“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (Gustav Mahler) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (Gustav Mahler) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation and interpretation guide on Gustav Mahler’s art song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”

Text and translation

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,                                          I have become lost to the world
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,                                      who I used to ruin so much time with,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen,                                   It has heard nothing from me for such a long time,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben!                                     It may as well think I have died!

Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen                                     I do not care at all
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält.                                              If it takes me for dead.
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,                                      I cannot even contradict it
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.                                    For I have really died to the world

Ich bin gestorben im Weltgetümmel                                            I have died in the world's turmoil
Und ruh in einem stillen Gebiet.                                             And rest in a quiet realm.
Ich leb allein in meinem Himmel,                                             I live alone in my heaven,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied.                                            In my love, in my song.

What a very German song! It seems to be melancholy and world-weary – but do not let yourself be deceived…

Song history

The poem was written by Friedrich Rückert and is part of the cycle “Liebesfrühling” (love spring) which he wrote for his later wife.

The text does not have a balladic plot or bold metaphors but talks about the lyrical narrator who seems to live on an island of inner peace.

Gustav Mahler set this text to music in 1901. It is not the only song based on poems by Friedrich Rückert that Mahler composed. Yet, they do not build a cycle (like for example the “Kindertotenlieder”) but were written randomly between 1899 and 1903.

It is typical for Mahler that he composed all Rückert songs with piano accompaniment at first and orchestrated them later.

My own thoughts

When I heard this song for the first time, I mistook it for being desperate and depressed. I was in my early twenties, hungry for life and could not understand that one would one day become weary of all that I thought was life.

In the course of the last twenty years, however, I have gained a more and more deep understanding of what the narrator means. 2020 has thrown us back unto ourselves with plenty of time to reflect our lives and many of us have discovered that so many distractions of the outside world are just that: distractions that bring us away from who we really are. It has revealed to some of us that we have become what society, family, tradition expected us to become (or what we thought was expected from us); shown the false idols we have run after, trying to snatch a piece of their self-awarded glamour and influence.

Before starting to write this article I was convinced that now I understood the text in every detail: the decision to consciously turning away from the outside turmoil and retreat into an inner world of peace, not as an act of protest but as a logic quiet step on the path to self-development towards our true nature seem no longer unreasonable.

However, during the process of analyzing the poem anew for this article, I found various stumbling blocks for interpretation, the use of certain words puzzling me.

Let’s break it down line by line and you will see what I mean:

“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”

I have become lost to the world.

The most important thing with this song is to sing it legato, avoiding to interrupt the song line with consonants. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it seems… ?

The meaning of the idiom “abhanden kommen” is a lot more complex than just “to lose”. It bears one the one hand a level of neglect on the looser’s side, on the other hand there is a willingness (if not an intention) on the side of the lost object “become lost”. Applied to this poem, we may have reason to suspect that the world had neglected the narrator and he or she and willingly withdrew from it.

The stanza starts with a difficult sound for non-German singers, the “ch”. I won’t go into detail here, if you want to learn more about the different ch-sounds in German read this blog post.

In order to hold the legato line, make sure that you prolong the vowels and voiced consonants (n, w, m) and speak the plosives (b, g, k, t) at the last possible time.

Make sure that despite their length, open vowels are pronounced openly: “ich bin”, “gekommen”

“Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben”

Which I used to ruin so much time with.

One would have expected the narrator to say „Zeit verbracht“, i.e. spend time. The English word spend makes the positive aspect even more clear. Another possibility of word use might have been “Zeit vergeudet”, i.e. waste time.

Yet, here we have “verdorben” which is a far stronger expression and shows us that the narrator does not regret his decision to retreat from the world.

The T followed by a D in “mit der” can be a bit tricky at first. Make sure to pronounce both consonants as clearly as NECESSARY but do not interrupt the legato line.

If you pronounce the R in “der” and “ver(dorben) or not is up to you. If you do, make it a very tender one-flap R. (Find more on the different pronunciations of R in this blog post). The recordings I have attached below show both versions, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau pronouncing the R and Mrs. von Otter leaving it off.

The first S in “sonst” is voiced but here, following the CH in “ich” this is nearly impossible without having too large a break between the two words (Remember: we do not want to interrupt the legato). For that reason, it is ok to make the S unvoiced here.

