Auditions. Yuck! We all hate them. Some of us are good at them, others really struggle to show their best in that horrendously artificial environment. How good you are at auditions doesn't always reflect how good you are at the job of being a singer, because it doesn't have all that much in common with the process of rehearsing and performing an opera. Auditions don't afford you the opportunity to show if you're a good colleague, conscientious worker,a collaborative artist, quick to learn blocking or incorporate notes... You can show whether or not you can sing, and to an extent whether or not you can perform to a pretend audience. But you show one or two aspects of both of these - you give one reading of each piece you sing, despite the fact that 'on the job' you'll be experimenting with many different ones in collaboration with the MD, the director, cast members, designers, etc, and being married to your one reading can be very frustrating to everyone involved. You've heard the 'this is how I sing it' horror stories about legendary divas.
We all have to live with the fact that competition is fierce and we won't get all the jobs. But I for one prefer not to get a job for a solid reason. If I'm not on form in an audition, the rejection is easier to palate. If I feel I showed my best to the panel, then a rejection without feedback stings. If I get feedback that I can relate my audition experience to, then it's ok, I wasn't the right fit, and that's fine. But there are times when you get feedback that enrages you. 'He sang it very impressively, but it was a very conservative performance'.
I make a choice about who the character is, say in this case an aristocrat, so a poised presence, not extrovert, with subtle flashes of emotion corresponding to the words. He's so important he doesn't need to do much, he draws people in, he isn't demonstrative. He's upper class, this is not a semaphore character. The audition room isn't vast, the venue the company will be performing in is fairly intimate as well, everyone will be able to see the subtleties. I also don't want to look like an overacting prat. So that's my choice, and I took it too far for that panel on that day. Damn.
And all I can think reading that feedback is: I wish they'd stopped me and asked for more. Or had me sing it again with some notes from them. Given me a shot at doing it their way. Checked to see if I respond to feedback on the fly. Instead they hear a second aria. Should I have made a polar opposite choice and overacted that one so they would think I can also do the middle ground and all the shades in between?
I have had auditions in which the panel was more involved. I once did an audition for Jonathan Miller, where he stopped me after verse one of 'Bella siccome un'angelo' and said to pretend he was Don Pasquale. He came out from behind the desk and reacted to every line I sang. When I got to the final round of the Opera North chorus auditions it took all day and consisted of a one-to-one coaching with a member of their music staff, a lovely informal interview with their chorus manager and head of casting, and then an audition run by a director who had me stage 3 different approaches to my aria.
Those and similar experiences are the auditions I remember fondly, regardless of whether I get the job or not, because I feel that the panel have actually met me and had a proper taste of what I'm about. It feels fair. Walking into a strange room, singing to the dead eyes of disinterested or politely-indulgent people behind a desk, getting a 'thank you' and walking out with no idea of whether what just happened lined up with what they were looking for from the pieces I sang... Not so much.
I wish panels took more of a hands on approach. I feel they may be missing out, not only on my vast talents and superlative modesty*, but on lots of my favourite colleagues who confess to struggling in auditions, but whom I personally often rate a cut above some of the people who get the jobs, because they bring all the extra stuff to the table in the rehearsal room and on stage. And their standard of singing is just as high as that of the lucky job-getters, as are their instruments. Auditions are not the best way of casting anything, unless they're linked with previous experience of working with the singers in question and seeing them perform in real-world circumstances. But that means new faces are at a disadvantage, so to give them a chance I really think devoting 3-4 minutes of a 10min audition slot to doing a bit of a workshop on their aria would give employers a better idea of what kind of singer they're dealing with. But hey, that's just one man's opinion...