My very first audition experience in Germany was in Cologne at the Bundesagentur fuer Kuenstlerisches Betriebsbuero (which is basically a government run office that has an outpost in every larger city that helps opera companies find opera singers for roles that they still need to cast). (Note: This office also does auditions for dancers and actors- for straight theater as well as TV and Film, for those of you who aren't Opera singers but still want to make a go at working in Germany!) Thinking that I was well prepared for this first experience after reading every book that was published on Opera singing in Germany (those books being the following: “What the Fach”; “Auditioning in the 21st Century”; “So You Wanna Sing in Germany?”; “Nail Your Next Audition”; and “Singing Opera in Germany”) I was in for a big surprise!
The building itself looked like any other office building, and the audition was being held on the top floor (6th), with practice rooms on the 5th floor (two, possibly 8'x8' rooms, one with an electric Clavinova, and one that was empty except for a chair). I arrived there in plenty of time (my audition slot was at 3pm, and I was there at 1:30) and I was actually the first one there (that I could tell) probably after their lunch break. So, I warmed up in the room with the piano and then went upstairs to the waiting room outside the audition room to fill out the necessary paperwork (name, address, recent engagements, Fach, phone number, educational history, European dress size, weight-in kilos, and hair color) and then I waited for what seemed like an eternity. There were other people that had trickled in during the time I was filling out the paperwork and warming up, and so I was no longer the only one there. Actually, there was a Canadian guy who asked if I would give up the practice room for him to sing- since his audition time was at 2pm (and by my watch he was 15 minutes late already) so I said sure. So, once I was in the waiting room, he was already singing his audition (around 2:30pm). Then, by talking to my colleagues who were also waiting, I found out that they had scheduled 4 singers per half hour time slot-so I wasn't the only one who was supposed to sing at 3pm. Therefore, I was actually the last person to sing of the 3pm group (since the people who were also at 3 just went ahead of me- and I let them do it since I didn't know-until it was too late, of course-- that they also had my same time slot). Then after the last other gal at 3pm had sung it was finally my turn (at 4:30pm!) and I went in with glee (at least I didn't have to sit there staring at the wall any longer!).
In the audition room itself there were five judges sitting behind a single table and the accompanist sitting at the piano waiting for my music. It was pretty much like any American audition, in that sense. I handed them my papers that I had filled out along with a 'Lebenslauf'' (Resume) that I had brought along (which had my head shot printed on it-they do that in Europe most often, instead of bringing a separate head shot) then they asked me to step onto the stage (which was really a small black box theater stage) and the audition commenced. After singing two arias (one in French and then one in German) they had me sit down in a chair which was situated directly in front of the judges' table in the middle facing them, and they talked to me about their opinions of my singing for about 10 minutes.
To make matters worse, besides a long conversation in German (in which not one of them tried to use simpler words for my just-getting-used-to-listening-to-a-new-language-for-a-longer-time ears) I found out through what they had to relate to me, that not only did they incredibly dislike my singing and think it was quite unlikely that I would find a job in Germany (ever in the coming year- seemingly!) but they also found it quite easy to recommend to me that I study my German language much more dutifully, as I had apparently made too many mistakes to their taste. (Truth be told, I did make a good many mistakes in the audition during the short conversation that we had, but that was only because of nerves. I'm not sure why, but whenever I feel uncomfortable, my tongue gets tied in terrible knots and I stumble over it with much embarrassment while trying to convey my thoughts.)
Anyway, after I had heard about what a dire state the Opera houses in Germany were in for approximately five minutes ( how so many are closing, and it is difficult at the moment for a German singer to get hired, let alone an American [direct translation of their words there]), they proceeded to tell me that the tone color of my voice sounded 'too American' and that in Germany I should strive to sound 'more German' (which they explained had much to do with Americans preferring to have a brilliant vibrato on every note, and the Germans preferring vibrato to have a less prominent place in the tone color, almost akin to singing slightly straight-tone). Of course after this particular comment I wasn't quite sure what to think! I mean, first of all, I was not aware (after listening to tons of different Sopranos- and other famous opera singers in general) that there was such a difference in tone color nowadays between a 'German' singer and an 'American' one. Secondly, I felt partially responsible for allowing myself to become such a lazy singer after obviously overlooking such an important difference before auditioning here in general, and thirdly, I felt personally betrayed by all the authors of those so-called books that I read before traveling to Germany that were supposed to prepare me for everything I would experience in an audition here. Most of all though, I felt defeated. I had come all this way to receive the biggest put down I ever received (and believe me, if anyone can really make you feel worthless, it's a German speaking in German, about something you did, or did not do- it's a killer). Not only had I paid a lot of money for a plane ticket here, but I also had heard so many times in America that Europe is the place to get experience, and that I should get there quick- it could only help me improve by leaps and bounds. Well, if this was improving I thought to myself, I could definitely do without it!
So, after the conversation that was probably 10 minutes but felt like enduring a lifetime of public shame, I calmly pasted an irrepressible smile over my face (who knows what kind of horrified expression had previously occupied it) and thanked them for their time and their opinions and walked out of the room. I have never felt so relieved in my entire life to be finished with something as I did then in that moment. Though I also had the residual feelings of worthlessness and embarrassment to keep for later. (But, they were just bonuses!)
However, in all seriousness, that audition in Cologne did really make a big impact on me in a negative way, and I am sure that I will not be forgetting that experience anytime soon.
Though, I also must say that I was saved from wallowing too much in self-pity through a lucky encounter in Berlin with a very famous voice teacher there. This person (names will be omitted for their sake) allowed me to observe a voice lesson of one of their normal students and thereby learn what the criteria were for becoming a successful 'German' opera singer. Big surprise to me after the 'Cologne experience', because it turned out that the things this teacher wanted from their students were the exact same things that voice teachers in America want from their students. Hallelujah! I was saved! I finally felt comfortable again with my philosophy of singing, and I knew somehow that those people in Cologne were obviously just having a seriously off-day when I had my audition. I spoke with this teacher about my experiences in Cologne and they said that normally they would never let a student of theirs be discouraged in pursuing their dreams without a fight, and they would also tell their student to chalk it up to a bad experience that perhaps happened for unknown reasons out of my control, and that I should keep trying even though that was so negative. Ultimately, I knew that what this teacher said rang true, even though I still could feel the doubt that Cologne had instilled in me, and I was so glad to have met them and heard their wise words.