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Leipzig: A Two-Fold Journey to Discovery

(This post was written on October 13th, 2010)
I am on the train this morning heading to Leipzig. Thus far I've woken up at 7:30am after getting to sleep around midnight (packing and getting organized takes a lot longer than one might think) and I'm on the train somehow fully awake now (even after less sleep than I would normally prefer). Thankfully the train is only an “IC” (Intercity) and not an “ICE” (Intercity Express) though this train goes no less fast. The problem it seems normally with ICE's is that there are a TON of passengers on it who are noisy and loud (people on vacation or school kids on class trips) and therefore they're not the most restful traveling experience for multiple-hour trips. However, this “IC”, the first one I've been on actually, seems to be very sparsely populated, and filled with business travelers (thank God!) of the very quiet sort. So, I might actually get some rest on the 5 hour trip after all.

Regarding today's game plan: I've got my audition with the ZAV in Leipzig at 3:40pm, my train arrives into the Hauptbahnhof (Main train station) at 1:18pm, and luckily the ZAV is only approximately a 10 minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof, so I've got plenty of time once I get there. Normally at the ZAV (the gov't agency for unemployed opera singers and other performing artists) they have at least one “Einsingraum” (warm-up room) and bathrooms and waiting rooms, so that makes it easier too to do an audition like this in one day. I am counting on arriving on time to Leipzig, then making my way directly to the ZAV, where I will change out of my traveling clothes (a wool 3/4-length coat and underneath that a fleece—winter has officially started here in Germany!) and into my audition dress and makeup and jewelry. Then I am planning on getting to the warm-up room and doing a little vocalizing there, and then possibly eating a small bite of lunch, and filling out the audition paperwork and getting 'in line' in the waiting room. What I should possibly explain at this juncture, is that German ZAV's schedule multiple people for the same audition slot (let's say 5/6 people per half an hour) and because of that, upon arriving at any audition, you should always ask who is in your time slot (normally they'll be nice enough to tell you and not lie to you that they're in the half hour before you) and then you kind of argue amongst yourselves who will be first and last and so on. Sometimes it's easy (someone will volunteer to go last or first) and sometimes everyone wants to get the heck out of there so you practically have to draw straws to see who gets to go first. At any rate, I'm hoping that I can go first today. It will give me a chance to see Leipzig a bit, and also, I just hate waiting and listening to everyone sing before me. That part is my least favorite. Though, I have brought Janet's book (Nail Your Next Audition) along with me this time, and I am planning on re-reading the sections that I found most helpful regarding staying focused the last moments before the audition begins.

Therefore, since I am still on the train now for about two more hours, I will be writing the remainder of this blog entry once I am on the train ride back from Leipzig and can tell you about how it all went! Wish me luck ;)

Leipzig: The Conclusion

So, the story after I arrived today in Leipzig goes something like this: the train pulls into the Hauptbahnhof here in Leipzig, I get out, and ask a DeutscheBahn worker how to get to the Leipzig Opera house (since I looked at it on Google before I left this morning and it seemed to be nearby). He told me how to get there- walk straight out of the train station, down the stairs, out the front door, across the double set of streetcar tracks and then simply continue straight until you hit a 'T' at the Fussgaengerzone, and then make a left and you're there. The Bahn man was right! It took me about 10 minutes to walk to the Opera house. I figured that the walking would get my energy up after sitting on the train for all those hours, and looking at the Opera house might cull some inspiration for today's audition, since it could turn out to be a future place of employment. (Strangely enough, I'm not sure candidates for employment in other fields do things like that. I mean, does a future Apple store employee simply stand outside the store gazing up in amazement? Maybe. But, maybe not. Just an observation that the widely held belief that singers are different yet again is being proven true, while I am trying through this Blog, to make my experiences accessible to the non-singer. Ah, the irony.)

After the Opera-house-gazing, I went inside hoping to find a gift shop or at least information about a guided tour (who knows what kind of time my audition would take- perhaps it would be finished early) but they do not actually have a gift shop, I was informed, and they don't do tours except in the mornings. Drat. So that option was out. Upon further consideration (a.k.a.- looking at my cell phone clock) I realized that I should be getting to the audition (I had an hour til my time slot- 3:40pm) since I wasn't sure how far that was from the Hauptbahnhof. I traced my steps back to the Hauptbahnhof, asked several people which train stopped near Rosa LuxemburgerstrasseStrassenbahn and took it two stops to the exact place I needed to be. (Gott sei Dank!) I hopped out with my multitude of bags (a canvas carry bag with remnants of breakfast and lunch inside, which is serving this evening on the ride back here as my dinner, a book bag with my laptop inside and various sheet music copies for the pianist as well as copies of my resume, and my purse) and looked across the street- fortuitously I was standing directly across from the ZAV offices! I went inside and up to the 4th floor where the office was located and asked the secretary if she could direct me to the auditions and where I was able to change into my audition clothing and warm up my voice. She first asked me to fill out the personal information sheets that are normal at all ZAV auditions (they ask for your address here in Germany, your cell phone number, your birth place and date, your nationality, your foreign language competency, your past engagements and your repertoire that you are offering at today's audition) and then directed me to a small office that she told me was the warm-up room. (Yikes.) Normally there is a piano in a large-ish room that they use as a warm-up room at all the ZAV's that I've been to thus far. Not so with this particular location. At any rate, I made the best of it and just did some tongue trill scales and surprisingly the acoustics in that tiny office weren't all that terrible. After about 10 minutes of warming-up, the Secretary knocks on the door and asks me if I'm finished because the next candidate is here and needs to warm up now. So, I told her I was finished and then she directed me to a long hallway lit on one side by the sunlight streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows (it must be awfully cold then in winter!) and told me that at the end of the hallway to my right was the women's bathroom and at the end straight ahead was the audition room. I dashed into the bathroom and changed into my audition dress and put on my makeup and jewelry. As I was finishing up my makeup and hair I heard the girl who had finished warming-up after me put her things down in the hall. I popped my head out of the bathroom and asked her if she wouldn't mind going ahead of me because I wasn't quite finished with my makeup yet (after all, it was only approximately 3:15pm and I was scheduled for 3:40 originally) and she actually said that her original audition time was 3pm, so that was fair anyway, luckily. Then as she was finishing her first song (I could hear clearly through the audition room door straight into the waiting hallway and in the bathroom too possibly through the wall that bordered the two rooms) I finished my routine in the bathroom and came out into the hallway to gather up my materials (Lebenslauf, Photo, Repertoire List, and notebook of music for the accompanist) and then waited about two minutes and she emerged and said I could enter.