(Feeling a bit nervous that I really wrote that, though. Some diction coaches might skin me alive for that statement…

Make sure to hold your support throughout the whole (descending) phrase; the “verdorben” tends to become flat otherwise.

“Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen”

It has heard nothing from me for such a long time.

This sounds a bit wistful, as if the narrator had a guilty conscience for “going underground”. Considering Mahler’s musical setting and the dwelling on “lange”, it seems as if they realized for the first time how long the time that the world hasn’t heard from them really was.

The S in “sie and “so” are both voiced and here they must be pronounced that way!

A short note on the NG in “lange”: G is not pronounced. Make it sound like NG in “longing”.

Resist the temptation to make a break after “lange”, the focus of this sentence lies on “vernommen”. Sing the whole phrase on one breath.

“Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben”

It may well believe that I have died.

Mahler’s melody gives us the impression that the narrator speaks out the thought of “gestorben” unconsciously at first, startles a bit (dwelling on the O), becomes sad (descending line) and then realizes that their social death it is of no consequence for neither them nor the world.
A whole world lies in this (open) O! Savour it without haste.

Again, the S in “sie” and “sei” are voiced.

The sound you should pay attention to in this phrase is the T in “gestorben”. Make it a clear T, not like the D in “verdorben”.
It’s also easier to manage the leap to “-orben” when you use the T as a kind of springboard and speak it slightly before the piano G sharp.

“Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen”

I do not care at all

Now, the narrator seeks to clarify that it is of no concern to them what the world thinks. We are zooming in from the world’s view to the narrator’s view.

Mahler’s instruction (“A bit more fluid but without haste”) underlines the narrator’s urgency to proof that the world’s interpretation of their absence is of no importance.

The consonant cluster in “nichts daran” may be a challenge and unfortunately I cannot give you a shortcut here: every sound must be clearly audible even if your tongue has to dance a tarantella ?

Although this phrase’s stress lies in parts on the word “nichts”, do not dwell on it for too long but sing on to “gelegen”.

“Ob sie mich für gestorben hält”

If it takes me for dead

A quick reminder – in case you have not guessed it already – that the S in “sie” is voiced.

Although the O in “gestorben” is the longest note in this phrase, I would recommend not to overdo it. This is not a passionate Puccini aria but an introverted (love) song.

Pronounce the T in “gestorben” as articulate as in the phrase above.

“Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen”

I can hardly contradict it

While reflecting, the narrator realizies (and admits) that they did withdraw from the world on purpose. We are witnessing the development of some inner awareness.

In this phrase we have three CHs (“ich”, “auch”, “nichts”) with two different sounds which could be a bit challenging. If you want to learn more on “ich and ach” click here.

Make the S of “sagen” voiced; you will have to make a little stop after “nichts” in order to set the voiced S. Do not be tempted to connect the words to “nichtsagen”: it would sound as “nicht sagen” which has a slightly different meaning.

At the same time, “sagen” should not be overstressed as the focus of this phrase lies on “dagegen”.

“Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt”

For I have really died to the world.

I think “wirklich” might be a challenge to pronounce: first, both I are open and second, every consonant must be clearly audible although the tongue is darting forward and backword from R to K, from L to CH and forward again to B (“bin”).

As above, the T of “gestorben” must be clearly articulated.

It is up to you if you pronounce the R of “der”; I think it is easier to do so with a one-flap R but choose the version that’s more convenient for you.

“Ich bin gestorben im Weltgetümmel”

I have died in the world’s turmoil.

Throughout the poem, Rückert uses the word “world” instead of “earth”, thus making a contrast between people and everything man-made on one side and nature on the other side. Imagine being in a large crowd of people, seeing them hustling and bustling, feeling their emotions that flood you like waves. Realizing their expectations how you should be in order to fit into their idea of normality. You would slowly drown in this sea of distraction, expectation and overwhelm which is what happened to the narrator.

But why does the poet say “died in turmoil” instead of something like “I am dead to turmoil”? Did he want to stress both aspects, the narrator’s overwhelm as well as their decision to withdraw from society?

I don’t know.

You are invited to form your own opinion…

Again “gestorben”, nothing new to say here (just in case you forgot: pronounce the T clearly).

The Ü in “Weltgetümmel” is open and needs attention because of the note’s length.

