The casting director

Arnold Alons

Cardiff Singer draws people for work as well as pleasure - people whose job it is to seek out new operatic talent. Casting director Arnold Alons talks to Viv Goldberg.

What brings you to Cardiff Singer?

I come to competitions such as Cardiff Singer to see what's going on, and who's coming up in the opera world. I don't come looking to cast specific roles necessarily, and normally not big roles - certainly not the bigger Verdi and Wagner, which need more experience as a rule.

Can you tell how someone will be on stage from a concert performance?

Yes, you can have an idea. You can certainly tell if they know what they're singing about, and if they don't know what they're singing about! And how they look can also be important, which you can see, of course.

So looks matter too - it isn't just voice that you're looking for?

You do typecast for certain kinds of roles. For Verdi and Wagner, the voice is the number one consideration, and as someone who came to casting via a musical background, I have come to realise that it's more complicated for many roles. For example, Billy Budd needs particular types in all the roles, in voice, character and looks.

Do you get many approaches from young singers?

I receive maybe 20 or 30 CDs or DVDs each week - and usually I can tell within a few seconds if someone's worth following up.

Other than competitions and direct approaches from singers, how else do you find out who's out there?

There are big auditions organised which singers can apply for, for example the NYIOP. Also you go and see many performances, and you are aware of who other people are casting at the moment.

Do you have any advice for young singers?

First of all you need a voice and technique - but that's only the beginning. After that, you always need to work on styles and interpretation, and you need to study very hard - especially the music - with coaches that you like and that like you. Also, you should lead a good healthy life. You should trust your instincts and know yourself.

Do you get asked to recommend good teachers or managers?

I do get asked, but I will never advise on either of these as they are both very personal kinds of relationship and you don't know what is going to work for different people. I will recommend language coaches, but that's all.

What is the biggest trap young singers can fall into?

Conductors - sometimes managers, but often it is conductors - who persuade you to do something that you're not ready for and that promise, "It'll be OK, I'll make it work". The biggest mistakes you can make are to take on too much, and to try and do roles that aren't suitable for you at the moment.

You've been attending the Song Prize as well, which might seem surprising to some.

It's good to see what the singers can do on a smaller scale, in miniature if you like. It can all inform the bigger picture of the kind of things a singer can offer.

Are you casting anyone you've seen here, or would that be telling?

Yes, I have approached someone - for a main role. I have a leading male singer cast that she will be perfect to partner - hopefully it will come to something. Of course I'm not going to say who it is! Also, there are a couple of other singers I'm interested in, though I don't have anything specific in mind for them at the moment.

Maybe you'll come back for the next competition and let us know how it worked out?

Yes, perhaps I will!

Arnold Alons has been casting opera since 1987, and currently works mainly for Theatre du Capitole, Toulouse and Teatro Municipal de Santiago de Chile. Before then he had his own opera studio in Holland, spent six years in Vienna working as an agent, worked as artistic administrator at Geneva Opera, and spent nine years as artistic advisor to Hughes Gall at the Paris Opera. He is a pianist, conductor, director and dramaturg but has not sung since he was a boy.

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