I went into the room and handed the judges (there were two women and one man on the panel) my informational sheet and my other materials, and the notebook to the pianist. Funny enough, the pianist and I were both wearing the same color blue (and the judges even remarked on it that we must have planned it to match- LOL). So far, so good- no 'boese' judges. :) Then I said I'd like to begin with 'Mein Herr Marquis' from Strauss's Die Fledermaus (which was another coincidence because the girl who had just sung before me sang one of Price Orlofsky's arias from the same opera) and I realized for the first time just how dry the acoustics in that room were. It was really difficult for me to monitor what was coming across overtone-wise while performing, so I simply did my best to outweigh any possible vocal-overtone-loss from the acoustics through amping-up my acting a notch. It must have done the trick. They seemed less perturbed than when I first met them (and that's an improvement) and they asked if I had Pamina's aria from Die Zauberfloete with me. I replied (probably with a confused look on my face) that I did not have that with me nor did I sing that aria normally, and they then deliberated in whispers amongst themselves for a short while and settled on asking for 'The Doll Song' next, from Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffmann. I offered to begin with the second verse, and they agreed that that was a good idea since it's such a long song. I did the same thing with this second piece as I did with the piece before; I simply acted the heck out of it and sang it as best as I could tell from the sensations that I was getting physically (since I couldn't really hear a darn thing reverberation-wise). Then came the decision-making part, of course. (The part that I usually dread since you never know what you're going to get- it's like....totally maddening.) They asked me to sit down in the dreaded chair that they place before their table and the man on the panel began. He said (auf Deutsch, natuerlich) that he was also on the panel at my audition in Berlin two weeks prior, and that then he absolutely did not like my singing whatsoever. He explained then that I had begun with the Queen of the Night's Vengeance aria and it sounded way too 'old' for me to be singing it, and that then I sang Adele's aria from Fledermaus (the one which I had begun with today) and it was okay, but certainly not something he liked. However, he said, he liked very much what I did today because I began, as he put it, “Very charmingly and with a lot of emotion and portrayed the character effectively, as well as sang with a more clear tone and more precision.” He then went on to say that as much as he liked the Adele today (which was already more than he liked it in Berlin), he liked the Olympia (the Doll Song) even more, and he could see through my portrayals today and my singing that I had improved and that I had a 'stage personality' (in other words, that I could act) and that he would like to offer me a chorus audition for a smaller opera house (somewhere where, as he put it, there would be a possibility that I would be offered after a while of chorus singing, the ability to sing small roles in the repertory ensemble of solo singers at the house).

I tried not to make my disappointment obvious, and told them all that I was very pleased that they enjoyed my audition so much and that I had made a good impression on them, and of course a better one than I had made in Berlin, and that I was looking forward to their email regarding the chorus position.

So, that's the outcome thus far. I will let everyone know what happens with it, and I am excited to report that at least through that, I have finally figured out the German Opera system a little better. It's all about the acting, people! Because, let me tell you, I did not sing differently than I did when I sang in Berlin. It was simply two different songs! I mean, who can compare Olympia and Queen of the Night? It just doesn't work. But....ah well. At least now I've got the system down, right? (Wink, Wink.)


  1. Hellow Julia, I have just reading your wonderfull post and I fond it very interesting, especially because I'm professional opera singer too (tenor), and I'm lookng for an audition for ZAV. Your post help me a lot! I' ll try to find you in facebook, my name is Daniel Rey-Grimau and I' m now living in Madrid Spain. Best regards, and thank you

  2. Hi Daniel!,
    I'm glad that you have found some help in reading my blog for your singing experience- that is why I decided to create it in the first place- to help fellow singers who were interested in making a career out of opera.

    I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that if you're in Germany some time soon you will contact me and we can try to meet in person- as I like meeting fellow singers! Keep up the good work and toi toi toi!
    Yours truly,

  3. Hi Julia, I like meeting fellow singers too but I don' t have concrete dates yet in Deutschland, I 'll let you know when my auditioons there take place and maybe we can meet in person, do you live there all the year long? Best Wishes

  4. Hi Daniel,
    Of course, yes- no problem! There's absolutely no rush.
    Yours truly,


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