we are considering seriously for this year's roster. The flip side of that is that if your name is not on the recording, that means your resume didn't make it into the "finalist" pile for this year.

I'm enough of a sad sack bleeding heart that it nearly kills me to record the damn voice mail. Twice a day. (No sympathy requested; if I haven't figured this out by now, it's my own fault.)

If you're not on the callback list, it doesn't mean that you sang a bad audition, or that there is necessarily anything dramatically wrong. There are almost as many reasons for not getting on the finalist list as there are singers. Completely individual. It just means that on this particular day at this particular time we don't find you among the 8-10 most compelling singers in your Fach. (It's disturbing math, but there it is. We hire an average of 16 Filene Young Artists, and usually pull those from about 50 finalists. Those 50 came from the initial 1,000. This is not to make you despair, just to give some perspective. There are plenty other YAPs and companies out there.)

We were talking this morning about how astonishingly revealing it is to hear this many auditions every year. My colleagues who do this regularly understand the phenomenon, but it's so hard to explain it to others who don't have the benefit of this long view.

It's not that I have any supernatural ability to make sense of what we hear in auditions - it's just that the sheer quantity itself tells a compelling story. It's a messy story, to be sure, but its details are clear. You quickly begin to understand what's unimportant and what's critical. For Wolf Trap alone, I've heard an average of 350-400 singers each season for the last 17 years (more over the last few years because of our Studio), so I've clocked somewhere between 6,000-7,000 auditions. Easily 15,000+ arias. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make deductions from that kind of volume.

I do want to stress that although I throw around numbers to make this sound scientific, it is decidedly not. It's quite subjective, in fact. There are commonalities in good singing, of course, but once the basic parameters are met, preferences are unavoidably individual. We do our best to try to be as objective as we can, but there's a place where art and science diverge. And many of our decisions have to be made beyond that point.

Although the WTOC is terribly proud of its record in participating in the developing careers of several generations of fabulous singers, there are terrific artists who we passed over during our auditions. If you didn't get called back, perhaps you'll be another one of those.

So there you have it - back to some more singing this afternoon. I will try to compile this year's Aria Frequency List tonight and get it on the blog shortly. And I hope to be back by week's end with a summary of how I spent National Opera Week :)
8 years ago |
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This part of the tour is always too much of a whirlwind. Too many good singers, and too few hours in the day. It was a quick 8-hour turnaround from Wednesday night's arrival in Cincinnati to our morning departure from the hotel. And Thursday was dense, with only a half-hour for lunch, and a dash to the airport at the end of the day.

So, befitting our scattered state of mind, some random observations:

Chicken and Egg

I have a slight resistance to a certain Britten opera that shall remain nameless. (Normally I adore Britten, but I have a specific block about this one.) Anyway, an aria from said opera was offered the other day, and since I knew the singer very well, I allowed myself the atypical luxury of a groan. The end of the story? He sang the spots off the scene, and I was won over. I've thought a lot about it, and I have a theory.

So often this opera is sung by young singers whose technique and artistry are still developing, and as a result, I've gotten used to hearing it sung without a lot of legato, expressive flexibility, or finely tuned pitch center. And I've begun to equate those student performances with the piece itself. Sung with detail, accuracy and sensitivity, it took on a whole new aura.

The Delight is in the Details

Our Studio Artist candidates offer a brief contemporary monologue as part of their audition package. Some of them dread being asked for it, as their training and confidence as actors tends to lag behind their musical development. But I'm here to tell you that even though many of them aren't thrilled to perform their monologues, we find a lot more detail in those brief scenes than we do in the arias they've been working on for months or years.

The take-away here? Please please find as much detail, interest, and context in your singing as possible. A single generic emotion spread out over 5 minutes of music does not cut it, even if that emotion is extraordinarily strong and heartfelt.

It's Not About You

Don't sing for yourself.

Or to yourself.

It's not about you. It's about the audience, the music, and the characters that connect the two. I know that you feel it deeply, otherwise you probably wouldn't still be at this crazy game. But you have to get out of your head (and your heart) if you want us to come along with you. Don't be indulgent and selfish

I don't know if this makes sense, but this distinction is a big one.

LA: Epilogue

I said I'd post on Sunday after the MONC competition finals, and I failed. It was a marvelous weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to make a small contribution to the marvelous talent discovery machine that is the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. But the process of adjudicating those auditions is necessarily very different than what we do in our casting for Wolf Trap, and I'm happy to be back in my comfort zone.

While I was in LA, I heard the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel in Verdi's Requiem, and it was an unforgettable experience. All forces were on the top of their game - newly engaged by, it seemed - this piece of standard repertoire. There's a lot of buzz around this new music director, and (is not always the case) it's so lovely to discover something behind it. And on top of that, I adored being in Disney Hall. Too many times one tolerates the physical space in order to hear a performance - in this case, it was completely comfortable and aesthetically pleasing to be there. What a refreshing change.
8 years ago |
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We've settled into a new audition space in Chicago for 2 days. The management at Classical Symphony Hall is taking very good care of us, and we appreciate being able to listen to voices in a space that doesn't fight against us. The acoustic isn't luxuriously live, but the ceilings are high, and the sound is true. The singers don't seem to mind it, and it's easy to listen.

