Skip to main content
Latest SFCM News
News Story

Students Audition for Six Opera Companies in One Busy Day at SFCM

Nineteen voice students auditioned during the course of the day for six West Coast opera companies, five of them in the Bay Area.

April 8, 2024 by Alex Heigl

Bringing six different opera companies in a single day for nineteen students to audition seems like an ambitious task, but SFCM was up for it.

Opera and Musical Theatre Chair Heather Mathews and Voice/Opera Studies faculty Rhoslyn Jones engineered the 2024 workshop (held in March) based on an old tradition at SFCM: "The Conservatory used to hold the West Coast Opera auditions when the school was in the Sunset District," Mathews said. Previously, this was handled by a management company who held "managed" and "unmanaged" audition days for singers. "We wanted to take that idea of all the companies coming together," she continued, "but for young artists to audition for as many companies as possible."

With SFCM's Bowes Center, many of the barriers for traditional audition days for companies (lodging, pianist, space rental) have been removed: SFCM hosts the company reps and provides the pianist and space. The consideration is also there for students as well. "Accessibility is a really big issue for us, so this is a more equitable opportunity for students who perhaps cannot afford to fly back and forth to New York to audition multiple times a year," Jones added.

The companies who heard students sing were the Livermore Valley Opera, Opera Parallèle (under the direction of SFCM's New Music Ensemble Director, Nicole Paiement), West Edge Opera (Berkeley), Festival Opera (Walnut Creek), Opera San Jose, and Opera Santa Barbara.

Heather Mathews works on an SFCM production.

Heather Mathews works on an SFCM production.

"One thing that has happened over the years is this rise of exceptional small companies within this area," Mathews said. "So we started with that nucleus of who's in town or who's in the Bay Area and wanted to make sure that our students stood in front of those companies and auditioned before they graduated. Fortunately, I've worked with the majority of the companies in the Bay Area, and so has Rhoslyn, so it's easy to reach out to the people that we have established relationships with."

"SFCM's industry day was a valuable and enlightening experience," student Joseph Calzada, studying with César Ulloa, said. "The Q&A sessions were informative and we were able to perform for the companies in a comfortable, 'home court advantage' setting. Interacting with these guests enabled us to expand our networks and gain insights we otherwise wouldn't have had access to."

"Industry day was different from any other audition I’ve had so far, " student Sydnee Turrentine-Johnson, studying with Catherine Cook, said. "Not only did SFCM's voice faculty see fit to bring so many opportunities to our institution but they did it in an intimate environment where we as students could feel welcome and uplifted."

"We want students who choose to come here and spend four or six years with us to know that they have an avenue to get a job here in the Bay Area or on the West Coast, that it's not 'Come to San Francisco, but know you'll immediately be moving to New York after you graduate,'" Mathews explained. "There's actually a lot of work here, a lot of companies in California or Washington, Idaho, Colorado."

Rhoslyn Jones in a lesson.

Rhoslyn Jones in a lesson.

The day also included a Q&A panel with the companies "to give general, friendly feedback about auditions and answer any questions about their company or the audition process," Jones said. She continued, "It's really valuable for the students to learn about what's on the other side of the table: 'What are they actually listening for? Are they listening for how great my high note is or are they looking to see if I'm emoting?'"

The students selected three pieces with which to audition, selected with their private teacher. "Students brought what they do best," Jones said, "the best representation of the skill set that they have at this moment."

"This is the experience of auditioning for companies that will pay them to come and work," Jones continued. "For a lot of the students, this was the first time they're auditioning for someone for a job, so it's great that they're doing it here in the building that they know."

Learn more about SFCM's Voice/Opera Studies and Opera and Musical Theatre departments.