You are always a winner when taking part in a vocal competition

Statistically, the chances of winning one of the first three prizes at a vocal competition are 1% (one percent!) on average. How can you then always be a winner when you take part? It’s not all about money!  Read on and find out how you can benefit. 

  1. Reconsider/reconfirm: Taking part in a competition is also a time to be honest with yourself and reconsider your pledge to yourself about having chosen this career path. If you decide to continue on it, great, this experience strengthens your resolve and you can move on. If you decide to opt-out, that’s fine too, now you can open yourself up to the many other opportunities and challenges that make use of all that you have learned and experienced so far. It’s your life and you must feel comfortable with the decision. 

  2. Experience with choice of repertoire: What you prepare for a competition will come in useful for auditions. It pays to not only learn the aria musically, but to also understand the dramaturgical context.  Do seek out a coach who can help you to get to know the character – Is Pamina really so insecure? Is Leporello proud or ashamed of his master Don Giovanni? How do these characters relate to the 21st century? What is the historical context? The more you understand about the personality of the character, the better because it gives your rendition of the arias a greater three-dimensionality – body, depth, understanding. 

  3. Networking with colleagues: A competition always means meeting many other singers and yes, they are competitors for the top prizes, too.  But, to paraphrase Sarastro in Mozart’s Magic Flute, “mehr noch, er ist Mensch” (even more, he is human) – your colleagues are contacts and hopefully many will become friends and members of your very own personal network.  And that network is a very important tool in your toolbox!

  4. Exposure to casting and artistic directors: Here’s the thing – most agents and artistic directors have little time but they want to hear “the next big voice” in person. It’s a little bit like treasure hunting – will I discover the next Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko? Therefore, attending the quarter or semi-finals of a competition is most time-effective for them: they get to hear all the voices that have made it this far and therefore represent the “cream of the crop”. It is at this stage that they can already judge if there is a voice that will fit their casting needs. There is no need for them to stay for the finals since they will find out soon enough who won. 

  5. Exposure to agents: The same principle as above also applies to agents.  They, too, will be more likely to attend the quarter and semi-finals, will make up their minds as to who they think will “make it” in the opera world and may already approach them prior to the finals. 

  6. Experience performing under stress: Let’s not kid anyone – taking part in any competition means subjecting yourself to a high degree of stress.  It is up to you to find out how to best deal with this pressure. Some meditate, others do yoga, still others pray or clutch a talisman. Find what works for you. Above all: breathe deeply and slowly and consciously!

  7. Experience performing on stage: If you are just starting out, it will be a definite “win” to be able to sing on a real stage, hopefully with rehearsals and a full orchestra. Enjoy the experience despite the stress.

  8. Working with coaches: For those singers reaching the quarter or semi-finals, many competitions offer master classes with coaches, diction specialists, body work, etc. Take advantage of all these offerings, they are invaluable bonuses that will take your performance to a new level. 

  9. Press coverage: Along with having agents, artistic and casting directors attending, a top competition will attract press coverage. Nowadays that almost always also means social media and live streaming of the finals. These are invaluable tools for the participating singers to be noticed, get media exposure and free promotion. 

  10. Finding out about job opportunities: Especially in a situation where the participants come together from all over the world, there’s bound to be a lot of talk – so it is good to listen and note any opportunities that sound interesting. The important thing then is to follow up right away on any leads!

So, you have rehearsed your audition arias ad nauseam and have sung them to the best of your ability on the day. If you have not passed onto the next round and if the competition rules allow it, do go up to the judges individually and ask them for their feedback. While you will not find out if they voted for or against you, you may get valuable comments about your presentation. The goal is always: how can I improve my performance. It’s like getting mini-lesssons with experts. Don’t be shy about asking about specific issues – stage presence, intonation, diction, appropriate “Fach” repertoire, etc. And don’t be surprised to get contradictory answers – jurors have their own sets of standards. Trust your instinct in accepting the advice.

There is a lot of truth in the old saying “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. This is what a competition is all about – without the element of competition, you would not be able to measure your positive and negative characteristics and compare yourself to others. 

Brian Dickie, ex-Glyndebourne and Toronto Opera Intendant and one of the most experienced jurors in the world, said “singers take heart – a competition is a snapshot taken through multiple distorted lenses”. What does he mean by this? That every juror has his/her own way of judging a singer based on his/her own experience and history. Just like reviews of performances, there will be favourable and unfavourable opinions. Sometimes even to the point of the singer questioning if the juror attended the same performance. Brian Dickie further adds “one person’s meaty 10 can be another’s poinsonous 0”.

No matter if you win or lose, you will learn that it is best to be yourself, not trying to impress anyone. Always remember that you are delivering an emotional experience, you possess a talent and a passion for an art form where individuality and uniqueness are highly rated. Good luck!


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