WE CHATTED WITH RESPECTED PIANIST AND REPETITEUR SHAROLYN KIMMORLEY, THE MELBA OPERA TRUST ARTISTIC ADVISOR, ABOUT WHAT SHE’S LOOKING FOR IN APPLICANTS WHEN SHE SITS ON THE AUDITION PANEL.
We often cite Melba’s famous quote “a beautiful voice is not enough” at the Trust; this belief definitely informs the audition process which involves much more than a simple vocal audition. Other than a fantastic instrument, what are you looking for in a singer?
There are a number of what I refer to as “non-negotiable” requirements: excellent intonation, ability to sing legato, rhythmic accuracy, respect of the composers’ intentions, good diction. In addition, we will be looking for singers that engage the listener. This requires that the singer knows exactly what they are singing about and engages with the text and emotion of the pieces. We also need to assess the commitment of the singer to the pursuit of this very demanding career path together with their resilience and ability to cope with disappointment and rejection as they are certain to encounter this along the way!
A Melba scholarship is a wonderful way to take a singer from university studies to the “real world” of opera. What does Melba offer a young singer that they do not receive in a tertiary degree?
The opportunity to develop their “uniqueness”. We certainly offer advanced language and stagecraft opportunities which seem to be lacking at the tertiary level, but more importantly is the opportunity to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be done as an “individual” to ensure that they are prepared on all levels for the pathway ahead. Melba Trust provides opportunities throughout the year to deal with the business side of the profession, including agents, tax, contract negotiation, philanthropic grant writing etc. The profession is overcrowded both in Australia and in Europe; we want to help singers and repetiteurs find a way to refine their skills so that what they have to offer will be appealing to the people who they will audition for in the future.
For singers hoping to one day apply for a scholarship, what kind of experience should they be aiming to have before they put in an application? Is stage experience necessary to successfully receive a scholarship?
Not at all. The most important quality for me is the voice as a career in opera is simply not possible without this! Limited stage experience can be addressed by allocating scholarship funds to fill this gap. Obviously if people have completed a tertiary degree we expect that they are on the way to having a secure vocal technique, have some stagecraft experience and language proficiency.
When reviewing the audition videos, what don’t you like to see?
First thing I don’t like to hear is inappropriate repertoire! I am always surprised that many young singers choose or are advised to sing repertoire that they are not yet equipped for. I prefer that the repertoire selection allows for an engaging and committed performance. I am always looking for truth in the performance and this won’t happen if all there is the possibility to think about is getting to the end of the aria.
As the Trust’s Artistic Advisor, you often coach the scholars, and help them choose appropriate repertoire. What process do you encourage young singers to follow when learning new music?
I think it is really important to know and understand your own instrument and be able to make independent choices that are suitable for your voice. Teachers often do not have the time for the necessary research so we often hear all the sopranos or mezzos from a studio singing the same repertoire. Take the time to listen to a range of operas – there are more Handel operas than Alcina or Julius Caesar!
Hasten slowly! The devil is in the detail! Learn the piece by looking at the score not listening to a recording.