Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I had a great feeling about this one. Rolling into town on a sunny day, confident that I was ready to sing my beloved Gilda in a house of this caliber, having prepared my other arias to perfection, and wearing a brand new and very flattering dress, I walked into the theater and said, “Hello. I’m Christine Graham, and I’m here for the audition.”
The first person I encountered after checking in was a soprano I had met over two years previously at another audition. We sat together in the canteen waiting for the warm-up room to become available, comparing notes about the day we’d met.
“I was sure they were going to hire you,” I said.
“That’s what I thought, too,” she answered, and went on to tell me her side of the story.
Just as I was recounting my story about their asking me how tall I was (seriously - no other questions, just ‘How tall are you, Frau Graham?’), another soprano walked in. I’d met this woman a few weeks ago when we were both auditioning for Mozart’s Queen of the Night.
After about a half an hour, we were all informed (there were 17 of us, mostly sopranos, but also a couple tenors and maybe one baritone) that there were only three rooms available to warm up in, and in another half an hour, the accompanists would be there to work with us. Five sopranos, including myself, ended up claiming a corner of the somewhat large orchestra rehearsal room and began vocalizing. Others sought out bathrooms and empty hallways, and nobody was very happy about it.
Hearing the sounds around me, I became hopeful that I would indeed be a contender for this job. Not only was my voice in very good shape, but I’d already performed one of the roles being offered, and I had a complete and thorough audition program (and did I mention a brand new, very flattering dress?). My rehearsal with the accompanist went very well. The gleam in his eye as I sang my ornaments flawlessly in the Händel aria showed me that I had his respect as a fellow musician.
I guess that’s why I felt that I deserved to be shown a little more courtesy and a little more effort on the side of the theater during the audition itself. Instead, they sat there in their plush theater seats and made 17 people feel like shit. And they did this with one single word at the end of each audition: “Danke.”
It took all of my professionalism not to say, “Excuse me? Are you serious?? I just spent a whole lot of money to get my ass way over here, spend the night in a hotel so that I would be well-rested instead of making the trip all in one day, not to mention the cost of the voice lessons and coachings to prepare my repertoire. I look fabulous - not too fancy, not too casual - and I sang an almost perfect audition: clear coloraturas, exquisite phrasing and dynamics, engaged presentation.... And you don’t even want to hear a second aria, much less ask me who the hell I am?”
But I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride and said, “Vielen Dank. Auf Wiedersehen!”
In the hallway adjacent to the stage where we were all sort of just hanging out (because there hadn’t been any other room specified where we could maybe - oh, I don’t know - sit down?!?!), another American soprano and I decided we would grab a drink after this whole thing was over. The girl from the “how-tall-are-you” audition gladly joined us, and we ventured across the street to the bar at the Hotel an der Oper.
There we exchanged more stories about the audition process, including one about a theater manager who had said, “I’m sorry, but we didn’t like that at all. That was bad” (I knew immediately who she was talking about - I knew him well). That made “How tall are you?” sound like a compliment, but at least it was more than just “Danke.” Our conversations turned to other non-operatic topics, and we formed a camaraderie seldom seen between coloratura sopranos.
After two rounds of Prosecco, we made our way to the station, where we all had to catch a train to Leipzig. While I was buying my ticket, my two new friends both got the grand idea of providing us with yet another round of fizzy beverages. We boarded the train, only to bump into my Queen of the Night counterpart. Although she gracefully declined a drink, she had a number of tales to tell herself - like the time she had traveled all the way to Flensburg (Germany’s northernmost city) only to be told she had too much experience for the job. Couldn’t they have gleaned that from her résumé before inviting her to make the grueling trip?
We all switched trains at Leipzig (see previous entry: Have Voice, Will Travel), but much to my delight, my two partners in Prosecco would be joining me on the last leg of my trip to Berlin (a slight detour on the way home - warum nicht?). We found a free table in the dining car and happened upon yet another auditionee who joined our happy little club. She also abstained from drinking the Deutsche Bahn Grauburgunder, but she had her share of experience to impart. That day, she was wise enough to record her audition - thereby not subjecting herself entirely to the critique of the adjudicators (which was also just “Danke”), but rather assessing her own performance. Very smart. Very smart, indeed.
As many had done on that day, she sang the same Händel aria as I did, and wasn’t asked for a second piece. When she was done, she went to the restroom where she encountered a fellow soprano in tears, obviously distressed by her own audition. She consoled her competitor, and even made her laugh. On the train she told us, “Maybe that’s why I was sent here today - not to audition for these roles, but to make that other girl smile. If that’s the case, then I know I was successful.”
Eventually, the train reached the metropolis of Berlin, making several stops within the city limits. Each one of us - the newly-formed soprano support group Operatics Anonymous - disembarked at a different station. After four or five Proseccos and one fine wine, as the first one of us left the train, we weren’t embarrassed to break out into song - “Don’t leave me this way” - even if we didn’t exactly know the words (the harmonies, however, were impeccable. And high).
At the end of the journey - almost 4000 collective kilometers between the five of us - I had almost forgotten that I’d had an audition at all that day. A shame, in a way, since it was one of the best I’ve ever sung.
Tune in next time
(and there will be a next time)
to the Grahamophone!