Alumni Advice: Nailing Auditions

SFCM, Advice, singers, Efraín Solís, Esther Tonea, Christian Pursell

Recent graduates Efraín Solís, Esther Tonea, and Christian Pursell returned to SFCM to share advice with the next generation of singers.

Three recent Voice graduates return to SFCM to share the challenges and rewards of a professional career in opera.

What does it take to make it as an opera singer? What’s it like working for an opera house? How do you stand out in auditions? These are just some of the burning questions students got answers to at an audition workshop for singers in December. The event is part of the new Audition Workshop for Singers course taught by Opera and Musical Theatre professor Jose Maria Condemi

Recent SFCM Voice graduates Esther Tonea, Christian Pursell, and Efraín Solís met with students to discuss their professional paths, the challenges and rewards of a career in opera, and their particular journeys as young artists in a demanding business. Pursell is an Opus 3 Artist, the management company acquired by SFCM in 2020, singing leading roles at places such as Houston Grand Opera, Cincinnati Opera, as well as in Europe. Solis sings with multiple companies and right now is a resident artist at Opera San Jose. Tonea is a current Adler Fellow with the San Francsico Opera and is about to enter her third year with the program.

Here are each of the trio's top three takeaways for aspiring singers and young artists.

Esther Tonea, ‘18

  • “When you are auditioning, sing what you love because if you’re doing something someone else told you to do, or you hate a piece, it comes across. If you love a piece that comes across, if you hate it, that comes across too.”
  • “Don’t feel like everything needs to be perfect, prepared, yes, but not perfect. If you are really honest about your acting and the emotional side of your character that will show through, more so than if you’re focused on everything being perfect.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches to a role.”


Christian Pursell ‘15

  • “When you are auditioning for an agent, remember you are also auditioning them, you want someone you have a good rapport with.”
  • “I did not really know how nomadic the lifestyle of an opera singer would be. It's not for everyone, you are moving around from gig to gig, it takes a certain type of person to do that.”
  • “There are no guarantees, so it’s important to have other skills that can earn income and develop multiple revenue streams.”


Efraín Solís ‘13 

  • “The thing to accept is that it’s not a straight line to the top. There are ups and downs to every career, ultimately no matter what is going on you have to stick to your guns and hustle. Embrace the hustle.”
  • “Don’t think of yourself as just a singer, think of yourself as an artist. Figure out what your voice is, what you want to say and get out there and say it.”
  • “Take more acting classes. Something I figured out after I graduated was that we are not just singers, we are on stage acting and telling a story, and singing is only part of the story.”


Learn more about studying Voice at SFCM.