My 6 Tips for Choosing a Starter Audition Aria

Choosing a starter audition aria is a big decision for a budding, young singer. Many opportunities can come from starting auditions with the right aria. 

In my own mercurial past of auditioning, I felt like a professional “auditionee” at one point because I was doing it so often — it was like a part-time job! I spent years and years and so much money on auditions.

That feeling of constantly putting myself out there for opportunities will never leave me and those experiences paved the way to where I am today.

To make the best use of those experiences, I think it’s time to share my past with anyone who might be looking for assistance or advice on selecting a starter aria for auditions.

Every Audition is a Lesson Learned

Personally, I had both hits and misses with auditions. Some days, auditions felt hopeless and like I didn’t know what I was doing.

Over time, though, I slowly figured out audition culture and a few key auditions opened up some very important doors for me. The majority of the time, though, it was trial by fire.

As time went on, I was hired as a result of a few good auditions – I began to learn what worked well and changed my game around from those experiences. I realized how important the step of choosing a starter aria was in making a strong first impression with the panel from the get-go.

Before we begin, it’s important to know that the panel of judges want you to be amazing. They are rooting for you to succeed because then they can just hire you and their jobs will be easy-peasy!

So, here’s what I learned when choosing a starter aria.

How to Find a Great Starter Aria For Auditions

1. Start slow.

Time is short in an audition … but not THAT short.

The first minute of an audition is the most crucial part of an audition. The panel begins to assess you and they make their decision quickly. It often takes just one page of music for them to either buy a ticket to the “You Show” or to leave at intermission for cocktails across the street.

Yet, you still have a 5-10 minute time slot and a second piece to sing. Keep in mind that 9.5 times out of 10 the judges will choose your second aria for you.

My best advice is to start with a slow piece. YES! I said it. DON’T START WITH “LARGO AL FACTOTUM”. If you start with a fast and difficult aria with acrobatics like “Largo al factotum”, the panel is likely to choose a slow, legato aria for you to sing next and that’s killer for the voice. 

For years I started with “Largo al factotum” and most times, the panel would choose “O du, mein holder Abendstern” after. I’d choke.

So, instead, I thought, “Haha, I figured you out this time, panel — I’ll start with the slow one”. And it worked beautifully. They almost always chose “Largo al factotum” or some other upbeat, agile piece and then I had plenty of voice to nail it.

Come out guns a-blazin’ and you likely won’t prosper with the rest of the audition. In short, don’t tire yourself out. 

The most important secret to this approach is that all four of your other arias need to be bangers!! The whole point of starting slow is so that you can knock their socks off with piece number two. 

This obviously doesn’t apply to the rare audition that only asks for one piece. In this case, sing a banger.

2. Choose an aria you’d sing if you had to roll out of bed and show up to the audition.

Find an aria that sits in that Goldilocks place that won’t tire you out and doesn’t require an insane amount of vocal preparation.

If there’s a part of your voice or technical aspect that you can do well right off the bat, choose something that plays to those strengths.

That’s another reason why I used to begin with “O du, mein holder Abendstern” because it makes me feel confident in my abilities. It allowed me to perform my best right away. Legato long phrases was the strength I leaned into. Maybe for you it’s coloratura. Maybe it’s a piece that sits in a specific range.

“O du, mein holder Abendstern” was that for me. It’s like a warm-up for “Largo al factotum” but it still showed some of the best things about my voice.

Again, choose something impressive but not too difficult because you still have more to sing after.

3. Play to your strengths.

Play to your strengths and hide your weaknesses. Find an aria that showcases what you do best at that exact point in your development.

You don’t have to be everything to all people. Just do what you do best.

If you can showcase your strengths with a Zerlina aria, then you have to sing legato and show off your sense of style and musicality. If it’s a Queen of the Night aria, your high notes have to be stellar. If it’s Rossini runs, your coloratura better be on point.

When an audition panel knows you’ll sing a certain aria, they already assume you’ll nail the certain aspects it showcases. For instance, if you plan to start with “Una voce poco fa”, they’ll immediately associate that aria with coloratura runs and higher mezzo extension.

Each aria has a signature technical aspect to it. Familiarize yourself with the technical aspects of an aria before starting your auditions with it. Take the time to gather what it is you have to offer as a singer and find an aria that leans into that.

If you’re a baritone but you don’t have your passaggio figured out yet, don’t sing “Di Provenza il mar” or “Questo amor, vergogna mia”. If you’re a bass and your high notes are still somewhat unsure, “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” might just have to wait. Choose other arias that lead with your best abilities instead.

