Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Pack For Auditions: Be Comfortable, Look Fabulous

By Stacy Dove
Audition season is upon us! For some, that means packing your things into a small suitcase for two or three weeks at a time. If you’re anything like me, packing light isn’t your forte. As I write this, I’m packing a suitcase to head to a gig for three weeks, so we’re totally in this together. Since I’ve been doing all of the research for you, I may have a bit of insight to add. We can get through this, fit everything you need into a carryon, and still be fabulous.
Step 1: Planning
Your wardrobe has just taken a turn toward warmer attire and darker colors. Take a look at your closet and notice the trends. Do you have a predominant color? Of course you do! Now pick a color scheme for your travels. It will make EVERYTHING easier. This season, there is an abundance of green in my wardrobe, so I’m just going to stick with it. Pair that with basics: black, white, cream, gray, and beige. Everything can mix and match and add up to more possibilities.
Step 2: Pieces
As a self-confessed over-packer, I tend to want to take everything in my wardrobe. I start with the best intentions, and then things kind of snowball from there. What if I have an unexpected event because the other event attire I packed would totally be unreasonable, right? What if the weather changes? What if I need another pair of shoes because, duh, we always NEED another pair of shoes?
What are you doing on your voyage? This will dictate much of what you need on your list. Whether you’ll be sight-seeing or spending days in rehearsals, let that tell you how to prioritize your wardrobe. Then get to planning. Here’s what you’ll need:
  • Three to five bottoms: Jeans, dress pants, skirts. These will be the staples of your wardrobe. Choose things you can wear more than once before washing...come on, ladies, you know we all do that.
  • Five to seven shirts: Think good quality, pieces that don’t wrinkle easily, and things you can layer in basic colors with one or two accent colors.
  • Two warm layers: cardigans or blazers – whichever you prefer, and preferably things you can mix and match.
  • One outfit for a special event: This will most likely be your audition attire. I know what you’re thinking,  but you really don’t NEED something else. Your brain just wants you to think that you do.
  • Three or four pairs of shoes, including:
1. Something flat. This time of year if you’re heading north, it’s probably a boot of some kind.
2. Something comfortable that you can wear to walk for miles, especially if you’re traveling to a walking city like New York.
3. A classic heel in a neutral color like nude or black, or even red if your wardrobe allows. This is a shoe that can either dress up your basic jeans and t-shirt or compliment a black pencil skirt for an event or interview.
4. Something fun! This is your wildcard. Take something that you love that will make you smile, something you can pull out on a cloudy day and rock walking down the street.
  • Accessories: these can help pull your outfits together and help you create a completely new outfit. One belt, a few scarves, several bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, and you’re set!
  • Undergarments: Try to choose things that go with your color scheme as well as something that makes you feel like a total rockstar. Don't forget your basic undergarments. You know what you need!

I promise all of these things will fit into a carry on. Of course there are toiletries, technology items, and music that you’ll need to bring with you. Add these to your list and make sure you stick closely to it. If you do, you’re sure to rock this audition tour!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Artist Features: Arianna Zukerman, a survivor's story

A wife, a mother, a singer, a cancer survivor. She fought the cancer with two children under 5 years old, trying to maintain a career and a positive outlook. She won.Watch to learn about Ms. Zukerman's amazing story.

Credits (in order of appearance)

Stephen Azzato Peter Bussian Tim Coburn Madeleine Gray Bharat Chandra Connor Studios Cheryl Mazak Vale Rideout 
Videos: UCTV (University of California at Davis, Rossini Stabat Mater, Jeffrey Thomas conductor) WFMT Radio, Chicago, IL 
Recording: Messiah with the American Bach Soloists, Jeffrey Thomas, conductor, Delos

Video Design by: Bryan Dahl

Thursday, October 22, 2015


By Lily Guerrero

Deborah Voigt is the embodiment of a Sexi Soprano. She lives fearlessly, sings beautifully, and loves openly. Not only did many find her book, Call Me Debbie, a refreshing insight on this remarkable woman’s journey, but it made you want to be her friend in real life. Well, you know what friends share besides secrets? Clothes! This week, I show you how to copy Debbie’s easy breezy style.