In this phrase you can literally bath in the voiced consonants N, W and M. Use them to your advantage.

“Und ruh in einem stillen Gebiet”

And I rest in a quiet realm.

This is the climax of the poem (the last two lines are a conclusion) and yet it is the quietest part of it which makes it more of a reverse climax.

The whole poem retreats step by step from the outside to the inside world. Now we get to know where the narrator not only resides but rests: in a quiet realm deep down inside themselves.

In the U (“ruh”) we can feel the quietness and peacefulness of this place as a great contrast to the “Weltgetümmel” before. Take the rolled (but not overdone) R as a springboard to the B flat of “Ruh”.

Make advantageous use of the N and M in “in einem” and ensure that the T of “stillen” is clearly audible (you may use this as a springboard for the octave leap as well) but without destroying the dream-like meldoy.

Hold your intonation during the descending line of this phrase by keeping up the support.

“Ich leb allein in meinem Himmel”

I live alone in my heaven.

The narrator has created his own paradise (heaven) he has chosen to live in. This retreat is neither motivated by anger, nor fear or resignation. Nor is it a flight into an illusional world. The narrator is neither a victim nor does he bear a grudge against the world or is disappointed. They simply made the decision to turn away from what they have recognized as being not right for them (the outside world) and to choose a lifestyle that lets them lead their life just as they please, not trying to fulfil anyone’s expectations.

To me, this is the essence of freedom and peace.

Mahler’s instructions describe this passage as “intimate” and “without intensification”, placing the focus on complete introspection.

“Allein” in German has two meanings: “alone” and “solely”. It is not clear in this context which version Rückert means; in my opinion it is very likely that both are valid.

Here again we have many voiced consonants (L, N, M). Savour them, especially as there is no need to change your jaw position in building them (except for the B).

“In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied”

In my love, in my song

“Lieben” in German is first and foremost a verb not a noun (which would be “Liebe”), thus, “das Lieben” describes love as an action. At first sight, it does not seem to be of importance but on second thought it must bear some significance. Otherwise Rückert could have easily said “in meiner Liebe”.

To me, “in meiner Liebe” sounds more passive than “in meinem Lieben” but this is only my opinion and you should feel and interpret for yourself. After all, this is what makes art songs interesting.

The melody of the first “in meinem Lieben” repeats (in modulation) the one of “in meinem Himmel”. When it is sung again in a descending line, starting pianissimo, it is a continuation of the piano’s or orchestra’s melody.

Pay attention to the glottal onset of “in”, especially when the G sharp is challenging for you. Support well and start the “in” very tenderly and pianissimo, almost sighing it.

The sequence of descriptions for this place (Himmel – Lieben – Lied) shows again the zooming in from the outside world to the inner core. Here is the place where the narrator can “sing his own song” meaning live his individuality without being forced to fulfil society’s expectations.

During the postlude you have the opportunity to contemplate the newly-found world you talked about and hold your tension until way after the final fermata. If there is a song you must not hurry through, it is this one. It teaches us as singers to stay with utmost concentration in the present moment which is only possible when we have taken care of the best possible preparation.


I have added two of my favourite recordings of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”.

One is with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

The other is with Christa Ludwig:

“Erlkönig” (Franz Schubert) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

“Erlkönig” (Franz Schubert) – A Guide to Pronunciation and Interpretation

Translation, pronunciation guide and interpretation tips on “Erlkönig” by Franz Schubert

Historical background

„Der Erlkönig” is a famous ballad by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, written in 1778 as part of a singspiel. It tells the story of a father riding home with his ill son by night through the woods. The son has increasingly severe hallucinations of a creature he calls the alder king who he imagins speaks to him and attempts to pull him into his kingdom. The father tries to calm the child and hurries to get back home with him. When he enters his court, the boy has died in his arms.

The story goes back to the traditional Danish ballad “Elverskud” where the elf-king’s daughters try to lure humans to satisfy their desires. The Danish “elverkonge” originally means “king of the elves” and has nothing to to with alders (the German “Erlkönig” translates literally as “Alder King”). It has often been suggested that “Erlkönig” is a mistranslation.


Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

„Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?“
„Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig Mit Kron und Schweif?“
„Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.“

„Du liebes Kind, komm geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel ich mit dir;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.“

„Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?“
„Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.“

„Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.

„Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?“
„Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau,
es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau.“

„Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt,
und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.“
„Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!“

Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind,
er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
erreicht den Hof mit Müh und Not;
in seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Approaches of Interpretation

The story has been interpreted in several ways:

1. The first is more or less similar to the actual text: the boy is ill and hallucinates because of his high fever of which he dies in the end.

2. The boy is a victim of sexual abuse through the father who is shown with two faces: the abusive father (the Erlkönig) and the good, protective father who tries to blandish his deeds by calming the child and telling him that he imagines things.

 3. A third variant is that the Erlkönig is a symbol for the boy’s awakening lust of puberty and that he attempts to pull the boy into his kingdom with erotic fantasies. The boy loses his innocence and his childhood. His death stands for the entering of the adult world, sexuality and his breaking away of his family. The father tries to prevent that by bringing him back home in time, but the arising male urges cannot be stopped.

Linguistic and Formal Analysis

The poem consists of eight stanzas with four verses in the pattern AABB. This accentuates the dialogue-like character of the ballad, e.g. in the dialogues between father and son. The son opens each stanza with the question if the father didn’t hear or see the Erlkönig (V13/14, V21/22). The father answers always rationally, explaining the images as being natural phenomena (fog, dried leaves, old willow trees). Goethe was one of the first writers of nature-magical ballads that showed the conflict between popular beliefs (son) and the ratio of the enlightened man (father).

The ballad has been set to music by several composers. This article treats the version of Franz Schubert who composed this art song in 1815. He revised the song three times before publishing it in 1821. Schubert’s “Erlkönig” is through-composed with a constantly changing harmonic structure as the piece modulates within characters.

In the ballad, four people are represented by a single singer: a narrator, the father, the son and the alder king. Each person has its own range of voice and many singers give each part a different colour of voice.

The narrator sings in middle range, starting in minor key.

The father sings in deep range, singing in minor and major mode.

The son sings in the highest range, mostly in minor mode.

The Erlkönig sings in mid range and in major mode

The Music of Franz Schubert’s “Erlkönig”

Stanza One

The song starts with a piano foreplay; the music is agitated, imitating the rhythm of horse hooves with rapid triplets and introducing a leitmotif in the left hand. A narrator sings the first words of the melody, starting in G minor: “Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.” [Who rides that late through night and wind? It is the father with his child.] Both, the words and the music create a spooky and sinister atmosphere. All vocals (except the “I” in “Wind” and “Kind”) are dark sounds, adding to the gloomness. Although “spät” is held for three quarters (and you of course may breathe after it), the phrase should not be interrupted. Make sure to hold the tension until “Wind”.

The next words show a contrast and describe how the father protectively holds the child in his arms: “Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm, er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.” [He has the child well in his arm, he holds him safely, he holds him warm.].

Stanza Two

We are zooming in on the rider and ending in a close-up of father and son until we can hear them speak to each other: “Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?” [My son, why are you looking so fearful?]. The father’s part starts a fifth deeper than the narrator’s, beginning with a low D and moves within small intervals (a third being the largest). The rising, temporarily even chromatic melody line shows that the father, despite his calm words, is worried. And he has every reason to be: the son tells him in a fearful whisper (pp) about a creature, the Erlkönig, he imagines seeing: “Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht? Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?” [Father, don’t you see the alder king? The alder king with crown and cape?]. By the way: the German word “Schweif” not only means ‘cape’ or ‘train’ but also ‘tail’ which may be a sexual allusion.
The father, tries to calm his son by telling him that he has mistoken the fog for a person. “Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif” [My son, it is a streak of fog.].

Stanza Three

Enter the Erlkönig! It is almost as if he were sitting right next to the boy, whispering into his ear: “Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! Gar schöne Spiele spiel ich mit Dir;” [You lovely child, come, go with me! I will play wonderful games with you.]. The accompaniment changes for the first time, letting the hooves no longer sound agitated in a gloomy atmosphere but almost creating the impression of a joyful, carefree carriage ride in the sun. It is also notable, that the part begins and ends in a major key. The Erlkönig uses his power of seduction, beckoning the child to come with him, promising him “wonderful games” (again maybe a sexual allusion) and trying to lure the boy with [colourful flowers] (“bunte Blumen”) and [golden robes] (“gülden Gewand”).

