Interested in Einstein Revival? – An Anatomy of auditioning for Einstein on the Beach
Posted: 11/21/11 -- 9:00 am
I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of Philip Glass. My iPod contains everything from his symphonies to his string quartets, his film scores and solo piano music, and of course, his operas. I listen to him in the car, while I’m cooking, while I’m thinking, at the gym… sometimes you are just in a Philip Glass kind of mood. So, you can understand why I briefly stopped breathing when I received an email from a new music-singing friend last March entitled, “Interested in Einstein Revival?” I wondered how quickly I could respond without sounding desperate, but then promptly ignored this concern and wrote back, um…yes. I was interested.
As a singer, I’m usually fairly zen about auditions. Many variables are out of our control, so I try to be prepared, do my best work, but spend as little time obsessing about it as possible. I pretend I don’t care about the outcome, and tell myself that I will be successful regardless of whether or not I get the part.
The truth was, however, that this time I did care, and no amount of denial-ridden inner monologue would convince me otherwise. I sent in a resume and samples of my singing and then tried to preserve my outer calm while I waited. I didn’t have to wait long before being invited to come to New York in early May to audition at the Baryshnikov Arts Center for a chorus role.
Being part of Einstein on the Beach was beginning to become a real possibility, so I let myself get a little bit excited. I started listening to sections of the piece and I watched a wonderful documentary on the making of Einstein entitled “Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera” which, as a side note, I would recommend highly to anyone as a fascinating introduction to the piece, or as a way to learn more for those that are already familiar with it. (All the members of my family “might” be receiving this documentary for Christmas this year.)
I also started practicing, both the piece I had decided to sing for the audition, as well as exercises I drew from Einstein. The text of the opera is comprised of numbers and solfege syllables, sometimes sung very rapidly and in constantly-changing rhythmic meters. I figured that if by some chance I was cast, I would need to start practicing immediately so I would not become hopelessly tongue-tied in rehearsals.
So, I auditioned in NYC for Lisa Bielawa, Michael Riesman, and Linda Brumbach. I was the first to sing that day (we were asked to prepare something in English), and then Michael Riesman asked me to say aloud 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3, 1 2 3 4 1 2 3, etc as quickly as possible. Aha!! My compulsive practicing of numbers had paid off. The audition was over before I knew it, and I flew home to wait again, with ever-building excitement and anticipation.
Fortune smiled, and I was invited to a callback audition three weeks later, this time to sing excerpts from Einstein, the choruses “Night Train” and “Spaceship,” as well as to complete a movement/dance audition. I arrived at the DANY Studios along with 24 other singers, all vying for 12 spots (3 of each voice type). Everyone knew each other, greeted each other warmly, with hugs, like at a big family reunion. I remember thinking about how COMPLETELY different this was from any other audition I’d ever done, and I’d hoped I’d have the opportunity to become part of this strange and wonderfully supportive community.
We were divided in half, and when it was our turn, we filed into a dance studio and faced a long table. There were many important people in the room, including a camera crew for an upcoming documentary, but I found myself staring directly at Robert Wilson. I knew what he looked like and had known he would be there, but as soon as I saw him, various highlights from his staggeringly impressive bio began running through my brain like ticker-tape, and I was stunned. I took a deep breath and decided I could be star-struck later: now was the time to focus.
We sang through the prepared sections up to tempo, I was asked to jump up to a descant line above the choir, and I started feeling pretty good. This wasn’t so bad, I thought. Then, we were divided in half again for the dance audition. Ever since the callback invitation, I tried to psych myself up for this part, but let’s be clear: I am not a dancer by any stretch of the imagination. We started off easily enough, with some focus and posture exercises. Then, Wilson asked us to cross the room, but to take at least 3 minutes to do so (very, very slowly) and, not allowing the initiation point of our movements to be seen. A fascinating challenge, one that required us to spend at least the first 30 seconds to transfer our weight to one foot.
Then, my moment of truth came. Robert Wilson left his place at the table to demonstrate a “routine” for us, which we were to instantly memorize and then re-create. As we watched, our collective adrenaline turned quickly to collective dread as the slow, stylized movement of the routine kept going… and going. Silently, I cursed my 10-year-old self for not continuing with ballet. I thought, “Well, that’s it. This was fun, but my lack of dance training will cost me this job.” No one moved a muscle when Wilson told us it was our turn. Then, slowly we forced our legs back to our positions and made the routine up the best we could, mimicking the style of the movement, if not its exact steps.
Ultimately, a miracle happened, and, a few days later, I got the invitation to join the tour. Now, months later, I am still giddy with excitement at the adventure that is about to begin. As I become familiar with each segment of my 85 page score, which will eventually expand into 4 ½ hour show, I know that in a matter of weeks, I will be singing this music in my sleep and it will become a part of who I am for the next 13 months.
My voice teacher in graduate school always told me that my path would be different, that it would probably be somewhat non-traditional, but that I would find my way. This year that path has led me to Philip Glass and Einstein on the Beach and I truly could not be more grateful.
Have a question for Lindsay, or curious about something to do with Einstein on the Beach? Use the hashtag #askeinstein on Twitter or comment below.
Lindsay Kesselman is an emerging American soprano, who passionately advocates for contemporary music in America, actively commissioning and collaborating with a diverse array of composers. In 2011 she performed Joseph Schwantner's "Sparrows," as well as premieres by Kieren MacMillan, with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Upcoming performances include a recital tour of Abbie Betinis’ song cycle “Nattsanger” to universities in Texas and Oklahoma, the music of Michael Ippolito in recital at the Greenwich House in New York, and several compositions by Amy Kirsten at Roosevelt University in Chicago with members of eighth blackbird and Third Coast Percussion. Kesselman holds degrees in voice performance from Michigan State University and Rice University.