Technical preparations for an audition by Theresa Brancaccio

by | | 0 comment(s)

Theresa Brancaccio, friend and colleague of mine and  Senior lecturer at Northwestern University has some helpful tips for high school students on how to have an amazing audition. 

Terry’s Tips on:


  1. Translate the text WORD FOR WORD using dictionaries and checking them with reliable books such as those by Coffin, Singer & Delattre, and Schoep & Harris and sources like the Ring of Words by Miller. You should own a good Italian, German, and French dictionary, which include pronunciations in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).
  2. Write your translations in your music, over the corresponding words. Why? Each time you practice, you will automatically see the meaning in English as you read/sing the foreign word. Your mind will be subconsciously studying and internalizing that connection which will help make the language feel more natural.
  3. When a song or aria is in a language other than your native one, work out the pronunciation of each word with a dictionary that has IPA. Write the symbols in your music directly above the text.
  4. Read the text aloud as a Shakespearean actor would read and interpret a poem. Do not skip this!! It will inform you as to where the natural stresses and flow of the language lie. It will help you to memorize quickly and present a more sensitive performance when you actually sing it.
  5. In a perfect world, coach the language with a specialist who not only speaks the language fluently, but also understands singers and how they may need to modify vowels to accommodate high notes and/or placement. If you cannot coach the language separately, at least listen to a recording(s) of native speakers singing the song/aria.
  6. If the piece is an aria from an opera, look at the libretto and find out who your character is, where and when the action takes place, what has occurred prior to your aria, what follows, etc. Why has the composer bothered to set the words to that particular music?
  7. Listen to/observe the accompaniment separately from the vocal line. Notice what is going on. Does it mirror the vocal line? Contrast it (staccato under your legato?) What is the accompaniment doing harmonically?
  8. Work out the rhythms of piece (without the melody) on a syllable like “ta” to form a strong foundation. Rhythm is the skeleton of your music.

There is now a service online called IPA Source (that one can subscribe to) which provides both IPA and translation, but that should be used to check the work you have first done with dictionaries. You must develop the skill of word for word translation by actually doing it.

9. Sing the melody on a good vowel or vowels for you, beginning under tempo, and gradually increasing it when comfortable and secure.

10. Put text, rhythm, and melody together slowly, increasing tempo when secure.

11. Take note of all tempi, changes in tempi, dynamics, articulation, (legato, staccato, marcato, etc). Incorporate them.

12. Perform all elements above with an opinion and point of view. What does the piece men to you? Relate what you are expressing to your personal emotions and experiences. Then, communicate with honesty and commitment.

13. Remember, the mood realm of the song’s world begin before you open your mouth to sing. The piano introduction = unspoken thoughts, atmosphere, emotions.


Mezzo-soprano. Theresa Brancaccio joined the Bienen School’s voice and opera faculty at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1999. Ms. Brancaccio’s students perform throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia in venues including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Daegu Opera House, Opera Theater St. Louis, Merola Opera Program, Sarasota Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Glyndebourne Festival, Dresden Opera, Teatro Real in Madrid, Opéra Comique, and more. Her students have been recipients of prestigious awards from the Richard Tucker Foundation, Marilyn Horne Foundation, Neue Stimmen International Competition, Palm Beach Opera, and George London Foundation, as well as finalists in the District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

In 2017, Ms. Brancaccio was awarded the Provost’s Digital Learning Fellowship to create the Singer Savvy App, a voice budgeting tool, habit tracker and source of vocal health information. It can be downloaded for free at

Tutorials available on YouTube under “Singer Savvy App” or try this link:

This entry was posted in no categories.

You must be logged in to post comments.