Stanza Four

The boy is scared and wants to have the father’s confirmation of what he had just heard: ”Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht, was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?” [My father, my father and do you not hear what alder king is promising me?]. The melody is dominated by chromatics, increasing the expression of the boy’s fear and despair. Note, that the first part of the sentence (until “hörest du nicht”) is sung forte, while the second part is in piano, almost as if the boy was afraid of saying aloud what he experienced. Also, the plea is higher in pitch than the first one.

The father, however, does not give an answer to the boy’s question but commands him to be quiet: “Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind; in dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.” [Be calm, stay calm, my child; the wind is rustling through dried leaves.]. As before, we can hear the worry underneath the calming words.

Stanza Five

Once again, the accompaniment changes, becoming almost dance-like, when the Erlkönig appears a second time:”Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn? Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön; meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein“ [Precious boy, do you not want to go with me? My daughters will wait on you, my daughters lead the nightly dance and rock and dance and sing you to sleep.]. The last part (“und singen und tanzen…”) is repeated, emphasizing the feeling of a dance or even a lullaby.

Stanza Six

The boy is even more agitated now and shouts out to his father that he sees Erlkönig’s daughters: “Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?” [My father, my father, and do you not see Erlkönig’s daughters in the gloomy place?]. A last time, the father tries to soothe the boy: “Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau, es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau“ [My son, my son, I see it clearly, there shimmer the old willows so grey.] Schubert gives this answer an even more agitated touch by inserting two fifth steps (“mein Sohn”, “genau”) and expanding the range to an octave. This and the fact that the father’s part for the first time end in a minor key show that he is very alarmed.

Stanza Seven

When the Erlkönig now appears for the last time, he does not bother to sugarcoat his intentions any longer; his words are explicit: “Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt, und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt!“ [I love you, I am excited by your beautiful body and if you are not willing, then I will use force!]
The piano accompaniment has not changed this time, which adds to the expressed threat. Also, the harmonies are characterized by dissonances and an increase in volume, and the loudest part of the song (fff) is the Erlkönig’s last words “so brauch ich Gewalt!”

The boy’s reaction comes almost instantly, and he cries out in horror and dispair: “Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an! Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!” [My father, my father, he is touching me now! Erlkönig has hurt me!]. It is a statement now, no longer a question, that the boy, crazed with fear and having lost all control, cries out at the top of his voice. Note that the father does not reply to him now. He himself is overwhelmed with horror (or guilt). Words are no longer of use; he is forced to act.

Stanza Eight

The Lied enters its final part where the narrator describes the father’s feelings and reaction: “Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind, er hält in den Armen das ächzende Kind“ [the father is terrified, he is riding swiftly on, he holds the groaning child in his arms]. The narrator as well is agitated which shows in the ascending notes, culminating in the word “ächzende” and the accelerando that drives the song to its end. After this agitated ride, symbolized by the piano with volume, increasing tempo and dynamics, the father finally reaches his farm or courtyard. “Erreicht den Hof mit Müh und Not;“  [he reaches the courtyard with great difficulties ]. The tempo slows down and the accompaniment stops completely after “Müh und Not”, adding an even more dramatic effect to the last words: “In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.” [In his arms the child was dead]. As the piano has ceased to play, rhythm and tempo vanish into the background and the last words “war tot” have an almost recitative-like Quality.

It is notable that the last verb is in the past tense (“war tot” [was dead]) while the whole ballad is written in the present tense. As mentioned before, this could indicate that the boy’s innocence died due to a sexual abuse or that he crossed the threshold from boy to man.


Schubert’s “Erlkönig” is a masterpiece of the Romantic Age and the genre of through-composed art songs that started for a reason with Franz Schubert.

At his time, Schubert’s setting to music of the “Erlkönig” with all its complicated harmonies and dissonances was something totally new to the audience. Nevertheless (or because of that) it was celebrated as a masterpiece. The composition is daring, virtuous, hard to sing and to accompany. But even more so, it is close to the text, incredibly expressive and emotional.

There are those rare occasions where famous texts find a suitable artistic representation that become inextricably linked with the original. Schubert’s music of Goethe’s ballad “Der Erlkönig” is an example for that.

How To Prepare for an Audition – A Checklist for Singers

How To Prepare for an Audition – A Checklist for Singers

Congratulations! You have been invited to an audition. A first goal is achieved!

