A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The NYIOPs (and why you should always check what’s actually included in the price)

If you haven’t done any yet, let me be the first to warn you - auditions abroad are expensive. Cheap flights are all well and good, but auditions tend to come up at short notice, so you’re unlikely to get the best rates, plus the flight cost is the least of your problems. There’s getting to/from the airports for a start, and once you’ve auditioned straight off a red-eye Ryanair flight, you may well agree with me and say ‘never again’. For the sake of not having to perform on little sleep and having travelled for many hours, you’ll decide to arrive the night before whenever possible, adding a hotel stay to your bill. For a continental audition, travelling from the UK, you’re probably looking at £200 a pop, or so.

Mind you, it could be worse. You could be American ;) The prospect of an ‘audition tour’ of Europe has been a standard practice of US singers wanting to try their luck in a different job market. This is where one man had a business idea and started the NYIOP auditions. Das konzept was simple - reverse the regular practice of singers travelling to casting agents. Get the agents to come to where the singers are based in order to hear them. Initially the project started in New York, hence the name, but after some teething problems and with a rather divisive reputation, over the years it has expanded and holds auditions all over the world. I recently attended one such session, hence me writing about it. I’ll try to stick to the facts, but inevitably some impressions may creep in... I’m only human, after all.

In theory it all looks reasonable. The cost of the London session I attended was around £230 (you have to pay in US $) and NYIOP posted a list of 9 opera houses who were sending their representatives, most of them from continental Europe, one from the US, none of the local UK houses. £230 is a lot cheaper than 9x£200, so it sounds like a bargain... well, it sounds reasonable. It’s still a lot of money for a 10min slot, and over 3 days there would be a lot of singers paying more than enough to put up those 9 representatives, plus the NYIOP staff. But I guess there’s venue hire, a pianist, etc, and it is a business after all. Fine, let’s call it reasonable for the opportunity it offers. There are also a few artist management agencies coming, which is great, if you’re into that sort of thing ;)

Did I say pianist? Sorry, no. A week before the audition we get a very comprehensive email describing the procedure, what we need to bring, etc. This includes an instruction to bring £25 in cash for the pianist, even if you don’t plan on using the player provided. Hmmm... 10 minute slots (that’s £150/h for 3 full days of work)... no rehearsal time... ok... it’s not like we have a choice now, is it? I’ve saved that email in lieu of a receipt/invoice, as none was given, by the way.

The day itself ran very smoothly, the steward was very courteous and calming, the pianist played very well, there was a warm-up room, and the rather large panel all seemed to be there. Well, the numbers seemed to add up. Great, singing done, go home, wait for an email with the contact list of the casting representatives who came.

Ok, it’s not a contact list. It’s a list of names (about half of them with spelling mistakes) but no email addresses, just the name of the company they were representing. ‘Representing’ is a very flexible word, isn’t it? Suspicions arise when you see the 6 German houses are represented by 3 people, 2 each. These people aren’t all that easy/possible to find on the websites of said houses, either. A friend telling me that their German agent doesn’t rate any of them as people with the power to employ anyone conjures up the word ‘consultant’ in my mind. Well, if they can’t get you a job (I’ll come back to this working theory in a moment, because there is some evidence to the contrary), maybe they can get you an audition... but surely that’s achievable without this whole palaver? In any case, when I see 6 opera houses on a list, naive wide-eyed youth that I am, for some reason I imagine 6 people turning up, potentially with their assistants. No? Fine, that was never guaranteed in the small print (actually, nothing was guaranteed). 

What about the other 3 houses? Well, one disappeared from the list. The list being accurate was never guaranteed either. One was there and was definitely the head casting honcho (full marks!). One came and left after lunch on the first day... of three... and that was the American one. Despite the NYIOP website FAQ specifically stating that representatives are expected to stay for the entire 3-day session, as part of their deal with the organiser (who pays for their flights, accommodation, etc). It’s in the FAQ, it’s not in the small print of the ‘contract’ you get when you pay your fee. 

So that’s 4 casting people (including consultants), or 5 if you sang on the first half-day, no email addresses, plus the agents who came (not all the ones advertised turned up though), again with no emails. Go go gadget search engine! I’ve stalked enough people online to only waste an hour or so to get email addresses for everyone. They aren’t that well hidden, so why not save us poor singers (or our agents) some grief? Or at least spell the people’s names correctly, rather than make poor Google’s life harder than necessary... 

Can you tell I wasn’t all that impressed? It’s not that I disapprove of the concept, quite the contrary - it’s sound! It’s a great idea and I’m happy for someone to make money out of facilitating these kinds of auditions. It can’t be easy convincing opera companies to send their representatives, ensure they stay for the whole thing, and to coordinate it all. All power to David Blackburn for putting these things on at all! And there are testimonials from people who have gotten jobs out of these things, including proper fest contracts. I’m not sure if that involved follow-up auditions or not, as I haven’t met these people... but we do have mutual friends ;) and I’m looking forward to anyone with experiences of success stemming from NYIOPs sharing their stories in the comments section. For my part, though it’s early days, there has been some feedback about my audition, which is always a gift.

But getting the names of the panel members wrong in the ‘contact sheet’ seems a bit sloppy. Not including the pianist’s remuneration in the original fee seems a bit cheeky. 3 gentlemen representing 6 opera houses between them seems like it could have been made clear earlier (I would have liked the chance to find out if that’s just how it’s done in Germany... hint - it is, but not quite). Panel members leaving or just not turning up seems like it shouldn’t be a thing.

All in all, I applaud the idea, but sigh in exasperation at the execution. As a paying customer, I expected more. Not a job, that’s down to my singing! But I didn’t feel like I got what I thought I was paying for. I personally think the organisers need to either tone down the blurb, or deliver on it better.

I reserve the right to edit this post as and when I hear back from people whose experience of the NYIOPs is different.