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28 Days to Diva: Day 20 – Win a Competition (#28daystodiva)

February 20, 2013

Well, here’s an easy task huh? “Sure, Sybaritic Singer, I’ll get right on that….” But, really, this is one of the benchmarks toward diva world domination! True enough, Sherrill Milnes never won a “professional audition contest.” That does not mean that you should eschew the opportunity however. Applying to competitions ups your averages. Winning one? A huge step to getting your foot in the door. Competition wins is an easy go-to metric for success for many. That is not a comfortable thing to hear but you will abide until you convince the field to see it your way. Like the lottery tells us, “you gotta play to win!” Hop to, divas, and apply for a competition at your level today for the Day 20 challenge.

Soprano Michelle Johnson, grand prize winner of the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions

To be clear: competitions are a stepping stone to diva supremacy. Winning a competition can lead to one or more of these: better connections, monetary reward, gigs at special venues, agent auditions, or a specific role. Doing well in competition is a useful tool for moving to the next level. That being said, if you win a smaller, local competition you may not see the same speedy advancement. However, it is useful to start at that level if your competitiveness is a bit rusty. The other caveat here is that winning does not guarantee a career. It is what you do with the outcome of this stepping stone that does.

Opera and voice competitions are an art in themselves. You must be able to show something special – you have to express something that other singers do not have. This is the trick that serial competition winners have found. They know what makes them sparkle on stage in a competition. It is not always about singing the most difficult aria you can find in your fach. Winning a competition is about singing your pieces in an exceedingly special way.

I already wrote that your competition arias do not have to be the most difficult but they do need a modicum of flashiness. The arias with the most glitz often equal high, loud, and fast. The best advice I have come across in this area is to sing something that is fairly easy for your voice which also sounds ambitious.

Some suspicious aspects to watch out for:

  • Nepotism is one of the worst aspects of competitions and a reason why so many singers stop doing them. Although, people only hate it when it doesn’t help them…
  • Having the competition in a non-professional space like a house or apartment.
  • Judges without credentials. Make sure your application fee is worth it by singing in front of people who will be able to help your career.
  • Repertoire biases. If they ask for specific repertoire, stray at your own peril.
  • Finals date: TBD. What is the benefit of being able to move ahead in the competition only to find out they schedule the finals the same day as your sister’s wedding?

Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko

Now for some logistics about competitions:

  • Have a strategy for longer arias. If you sing Zerbinetta, you will want to be able to start from So war es mit Pagliazzo or Als ein Gott kamm jeder gegange and have the pages and starting places marked clearly for the pianist.
  • Be able to clearly give your tempo to the pianists – without snapping.
  • Know whether or not you are supposed to introduce yourself and be ready to clearly enunciate (and of course correctly pronounce) all of your titles and composers.
  • Shoot for late morning or early afternoon times. If you know that you have the first time-slot of the day, you better be ready to own it.

Do not forget for a moment that any one competition is a drop in the bucket of your larger career. Whatever feedback you receive, process it and use it to become a better singer. Adding more competitions into your schedule just means that you are upping your averages to be heard and noticed. Use the challenges so far in our 28 Days series to find out what special aspects of your voice you can show off in competition. Now, go get ‘em…

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