Step 1: A Comfy Poncho
I love a color block on the top half of an outfit. Debbie’s poncho is a great layering piece for fall and it can come in handy during rehearsals when the stage gets cold. Here are some options:

Step 2: A Patterened Skirt
A solid top leaves room to play for the bottom portion of your outfit. I like that Debbie matches her skirt to both top layers and keeps the skirt length at a classy height. Here’s where to find yours:

Step 3: A Statement Tote
Not everyone can afford a Louis Vuitton, but it does pay to invest in a large, neutral colored purse for fall. It travels well and is the perfect carry-on size. It fits your music binder, water bottle, and cosmetics bag. Plus, it looks good with every outfit! Here are some bags worthy of carrying your precious cargo:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New Prima Donna Role: Susan Smith

By Manda Leigh Blunt

The opera landscape has always been brimming with challenging female characters. Timeless characters such as Carmen, Juliette, and Mimì are just a few to pull from the standard rep, but they are not the only game in town. Opera has seen an exciting shift with a surge of new works being written and commissioned about events and people from our time. These current storylines help singers and the audience connect and relate to the characters’ emotional journey while creating more opportunities for productions, and allowing singers to dig into a new piece to truly make the characters their own.

One opera that is coming up through the ranks is Susan Smith, a contemporary opera that follows the story of Susan Smith, a single mother in her early-twenties who has endured a broken childhood, horrible abuse, and the death of her children. Susan Smith was in the news in South Carolina during the 1990s when her children went missing and claimed an unknown man kidnapped them. Nine days later it was revealed that Smith actually drowned her toddlers. With music composed by Zach Redler (2014 winner of Johnathan Larson Award) and libretto written by Mark Campbell (Pulitzer Prize winner of the opera Silent Night), this story is the perfect suspense and drama for the current stage.

The opera Susan Smith begins the afternoon before her children are murdered and ends with her confession to the police. The audience is faced with an ongoing contemplation of Susan’s mental health while watching her struggle though thoughts of her troubled adolescence and her ultimate decision to murder her children. Not only does the audience experience Susan’s emotional journey, but the neighborhoods as well. “The town goes from ‘Let’s all pray for Susan’ to ‘Let’s all lynch Susan’ once they found out what really happened,” says composer Zach Redler. But their reactions symbolize something deeper. Zach continues, “I think it’s monitoring how we as a society react to these kinds of things. For good or bad, we react strongly no matter what it is. There’s not time to think about the ‘why.’”

As opera grows and evolves, so do expectations. “[Susan’s role] is very text driven. I think the text is very important, so it needs to be understood. A lot of Susan’s lines sit in the middle voice, but the soprano needs to access above the staff very easily without….is it wrong to say ‘bringing the weight?’” said Redler.

“Susan is not a coloratura soprano, but she has to be able to move while having a presence in the lower middle as well. It also has to be expressive because the acting part of the role is intense.” said Brittney Redler, Zach’s wife, accomplished singer, and PhD candidate who served as the model for his composition.

Composer Zach Redler (courtesy photo)

Redler empathetically agrees with his wife’s statement adding, “The acting is VERY important, where traditionally it hasn’t necessarily been in opera. If there were one thing I could tell every operatic student, it would be to spend just as much time studying the craft of acting as you do the craft of singing. It’s so important in new work because librettists like Mark are writing characters, not just stories. It is so important that you can embody that.”

In each stage of this work’s development it has gained more and more momentum. It has evolved from a fifteen-minute orchestral reading at the John Duffy Institute for New Opera to being performed at the Fort Worth Opera’s Frontier Festival for new work and most recently seen at Colorado University Boulder’s workshop program, CU Now, where they presented a fully staged production. Nothing is officially announced for the next production or workshop of Susan Smith, but you can keep an eye out for news on Redler’s website, If you haven’t had the chance to see or hear this new opera, visit Zach’s website to purchase a copy of the first aria and check out this clip from Fort Worth Opera’s Young Artists.

HEAR some of the music:

Video Credits:
Performed by Fort Worth Opera Young Artists:

Opera: Susan Smith
Composer: Zach Redler
Pianist: Emily Jarrell Urbanek
Conductor: Tyson Deaton 
Singers: Maren Weinberger
 Dane Suarez, Clara Neiman, Nate Mattingly


BONUS: 4 tips to singing Susan Smith with Maren Weinberger

1.     In this piece, because of the aria’s length, it’s really important to keep that ‘internal dialogue’ going. It’s easy to get lost in the idea of her being a little crazed and going back and forth between memories and subjects, so it’s vital to write out your underlying thoughts in your music, over long phrases, and memorize it, just to keep it straight while singing.

