It’s a summer opera program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada that runs for four weeks, giving singers (especially university undergrads, Masters’ students and young professionals) an opportunity to learn roles in the context of performing an entire, fully-staged opera. Masterclasses in dramatic and musical interpretation and auditioning are also a part of the process. Operas are double-cast as much as possible, with each participant receiving at least two public performances in a well-equipped theatre.
Participants will be selected from live auditions be held in London, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax or from recorded auditions for those too far away to audition in person. There are no age limits for this programme. Each role will be double cast, if possible and each participant will have at least two public performances of his or her role. All participants will be expected to arrive with their parts securely memorized, as if for a professional engagement.
The workshop will begin with a few days of music rehearsals and coachings, followed by a an intense week and a half of blocking and running the show. A typical day will include an acting warmup, then six hours of rehearsals at the Dalhousie University campus scheduled for the afternoons and evenings. As a break from staging, we’ll offer a series of masterclasses on dramatic or musical interpretation and auditioning techniques: each participant will have at least one slot in these masterclasses with guest artists and coaches, and slots will be determined by draw.
Then we move into the theatre (the extremely well-equipped 235 seat Sir James Dunn Theatre on the University campus) for tech and dress rehearsals and the eight performances (four of each show). Performances will be accompanied by piano, and performed in the original language, with English surtitles for the added enjoyment of our audiences.
HSOW takes place in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. We rehearse at the Dalhousie Arts Centre, home of Dal University’s Music and Theatre Departments. We perform at the Sir James Dunn Theatre, which is also at DAC.
Most of our productions are modern dress, largely for budgetary reasons. Like some other summer programs (SOLT in Toronto, for example), we ask artists to provide the basics of their stage wardrobe. We send artists a list of our clothing suggestions when they’re accepted into the program, so that they have time to sort out what they want to bring.
When special costume pieces are called for, or if a production is in period costume, HSOW provides as much as possible. Or, if an artist doesn’t have something on our list (we’ve encountered young gentlemen without suits, for example), HSOW will work out something.
To assure a professional experience, artists singing with HSOW work with professional stage management, technical, costume and props people. While no one will be asked to paint sets (unless they volunteer to help), sometimes staged set changes are part of the blocking, and singers will be asked to participate in these.
If you need a place to stay in Halifax, we recommend first checking out sites for sublets. Even though you’d only be subletting for a month, there are often people who are happy to get even a month’s subletting over the summer. Here are some we found recently:
Or, if you prefer, you can try the summer residences at Dalhousie University::
There’s also summer residence accommodation at St Mary’s University (less than a km away from the Workshop location at Dal)
The workshop fee itself is $1000 Canadian (with US$ accepted at par) for operas performed with piano, $2000 for operas performed with orchestra. In addition to the fee, you’ll need to get to Halifax (which is served by an excellent international airport and a well-maintained system of highways), find a place to stay here for the four weeks of the workshop, and pay for your food and entertainment.
HSOW itself can offer a limited number of bursaries or partial scholarships each year. After you’ve submitted your application, you’ll be given a chance to apply for a scholarship, if you need one.
Every year, thanks to the generosity of Colin and Debbie Richardson, one voice student from Dalhousie University is given a scholarship to pay for his or her HSOW fee. This scholarship is awarded at the discretion of the Dal Music Department.
There are two steps to applying to HSOW.
1. Sometime in the late fall of each year the online application form for the next year becomes available. Filling in that form is the first step.
2. On the form you’ll be asked whether you wish to audition in person or send in a distance application. If you select an in-person audition, we’ll contact you to schedule one.
If you select a distance application, you should go ahead and send us a CD or DVD audition, or digital files by the deadline.
For 2013 we’ve had to add a non-refundable $16 application fee which helps us cover the increasing costs of processing applications, booking audition space, travel, etc. You are also responsible for arranging for and paying an accompanist if you choose to do a live audition in London, ON, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.
If you’re applying for a specific principal role, the best thing you can do is prepare one of that role’s arias in the original language. It’s even more important if you want to be considered for any of the roles in opera that require extremes of range or flexibility. (If you want to be cast as Queen of the Night, for example, you’d better sing Der Hölle Rache!)
You will really help yourself if you prepare an aria in the original language for the role for which you wish to audition. Besides that, you are welcome to sing other songs which show off your voice, acting ability and personality — art songs, “operatic” musical theatre pieces, etc.
We know that some people don’t have any operatic repertoire ready. That’s fine. We cast the smaller roles from less experienced people all the time — in this case we’re looking for musicality, personality and intelligence. We’d rather hear you sing something you do really, really well than something that doesn’t fit you at all, or that you’re just not ready for.
Please bring your headshot (or snapshot) and your bio and/or resume. Make sure your name is on your headshot, either professionally printed on the front or written on the back.
You can bring letters of reference, if you like, but they are not essential.
Bring your music for the accompanist. The auditioners don’t need an extra copy.
You’ll be asked to fill in another form when you arrive at the audition venue.
All auditions, whether distance or live, are heard by Nina Scott-Stoddart, who casts all the shows (in consultation with other faculty). Sometimes at the live auditions you will only be singing for Nina, other times she will be joined by other stage directors or music directors. In November 2012 other confirmed faculty members attending auditions will include Andrew Pelrine (Toronto and London), David Mosey (Toronto and London) and Tara Scott (Halifax).
Different auditioners look for different things. The artists I’ve cast in the past have caught my attention at the auditions through some combination of beautiful voice and dramatic ability. Some people are stronger in one area than another — being a really marvellous actor can make up for some inexperience in singing, and being a superb singer can definitely make up for lack of experience in acting. As HSOW attracts more and more applicants, the standards have become higher and higher.
Most importantly, I’m looking for nice people with a positive attitude and a willingness to work collaboratively with their colleagues and the artistic teams.
Nina listens to all the auditions, whether distance or live. There are distinct benefits to auditioning in person of course, but every year we do cast many, many roles from distance applications. You can increase the odds of being cast at a distance by:
1. Include video footage of your audition arias or links to videos. Make your video as much like an actual audition as possible.
2. Include a good covering letter telling us why you want to attend HSOW specifically. Give us a sense of your personality and interests — anything to help make your application more vivid will help!
3. Letters of reference can be a great help to us, if we haven’t worked with you before.