What to sing for auditions?

There is no “perfect song”. However, there are many, many excellent choices.

The purpose of an audition is to show the listeners the best of what you can do vocally, and that you can communicate. That’s it. Whether you are castable is in the minds of the panel.

Let’s talk about what your audition should NOT be:

  • Guessing what the listeners will ask for – Trying to avoid things you think they DON’T want to hear is a good idea, but don’t think that there is a single ideal selection that they DO want to hear. They want you to sing and act well. In opera, you may need to bring as many as four or five arias to an audition. Assume that you could be asked to sing any of them in any order, and practice doing that. It is TRADITIONAL for you to pick your first piece, but what if they’re running late, and they want to hear the aria that will really matter to them in casting their season? In musical theatre (MT), auditions are much shorter, but if you get to do two songs/cuts, mix them up in practice.
  • Changing your sound to try to please the jury – You need to pick something you can sing well, and do it to the best of your ability with YOUR voice. It needs to be as YOU as you can make it.
  • Confusing – If you have chosen something that you can relate to, and that you sing well, and that seems authentic, you will be less confusing than if you try to make yourself into something you can’t do well vocally or dramatically.
  • Unprepared – Only put things in your book that you are ready to sing that day. If they like you, they may stroll over to the piano and see what else you have. Be ready. It’s OK to only have two songs in your book!

How to pick, then?

First, read the audition notice carefully. Follow directions. Opera and MT auditions are very different in regards to the length of the audition, “typing,” and whether you should sing material from shows that they are casting. Traditionally, you do NOT sing material from upcoming MT shows. For some MT shows, especially those in popular music styles, you should not even sing something from a musical.

If you are going for a specific role, show them some singing that could work for the role – something “in the style of”. If they need a high-C tenor for their next season, you should show them that. If they are casting a belter, you should belt. But if you are a lion, don’t try to become a wolf for one audition unless you are really good at that. Know yourself. Sing for multiple knowledgeable coaches who will tell you what they see you doing.

All MT auditions are not for all singers. If you do decide to go to a casting call where you don’t quite fit a desired type, remember that you still need to pick material you can sing very well and authentically. That is the only chance for you to cause the panel to consider “someone different than we had in mind” for a role. The chances of winning them over are slim, but better if you perform a great audition than if you’re a legit soprano trying to belt for one audition. On the other hand, some casting calls (usually at lower levels) are vague, or they need to cast a show with many types. Here, especially, it is crucial that you do what you do well and don’t try to guess “what they want to hear.”

As with musicals, all opera auditions are not for all singers. If the auditions are for a C company that will never do Wagner, singing Wagner for an audition won’t usually get you many points. But if you are a dramatic soprano, don’t try to sing Adina and Rosina for your audition. Sing what you sing well, and if they have nothing for you, but love your singing, you might be kept in mind for other places and times. On the other hand, you might annoy them as soon as they realize that you’re not someone they can work with. Either way, the better impression is made when you sing things that you sing well and can communicate with.

Make sure that you sing your audition for multiple people aside from your voice teacher. This is crucial. You need to get feedback to guide you about what’s working and what isn’t. You will rarely get this from a real audition panel.

No perfect song exists! Pick what speaks to you, what you and your team feels is “working for you”, and prepare well!

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