But what to do now? What to take with you? Which arias to chose? What to wear?
In this guide I have summed up topics that often come up in preparation for an audition.

Although this list is not exhaustive, it can be a helpful resource for you when you are attending an audition, independent from your level of experience.

Confirm the audition date immediately, send your resume and all required files and then make sure you are prepared as good as possible.
This means not only that you have a packing list ready with the things you should take with you, but it also includes general preparations and mindset issues that will help you to give a memorable performance.

Let’s look at it step by step:

1) Your Repertoire

A prerequisite for every audition is a clearly defined audition repertoire of (opera) arias that is appropriate for your voice. It should contain at least five pieces that are well known.

  •  Only take those arias that you are able to master perfectly and which you are comfortable to sing. Make a well-considered choice that lets you show all aspects of artistic singing: the quality of your voice, your vocal technique, an elevated level of difficulty (height!), musicality, interpretation, virtuosity, articulation etc.


  • Furthermore, your selection should consist of arias in at least two, better three different languages and show some contrast in terms of style, mood, character and period.


  • Always sing your repertoire in its original language and take coaching lessons well in advance to make sure your pronunciation is immaculate!
  • Know which aria you will sing first if you are given the choice (which is often the case).
    In my opinion, it is smart to make that first aria short and fabulous; this will leave time for a second aria.
  • Do not at any cost let yourself be persuaded to sing something you have not prepared well enough for a perfect performance. Auditions are a game to be played on the safe side.

2) Travel Organisation

Often an audition takes place not near your home town but at a place far off so that you will have to travel. If possible, make sure that you travel with enough time buffer, so that you are relaxed and fit for the audition.
Needless to say, that an unbalanced bio rhythm will have a very negative impact on your performance. I have often seen singers who had departed at 4.00 a.m. to perform at 12.00 a.m.

This means: try to travel with as little stress as possible; if necessary, arrive one day before and stay overnight. AirBnB offers cheap accommodation or you might want to ask in various Facebook groups for recommendations or opportunities to stay with a fellow singer. Check out if there are any Facebook groups for the city where your audition takes place or close to it.
People are usually very helpful.

On audition day, do not plan your departure time (or any appointment) too close to your time of performance. Sometimes, auditions are very short, but they may also be delayed and thus may become excessively long. Knowing that you have to leave at a certain time to catch your train or flight or that you have an appointment shortly after your scheduled time, will add further pressure to an already stressful event.

3) Clothing

The question of clothing is often posed and must not be neglected. Your outer appearance is the first impression your audience gets and, as is so often the case, first impressions last.
You already know that an audition is not a “come-as-you-are-party”. In general, I would say, that you should feel comfortable with what you wear without being slouchy or overdressed. Torn jeans, jogging pants or flip flops are as inappropriate for a routine audition as tailcoats, tuxedos or full-length evening gowns.

Both men’s and women’s hair should always be out of the face. It needn’t be pulled back, but you should be able to make eye contact.


For men – as often ? – the question of clothing is a relatively uncomplicated one:

  • Smart/casual clothes tending towards the elegant side always look good.
  • Wear a shirt that is relatively loose around the throat and either a jacket or a tie or both.
    If you choose a tie, however, be careful that its fit is not too tight and chokes you.
  • You can go for colour but avoid busy prints which divert the audience’s attention.
    Better set an accent by wearing a bold tie, funny socks or an amazing suit that will make you memorable apart from your voice.
  • If you wear your hair long, make sure its out of your face. You should be able to establish eye contact.


Women’s clothing on the other hand is a much more differentiated subject:

  • I would recommend wearing comfortable, unobtrusively elegant clothing that highlights your physical appearance without showing too much skin. Although it should go without saying, I cannot emphasize enough that strapless dresses showing off your cleavage down to your navel or skirts so short they could be just broad belts are a no-go and will not help you to get the job.
  • Talking of skirt lengths: always bear in mind that you stand on the stage and the audience looks up (!) to you. If in doubt, choose a longer skirt or dress.
  • Pants are equally fine as long as they look classy and fit you.
  • Be careful about shawls and scarfs and other things that are not stabilized.
  • If you want to remain in the judges’ memory (apart from your singing), go for a vibrant
    • touch of colour (no sequins or über-glitzy stuff and again: no busy prints) or some
    • interesting detail (a pin, a necklace, etc.) that does not overwhelm.
  • Black is always an option though hardly memorable
  • One word on women’s shoes: I know that many vocal teachers recommend wearing rather flat shoes in order to being “connected with the floor” and being able to stand upright which enables you to adopt the perfect posture for singing. However, in many roles on stage you will have to wear high heels so why not wear them to an audition? Always provided, of course, that they suit you, that you are comfortable with them and – most important of all – that you are able to walk in them confidently and gracefully.

