I have been in Caltagirone, Sicily since last Sunday at the Mediterranean Opera Studio and Festival. It has been mighty hot and very exhausting, sessions with singers from 10 am to 7 pm most days, albeit with a long lunch break. But it has been hugely satisfying, meeting some exceptionally talented young people, the youngest being a 19 year old American mezzo from Boston whom we will have to watch as she begins her time at one of the distinguished "conservatories" in the Boston area! There are other remarkably mature youngsters under 25 in graduate training in Vienna, Amsterdam, Chicago and Sydney amongst others, as well as a few late starters for whom the career path from now is more problematical of course.
My job has been to conduct "mock" auditions, followed up by advice on repertoire choices and the tactics that can be employed to ensure that as far as possible a singer can display all his or her strengths in audition - and of course attempt to conceal any weaknesses.....! The reality is that it is amazing what terrible choices some singers make, singing repertoire that is far too heavy, or in other respects completely inappropriate if not downright delusional. The response of all to candid opinions and advice was, without a single exception, entirely welcoming.
Additionally we looked at their cvs, and discussed next realistic steps. My perspective, as someone who has spent so much of my career employing young singers has, on the whole I believe, proved to have been helpful. And I am glad to say that in almost every case it was reinforcing and confirming snippets of advice from other quarters, rather than causing confusion!
I spent 30 minutes with each of 50 singers, and yesterday morning had follow up auditions with a dozen of them in a less charitable acoustic. I was delighted that so many of them came through the comparison with huge credit.
The 50 singers came from 19 different countries, the largest number being from the USA and Australia. I guess the average age to have been 27 with more than half of them 26 or less. As usual sopranos dominated, taking up half the places. There is a nice number of tenors (10) with the mezzos and baritones taking up the rest. Not a single bass alas, but the excellent bass-baritone from London's National Opera Studio, Emyr Wyn Jones, provided some splendid dark colour and will be singing the title role in Le nozze di Figaro later in the month.
I was only able to stay for two performances, Butterfly on Thursday and L'elisir d'amore last night. There are multiple casts of course to ensure that each of the participants get an opportunity, but it is something of a compromise with a number of these young people not able to get the full preparation that they need. But this is a "studio" situation and the collaborative and collegial teamwork is in itself a hugely valuable experience for them. There is no space for egos here!
A salute to the creator of all this, Jack Le Vigni, who was our Ferrando in Chicago back in 2002. He has assembled a brilliant faculty including David Gowland, Steven Maughan, Marek Ruszczynski on the coaching staff, with Nelly Miricioiu and Carlos Conde joining Jack on the voice teaching staff.
I hope to be back next year, perhaps for a little longer with more time to "breathe". But 2019 is another Neue Stimmen year so I will just have to fit it is as best I can. I return to London this afternoon, am at Glyndebourne tomorrow for the dress rehearsal of Saul, and at Garsington on Wednesday for the schools performance of Zauberflöte with the cover cast - exciting new young people in this as well!