The only problem is that there's absolutely no food or drink (except water) allowed in the space. And listening to 40 auditions a day (as we did today) without access to coffee is a bit of a stretch. Yes, I'm chemically dependent on caffeine. But the best part was that when I posted the coffee-free-audition-room as my Facebook status update, I received a flurry of comments, the volume of which is normally reserved for announcements of the birth of children and landmark birthdays: 35 comments so far, including:
  • That just isn't right.
  • A crime against God and nature.
  • NOOO!
  • Gasp!
  • Maybe you can beam it in and use a Tarnhelm.
  • No coffee? Is that legal? NOT right!
  • Oh, wow. Just imagine me trying to deal with this. I am getting worked up just thinking about it
  • NO COFFEE?!?! how is that legal?!
  • OMG somebody break in there and help that woman!
  • Clearly, I'm not the only one with an addiction.

Close Your Eyes, Change Your Brain

Now might be a good time to mention why I close my eyes. I'm not sleeping. (Go ahead, link through; it's a short article.)

Although I'm not a highly visual person, I seem to identify so closely with singers while I'm watching them that I have a hard time turning off my inner cheerleader/coach. ("Come on now... Breathe... Stick with the phrase... You can do it...") I've found that if I close my eyes, I can absorb what I hear far more clearly and thoroughly.

Of course, it's a technique to use sparingly, for part of the singer's allure is visual, and I certainly want to experience the visual nuances of the performance. But true to the research, the amygdala (of which I've nerdily written once before) is an amazingly strong barometer of emotional impact of an experience. My left brain is so busy shuffling resumes, looking at rep lists, and documenting the audition that I need a quick way to hook back into the non-clinical aspects of the moment. And closing my eyes is just the ticket.
8 years ago |
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I'm on a mid-audition-tour busman's holiday this weekend, judging the Metropolitan Opera National Council Western Region auditions in Los Angeles on the beautiful campus of USC. A high level of singing, enjoyable colleagues, and marvelously friendly and efficient MONC staff and volunteers make it a pleasure.

Today we were in the Newman Recital Hall of the Thornton School of Music for preliminaries, and tomorrow the finals take place in Bovard Auditorium. I'm taking advantage of a night off tonight to catch the LA Phil in Verdi's Requiem. More tomorrow.
8 years ago |
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We kicked off the fall audition tour with a strong start in Los Angeles, and as I was emptying my portable office of its seemingly endless gear, I was reminded of this NY Times article from last summer. I bookmarked it with a reminder to revisit this topic during the audition tour, and this seems like a good time. Clearly, sending casting updates and audition comments via Twitter crosses a line. But the location of that line is much harder to see when you're near it.

Full disclosure: this is how technology helps us in the audition room.


Yes, we use laptops. And no, we are not trying to be rude or ignore you. I've seen plenty of audition panels eat their lunches, do crossword puzzles, manicure their nails, and doze. Being rude does not require a computer, and typing on a laptop does not constitute an affront. Fact is, I can touch-type 10 times faster than I can write, and I can do it while I watch you perform.


I've kept the same auditions database for 16 years. The layouts are set up so that while we're listening to a singer, any previous years' audition comments are off the active screen. You can scroll to see them, but don't have to be influenced by them. And at the end of the day we can put all of our comments side-by-side so that we can see patterns.

Reference Media

We make video and audio recordings of each audition. They are saved onto hard drives. When we have our group of finalist candidates for the season, we review this media. It's always illuminating, and not in predictable ways.

Going back to the performances helps jog our memories of those auditions, and it gives us a chance to re-experience them (or a digital vestige of them) on a different day at a different time in different circumstances. They fill out the picture and help begin our deliberations. After casting is finished, the files are deleted. They've served their purpose, and the aggregate size is too large to archive anyway.


Yes, we travel with a printer. We print revised schedules for the day, keep track of possible repertoire as it emerges, and - most importantly - print boarding passes so we can sprint to the plane at the end of the day :)

Instant Messaging

And here is where I'm sure I'll get into trouble with someone. We use IM to decide on which aria to ask for next. It is way more efficient and thorough than hushed 3-way conversations while the singer is waiting at the other end of the hall. We can think through possible 2nd aria requests quickly and make sure we're choosing wisely.

I know that some of you think we're carrying on casual and unrelated IM correspondence during your audition. Although that might be tempting for the first few minutes or hours using this technology, in reality, it's far more boring than that. There's a lot to be done in documenting your audition - listening fiercely, writing comments that will help us make finalist and casting decisions, jotting down notes that may be helpful to singers when they request feedback, figuring out what the best 2nd choice will be - and there's really no time to chit-chat.

Social Networking

No, we're not going to tweet our audition comments. I think everyone realized that that was just plain stupid. But I am about to blog my 6th audition tour, and that's always a little scary. I started this blog because I believed that singers and fans alike deserved to know more about what really goes on behind the curtain and behind the audition table. Yet it's extremely difficult to do that without invading privacy. I hope that I have managed so far, and I will continue to do so. There are some things that are simply private. There are others that deserve to be openly acknowledged and discussed. Then there's a third list that includes important knowledge for aspiring singers but needs to be obfuscated in some way when the story is told.

The opera world and the arts in general have gotten way more transparent since I started writing in the fall of 2004, and that's a wonderful thing. Hurtful gossip and twisted storytelling will always spread like wildfire, and it's only fair that we now have news ways of counteracting that by keeping the real and important conversations open.
8 years ago |
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