NYIOP Auditions Give Opera Singers Opportunity

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David Blackburn cares about opportunities for professional, classically trained singers. “I believe that everybody should at least be heard,” he says. And, preferably, heard live.

It’s why he founded NYIOP.

Since its inception in 2002, NYIOP has afforded one of the few leveraged opportunities for singers to audition in person for high-level casting representatives of professional opera companies from Europe and around the world – without having to travel to Europe, or wangle audition slots one theater at a time. And irrespective of whether they are managed or represented.

David Blackburn

“For years,” Blackburn explains, “everybody said ‘go to Europe!’ Singers were financing these long audition tours, spending thousands of dollars. You got the great experience of being there, but it cost a whole lot of money!” And, as Blackburn observes, the very fact that one could spend a month or more auditioning abroad meant that he or she “wasn’t one of our working singers, one of our best and brightest.”

At any rate, the “grand tour” model has declined in viability, due not only to singers’ budgetary constraints, but those of theaters, too. Companies just aren’t scheduling live auditions as they once did.

“That’s the world we’re in,” Blackburn laments. Indeed – a world of compounded ironies, given that reality-TV-based “live” auditions have long dominated pop culture, bur the most cultivated vocal instruments largely have to go begging to be heard.

But it’s a world for which Blackburn has crafted what he considers a unique and cost-efficient boon. Beginning 16 years ago as coordinated, multi-day rounds of auditions in New York City where casting reps from a number of major opera companies assembled to hear any singers willing to pay NYIOP’s modest participation fee, Blackburn has since widened the scope of his operations to sessions in a host of other cities throughout North American and Europe.

And this coming 9th through 11th of February will mark NYIOP’s first sessions in Toronto, in premises at the Canadian Opera Company. The registration deadline for these Toronto auditions has been extended to January 21.

Blackburn concedes that, for some singers, the notion of paying to audition grates against artistic pride. But the participation fee (slated at $290USD for the upcoming Toronto sessions) principally goes toward underwriting the travel and housing costs of the attending theaters, since none are budgeted for international audition outreach of their own.

“The reality,” says Blackburn, “is that if you’re living in Toronto and want to be heard live in Frankfurt, you’re going to pay a flight to Frankfurt. You’re going to pay a hotel. I’m bringing Frankfurt to your home town, or a town much closer to you.”

In short, NYIOP is actually a major savings over the grand tour of yesteryear. And, as Blackburn assesses it, “if a singer gets one contract from it, that’s worth 25 to 30 thousand dollars.”

For singers cynical that theaters actually hire out of NYIOP sessions; Blackburn is quick to counter with both statistics and anecdote. “The number who have benefited from this is astounding,” he says, pointing for instance to soprano Angel Blue, who opened the current Met season as Mimí in La bohème. “There’s a clip on YouTube where she says straight out that her European career began because Placido Domingo told her to sing for NYIOP,” says Blackburn.

Sonya Yoncheva, the current lead in the Met’s Tosca, is another success story. Yoncheva sang a NYIOP audition in Bologna in 2009, Blackburn recalls. “It’s the first time she was heard on the international scene.”

Then there’s stellar young bass Dmitry Belosselskiy. “Somebody in Russia told him he should sing for NYIOP,” says Blackburn. “He’d never even been on an opera stage before, and he got 13 contracts.”

David Blackburn, with Peter Katona (Director of Casting, Royal Opera), and Eva Wagner-Pasquier (Richard Wagner’s great-granddaughter and former Co-Director of the Bayreuth Festival)

One of NYIOP’s major assets is Blackburn’s own sterling credentials. Having begun as a singer himself, he has worked in capacities ranging from a vice presidency at IMG Artists (he opened IMG’s Berlin office) to his artistic consultancy at the Bolshoi Theater (scouting talent for and helping bolster the young artists opera program internationally).

“I’m a serious person doing serious work,” Blackburn avers. And theaters know it.

Of the upcoming Toronto sessions, Blackburn notes that “everybody’s interested in what’s going on in Canada right now, artistically. We’re hoping that this will be something that will help a lot of Canadians – or even Americans who want to come on up.”

In addition to coordinating the NYIOP casting sessions, Blackburn also offers all registrants a free, live hour-long informational webinar the week before auditions, at which he answers any questions singers may have, and even provides advice on repertoire selection if requested.

“I don’t know why anybody would not sing for this.”

More information about NYIOP and its upcoming audition opportunities can be found at www.nyiop.com. Auditions in Toronto on 9, 10, and 11 February will be attended by casting representatives from Theater Basel (Switzerland); Germany’s Stadttheater Klagenfurt and Staatsoper Hannover; VARA  (Netherlands Public Broadcasting) which produces live opera productions for radio several times a year as part of their Zaterdag Matinee programming; Houston Grand Opera; and several professional agents, as well. Additional representation is expected from one more American and one more European theater, TBA. The registration deadline for the February auditions is January 21. Registration and payment can be made through the NYIOP website.

Other currently scheduled NYIOP audition sessions are those to be held in London (at Jerwood Space) on 2, 3 and 4 February; and in Karlsruhe, Germany on 23 and 24 February (at the Karlsruhe Staatstheater; this is a targeted Baroque casting session, hosted by the Karlsruhe International Handel Festival).

An announcement is pending for specific dates and locations of the next NYIOP New York City sessions, to be held in March.

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About Author

Charles Geyer is a director, producer, composer, playwright, actor, singer, and freelance writer based in New York City. He directed the Evelyn La Quaif Norma for Verismo Opera Association of New Jersey, and the New York premiere of Ray Bradbury’s opera adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. His cabaret musical on the life of silent screen siren Louise Brooks played to acclaim in L.A. He has appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway and regionally. He is an alum of the Commercial Theatre Institute and was on the board of the American National Theatre. He is a graduate of Yale University and attended Harvard's Institute for Advanced Theatre Training. He can be contacted here.

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