2.   It definitely takes a lot of work to get the music down. There are some difficult meter changes throughout that make it tricky. It helps a ton to get with your pianist and go over those big changes again and again until they are more natural, otherwise you just sit with a metronome trying to figure it out yourself, and at least for me, that can be maddening! It all becomes very natural sounding, and fitting one you get it down. Zach Reddler knows what he’s doing!

3.  Overall, I would say it’s important to know your strengths with this particular piece. It’s difficult dramatically (revealing a very broken psyche) and vocally (flexible range needed). I felt my background in crossover roles really helped me approach this role, as a lot of phrases aren’t meant to be vocally appealing, but raw, real. So you need to get your head out of the “making pretty opera singer sounds” realm and dive in fearlessly!

4.  Playing ‘psycho’, or ‘sick’ is a delicate balance.. you have to remember she’s trying to seem sane, not only for the benefit of others so she can get away with her crime, but to convince herself that she’s not crazy, or even more so, that she’s done nothing wrong. Plus, she is in fact a real person, she’s not fictional, she really did those monstrous things.. So, you still have to portray humanity. Even if its broken and fractured. An acting challenge, for sure.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Teachers: How to Gracefully Survive the Transition

By Andrea Hansen

Fall is a time of change for many singers. Those who are still in high school or university programs must shake off the summer cobwebs and whip the folds back into shape... gently, of course! Singers who return from summer programs often feel like they've been bombarded with new techniques and suggestions for their development, and must now reconcile those new ideas with past training. Those of us who are no longer in school must now navigate the big, bad world of “adulting” and find technical guidance on a more individual level, hopefully with the aid of past mentors, but often going at it alone. Whether you’re still in school or out in the professional world, working with a new teacher, or even just bringing new ideas to a current teacher, can be a daunting and downright scary process. It can be hard to maintain your poise while figuring out all the newness. If you’re working with a new teacher who is a complete stranger to you, finding the balance of professionalism and camaraderie can be challenging as you begin to work out your new relationship. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the worry of crashing and burning with your new teacher, here are some thoughts to ponder as you begin a new technical journey:

Keep an open mind. Here’s the truth: your new teacher really wants you to succeed. It can be a foreign idea that a stranger only wants the best for you, but it’s true! They may have a different approach than your previous teacher, but they have the same goal in mind: healthy singing! While you don’t want to throw out any and all technique that you’ve learned over the years, it’s important to remember that your teacher can offer you new ways of thinking about your technique. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying out something different to achieve a healthy and beautiful sound.

Consider specific goals. If you’re fresh out of university and on your own, your first panicky thought might be to quickly find a new teacher before you lose your chops. Make sure you’ve done your homework on any new teacher and they’ve agreed to take you based on a mutual understanding of the direction your voice will take as it continues to develop. If you are still teacher shopping, some questions to ask yourself are: do you need some help gaining flexibility in your voice? Are you worried about dragging too much heaviness into your upper register? Do you have trouble connecting phrases due to support? Think about where you are in your training, where you’d like to be, and what things you’d like to specifically work on with your new teacher. Having the answers to these questions will help your new teacher guide you toward your goals. Chances are your teacher will appreciate you being attentive to your development and will be more than happy to help you get to your next level!

Communicate effectively. Hopefully you’ve gotten into the habit of recording your lessons and going back to review them. Listen very carefully to your first few lessons with your new teacher and take note of things that stood out to you, both positive and not so positive, so you can discuss them with your teacher at your next lesson. Of course, this is not an invitation to pick apart any instruction or feedback your teacher gives you, but it is an opportunity to enter into a professional dialogue with your instructor on things that may be unclear or uncomfortable, or to gain further insight into how they were able to get you to sing that high note so effortlessly when you’ve been struggling with it for so long!

Engage in friendly professionalism. As wonderful as our teachers are, they are first and foremost teachers. Even if you’re a singer who is no longer in the schooling system, it’s important to respect their time and position as professionals, and not to automatically assume that they will be your Facebook buddy. Remember to treat your teacher with professional courtesy, and allow your teacher to set the tone for your working relationship. Perhaps later you can ask for that friend invite or to catch a drink after a colleague’s recital, but when you’re first starting out it’s important to remember professional boundaries. Being polite and allowing your working relationship to develop naturally will benefit you in the long run.

