This past November, I had the random task of monitoring the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice auditions in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had to sign in hopeful singers and notify them when they had to sing. Let me just say this now…I both love and hate singers.

There was a group of three girls from Boulder Colorado who had come to audition. They let it be known that they always audition for everything, and that they were “professional auditioners”. The first two girls had morning auditions and the third had an afternoon slot, so everyone who came in over the course of about 4 hours had the misfortune of meeting these girls. The first two girls sang incredibly sub-par… in fact, they screamed through Mozart and Britten.

As the time passed, more and more singers came through from various parts of the country, some good, some alright, and some downright amazing. I was sipping a diet coke when a wide-eyed girl came up to me and said “Hi there! I think I’m supposed to check in with you or something.”

“Yes” I replied “what’s your name?”

Rachel Willis-Sørensen” said the girl.

“Ah yes… you have about thirty minutes”

Rachel then began to comment about how she brought “bump-its” for her hair because she thought it looked too flat. She then fit the hair piece in and asked for my opinion. Personally, she looked great either way. It was around this time I noticed the Boulder girls rolling their eyes in disapproval. Rachel further explained that she didn’t have many auditions lined up this year to which the Boulder girls started snickering at. I could hear sly comments from the Boulder girls about how amateur Rachel must be.

About five minutes before her audition time, the bubbly girl came up to me and said “I have a problem.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well, I forgot my head shots in another folder and when I tried printing them out at Kinkos… this happened!” Rachel pulled out a large white paper with a photograph the size of a passport photo, and another paper with a large photo of her eye.

“Umm…”

“This is how they printed out! What should I do?”

I could already hear the Boulder girls snickering from down the hall about the amateur and how she wasn’t going to get in.

“I don’t know” I said “maybe take in both?”

“Ha! Ok… well, and I have another question!”

“What is it?”

“How many arias are we supposed to have on our sheet?”

“I think four or five” I replied.

“Because, I only have this” said Rachel as she pulled out her entire rep sheet of about thirty arias.

“Umm…”

“I’m pretty sure they’re all memorized” said Rachel excitedly as she started flipping through her music binder when, of all things, a real head shot fell from the depths of the massive music binder she had brought.

“YES!” she exclaimed just as the singer ahead of her walked out of the audition room.

“You’re turn” I said with a smile.

Just as she went in, a male singer informed me that Rachel was a member of the Houston Grand Opera studio, and had actually covered the role of Elsa in Lohengrin fairly recently… looks like our amateur is actually quite the budding pro!

When Rachel actually started singing… every single singer who was waiting stopped talking, and moved closer to listen. What we could hear through the door was beyond astounding.There is really nothing to compare Rachel’s voice to. It’s sort of like… had Joan Sutherland had perfect diction, or if Birgit Nilsson could sing Lucia and Violetta. She is simply a rare and special talent. When Rachel finished, she came out excitedly and gave me a hug. She also left me with the over-sized photo of her eye before she left.

Life lesson? None of the three Boulder girls were asked to sing a second aria, and Rachel sang three. So the next time you’re at an audition and think you have the upper hand just because you do it so much… think again, and stop being such a bitch.

Now, those three girls are all at UC Boulder as we speak; and I just stopped by Lincoln Center to buy a ticket… because our amateur is singing this Sunday at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Finals in front of 4,000 people. And yes… you are all future fans.

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