4. Auditions and competitions are different beasts.

You know the soprano is going to sing “Glitter and be gay”, so you gotta bring fireworks. Slow beautiful pieces are good but they don’t win the gold in competition.

Competitions are like the Olympics. Imagine you’re a figure skater. Your routine has the opportunity to score a higher amount with the quadruple axel or you can play it safe with three, perfect triple axels. 100 of the most perfect double axels in the world won’t win gold. So, decide what’s best for you and what you can enter the playing field with. Wagnerian singers are the exception here.

(Ok, I don’t know the difference between axels in figure-skating. I assume quads are the hardest but they might be impossible. Or maybe triples are … are doubles even in routines anymore? Please don’t quote me. I didn’t watch the Olympics … I was too busy practicing and rehearsing!)

I can safely say I never won a competition with “Largo al factotum” even though it’s technically impressive and a show-stopper. The thing is, everyone has their preconceived idea of how Figaro should be interpreted (it’s a similar case with Carmen and Don Giovanni) and it’s best to not put that aria on the table because of people’s particular preferences. This is what I’ve learned.

Pieces off the beaten path, sung well, and performed in an entertaining way can have real results. An audience favorite prize goes a long way, too.

5. Timing matters.

Timing matters in more ways than one.

You have no control over what time your audition is, so your starter aria has to be your bread or butter at 10:00 AM. Yes, some auditions are that early! I once sang an audition at 8:45 AM. This happens.

Test it out a day when you aren’t performing or auditioning by singing it full out that early and seeing how it feels. Timing matters!! 10:00 AM is different from 5:00 PM because it takes time to wake up your voice.

Speaking of timing, this also goes for the timing of your arias. Don’t start with an aria that’s longer than 5 minutes — quick, good impressions are the longest lasting.

6. Stay flexible.

Your body changes and so does your voice. 

It’s key to build physical awareness as an opera singer — you’re an artist whose instrument is inside your body. The more you stay flexible with your rep choices as your body and voice fluctuate, the better you’ll do.

Allergies, dryness, reflux, etc. are just a few of the environmental factors you might have to adjust to each day. It’s best to get accustomed to your vocal cords as part of your training and be comfortable enough with your starter arias to be able to handle those fluctuations because the aria is so ingrained in your body and voice.

Just For Fun

I created four fun lists of repertoire from my past and what I would sing now. This may be helpful to baritones out there who are auditioning.

1. Arias I used to start with:

  • “Look! Through the port” from Billy Budd
  • “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Faust
  • “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser 
  • “Kogda bï zhizn domashnim krugom (Onegin’s Aria)” from Eugene Onegin

2. Arias that have served me well in competitions:

  • “Vedrò mentr’io sospiro” from Le Nozze di Figaro
  • “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Faust
  • “Ah! per sempre io ti perdei” from I Puritani
  • “Ah, vittoria, vittoria!” from Gianni Schicchi

3. If I were to audition today, my aria package would be:

  • “Io morró, ma lieto in core” from Don Carlo
  • “Largo al factotum” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
  • “Cruda, funesta smania” from Lucia di Lammermoor
  • “Vision fugitive” from Hérodiade
  • “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser
  • “Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro (The Count’s Aria)” from Le Nozze di Figaro

I chose these arias because I think my high notes are the best part of my singing and four of these arias show off high notes (except “O du, mein holder Abendstern”). I wouldn’t offer Rigoletto or Billy Budd today because my timbre isn’t ready for Rigoletto and I’m past the point of singing another Billy Budd.

4. If I were to compete today, I would sing:

  • “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser
  • “Largo al factotum” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia
  • “Eri tu che macchiavi quell’anima” from Un Ballo in Maschera 
  • “Avant de quitter ces lieux” from Faust
  • “Ne tarapis (Robert’s Aria)” from Iolanta

Use your starter aria to showcase where you are in your singing today and ask for advice from your committee if you need some guidance. Best of luck and thank you for reading! Now go kick ass at some auditions!

The biggest takeaway from this blog post is to figure out what you do best and do that. Don’t compare yourself to other singers and work hard to the best of your ability. 


One thought on “My 6 Tips for Choosing a Starter Audition Aria

  1. Dear Lucas, thank SO much for writing this blog. Is such a great help for me as a young singer who has to do so many auditions all the time. I really find it extremely helpful! With best wishes and admiration, Vlad

    Liked by 1 person

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