4) Audition Day

  • Get up in time, do your morning routine and have a healthy breakfast. I know, stress can affect your nerves to such an extent that you can hardly eat anything. However, you will need some nutritious basis in order to not only cope with the day but rock it.If you are a bit like me and have a very stress-sensitive stomach you might want to try some oatmeal porridge with nuts and berries or bananas. It soothes the belly, is very nutritious and will keep your energy level constantly high.
  • Avoid dairy products as they will generate mucus; also, citrus fruit and overly spicy food are not recommendable.
  • Do not excess on coffee as it will dehydrate you. Instead, drink enough water or tea before leaving the house.
  • Carry out some light body warm-ups and stretching to smoothen your muscles and become flexible.  Singing is so much more than just using your diaphragm and moving your vocal cords. Your whole body is your instrument so take good care of it!
  • If you have the opportunity, you should do a little vocal warm-up before you go.
    Be careful and do not overdo it. Lip trills and glissandi will be enough. The “real” warm-up will take place at the audition venue.
  • Check carefully that you have packed everything you need (see No. 5)
  • Leave the house in time. If you are travelling to the venue by public transport you will hopefully have planned out your travelling schedule well before, always keeping in mind that Murphy’s law could kick in and there could be some delay.

5) Package list

  • First of all: your note sheets!
    Nothing more shocking than to arrive at the place of the audition to realize you have forgotten your notes at home! And believe me: this has happened before and more than once.
  • Your ticket for public transport and/or ticket for your journey back
  • If you have one, take your audition plan with you.
  • Water or unsweetened tea. Make sure to drink plenty, starting already at the day before, in order to keep your throat hydrated.
  • (Sugar-free) lozenges or pastilles, if you want and/or need them to hydrate your throat.
  • Something to eat, at best something that additionally provides you with moisture, like fruits or vegetables and something  nutritious like muesli bars or nuts. However, some people have a very sensitive digestion, especially under pressure. Make sure you choose your food wisely in order to avoid any inconveniences.
    Also do not eat too much or too close to your performance. If your belly is overstuffed,you will have trouble with breathing and breath support. Additionally, gases might form and… well, you know…
  • If you get cold easily, take a sweater or a coat with you to keep you warm.
    No need to shiver from anything else than nerves…
  • A pair of extra shoes. This is not a must but especially the ladies will know what I am talking about: running around in high-heels the whole day can be extremely stressful for the body and lead to muscle tension which leads to bad posture which leads to decreased breath support which leads to voice problems ….
  • Deodorant or body spray. Have mercy on your competitors and colleagues and have something to freshen up at hand.
  • First aid supplies like (blister) plasters and a disinfection spray. Again, this is optional, and chances are that you will hardly need it, but again: Murphy’s Law might kick in just when you do not have anything with you.
  • It is also advisable to have a mini sewing kit with you. A loose button or a ripped seam will not be a drama but something you can control and confidently cope with. Also, if one of your competitors has a clothing issue you can fix with your sewing kit, stay human and help them.
  • Noise cancelling headphones. You might want to take them to the audition venue in order to shut out the noise and calm down and concentrate.
  • Your lucky penny or whatever good-luck charm you have and need.

6) Warm-Up

After having arrived at the venue and having carried out all the administrative stuff, you usually have the opportunity to warm up your voice. However, you are not the only one to do so and you will certainly have no room for yourself. This is the time to mentally shut out the world and focus solely on your voice. Exercise your warm-ups carefully, try out those high (or low) notes but please: do not exaggerate, neither in height nor in volume. With many people around you who warm up their voices you might be tempted
to sing louder than is healthy.