KEEP AN OPEN MIND. I know we mentioned this right off the bat, but it bears repeating. It can be hard to release old habits when you work with someone new, and in the first few lessons we can become defensive when faced with the challenge of new techniques, especially if we’re not as successful as we’d hoped. It can also be difficult, and frankly kind of scary, to reconcile the new directions our voices travel when we’ve become used to the certain way they sound and feel when we sing, particularly if your new teacher feels you are moving into a new fach. DON’T. PANIC. An open mind and a cool head will help you discuss your concerns further with your teacher. You can also bounce ideas off of your trusted circle of ears such as longtime coaches, directors, or maybe even your previous teacher, as long as you strive to stay objective and open to testing out the new techniques.

Be honest with yourself and your teacher. As singers, our instrument is physically connected to us, so there’s no way to take the pieces of the larynx apart and inspect them for wear and tear like you could with a trombone. You are the best indicator of your progress, and if something feels significantly off or wrong, you should trust your instinct. Communicating effectively, as we mentioned above, is extremely important, particularly if you find that you are consistently feeling physical pain as you work on new technique.

If serious issues have arisen with your teacher and you truly feel that they are not being resolved in a way that is beneficial to you, it’s okay to consider switching to a new teacher. This is harder to do in a university setting, since teachers generally have a cap on how many students they take each semester. Discuss your reasons for deciding to change with your teacher, the head of the department, and your academic advisor, and together you should be able to come to a resolution. Ideally, this step should only be taken as a last resort. Hopefully you’ve been able to reach resolution for any major issues, but if not, it’s important to be honest about how you feel. You won’t make any progress if your lessons are a constant struggle, mentally and vocally.

Working with a new teacher should be an exciting opportunity! Don’t be afraid to jump into your new lessons with enthusiasm, and hopefully our advice will keep the nerves of creating a new working partnership at bay! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Easy Halloween Costumes Based On Your Favorite Opera Character

By Lily Guerrero

As opera singers, we love to dress up, and Halloween is the one day each year where it is excusable to look crazy outside the theatre! This is the perfect reason to go outside your fach and dress as an opera character that you may never get the chance to play on stage. Here are a few simple character ideas under $50!

1. Lucia, Lucia di Lammermoor:  It is incredibly easy to find used wedding dresses for under $20 at your local thrift store. Stage your own mad scene by adding some fake blood (Walmart, $9) and a plastic dagger (Halloween Express, $7).

2. Queen of the Night, Die Zauberflöte: My interpretation for this character is a black corset (Amazon, $15), long tulle skirt (build it yourself with tulle and an elastic waistband from a fabric store or buy one on Amazon for $18),  long black gloves (Claires, $5), and a tiara (Icing, $10). Keep some of the tulle from the skirt to create a veil and attach it to the tiara. Don’t forget that severe eye makeup!

3. Carmen, Carmen: If you want to go for the seductress, collect a red peasant top (Amazon, $17), ruffled skirt (Spirit, $27), and black fan (Spirit, $6). Add a real rose to your hair for an extra touch!

4. Marie, La fille du régiment: More interested in that tomboy look? Get a white tank top (Forever 21, $5), blue buttoned trousers (Forever 21, $23), suspenders (Party City, $9), and a helmet (Amazon, $7) together before you jump on any tables and start leading your friends in a military song.

5. Olympia, Les contes d’Hoffmann: Find a matching leotard (American Apparel, $28), tutu (Amazon, $11), tights (Target, $8) and a tiny crown headband (H&M, $3). Go crazy with the makeup!

6. Papagena, Die Zauberflöte: Get your bird girl on with a fun green petticoat dress (Party City, $30), a feather boa (Party City, $10), fun eyelashes (Party City, $6), a headpiece (Party City, $1), and extra feathers to glue on your dress (JoAnns Fabrics, $3). The more colorful, the better!

7. Brünhilde, Die Walküre: Calling all Valkyries! Unite with your gal pals and become the fiercest females at your Halloween party with the most iconic costume on this list. Costume pieces include a Viking helmet with pigtails (Amazon, $6), spear, (Party City, $10), and warrior costume (Amazon, $34).