However, sometimes there will be no official room for warming up. Be inventive then: do your exercises in the cloak room, in the toilet compartment or any niche you can find. A friend of mine even stepped into a large closet and did his vocal warm-up there. We still have a good laugh when we imagine that anybody had casually strolled by – to be frightened nearly to death by a booming voice coming out of the closet.

7) Mindset

When it comes to a winning mindset, athletes are pros.
As a lot of their techniques are applicable for singers, as well, I have listed some of them here:

  • Visualization.
    According to research it does not make any difference to the brain whether you really experience something or whether you just imagine it. Use this technique by imagining how you want the audition to be.
  • Picture yourself entering the stage calmly and composedly. You start to sing and are totally absorbed in the music and the lyrics and you do a stunning and convincing performance.
  • Imagine not only what you see but also what you hear and feel. Use as many senses as you can to make the image real in your mind.
  • Remember your best performance.
    The task here is to re-create the mindset that led to your success. Again, remember how you felt, what you saw and so on. When you have found this successful mindset, try to find a word or feeling for it that you can repeat when you feel negative thoughts creeping up.
  • Create a ritual that helps you to stay in control.
    Do some breathing, meditate or carry out exercises and movements that will help you to calm down. Use the minutes before you enter the stage to focus completely on your upcoming performance. Try to enjoy this feeling of tension and excitement! It is normal to feel nervous.
  • Get the right attitude.
    You cannot expect to be perfect every time. After all, it is more important how we react to what happens than what happens itself. Define personal goals to measure your progress and success and commit to them. Distinguish between the things you can control and those you have no control about and accept that.
  • “One play at a time”
    Do not fret about a badly intoned note or a flounder but go on.
    Don’t let one tiny part of your performance throw you off for the rest of the aria. What’s done is over and you cannot bring it back. Concentrate on the task at hand and give your best now.
  • Keep up a positive mindset.
    “Whether you think you can, or you can’t – you are right” is a saying by Henry Ford, which shows the power of your thoughts.
    So make sure you think that you can!

8) Accompanist

No, I don’t mean: bring your own accompanist. ?

But he or she definitely plays (hihi, get it?) an important role in your performance.
This is why it is always advisable to at least not disgruntle him/her and at best make his/her work easy so that he/she will support you in return by accompanying you perfectly.

It is a matter of politeness to take special care of your note sheets! I think there is no accompanist who could not tell you his or her hair-raising experiences with crumpled scraps of paper, unreadable scribbles and instable sheets that collapsed or fluttered to the
ground. Be considerate and either tape the sheets together in the right (!) order or put them into a folder where the pages can easily be turned.

  • Also, inform your accompanist beforehand about any specialties in your performance, for example fermatas, cadenzas or any omissions you intend to do.
  • As far as tempo is concerned, you usually can rely upon an experienced accompanist to play in the appropriate pace. However, to err is human and it could happen that he or she plays your aria either way too fast or too slow.
    In that case – and only if you really cannot cope with it or if it would distort your performance – I would recommend trying to make eye contact first and stubbornly sing in the tempo you want to have. If nothing helps, you have no other choice but to stop singing and explain shortly how fast or slow you want the piece to be played.

9) Performance

  • Enter the stage with confidence.
    Do not carry anything with you except your note sheets.
    Leave your bags or coats in the wardrobe. Also, do not fall into the bad habit of bringing up a water bottle onto the stage and then trying to hide it (unsuccessfully) under the piano.
  • Normally, the audience room is partially dark, and you will not be able to see anyone.
    Nevertheless, introduce yourself with your full name and explain shortly what aria you are going to sing first. Remember: you are on stage. So, make sure you are clearly understood even at the last seat.
  • Stand up straight without touching the piano (it can support itself ?), take some seconds to concentrate and let the  accompanist know (for example by nodding slightly towards him/her) that you are ready to start.
  • Connect with the words and music and perform as if you were singing alone and just for yourself.
  • You may use your hands and arms to emphasize your words and do facial expressions, but you are not supposed to wander around or act excessively. Close your eyes if you want, yet do not keep them shut for too long. After all, your eyes are an important factor in your performance.
  • As far as pronunciation is concerned: spit out your words!
    If you think you are overdoing it, this is when you have reached the point to articulate understandably.
  • When your part is over, do not relax to soon but hold the tension for a few seconds longer to keep up the energy.
  • Maybe you will be asked to sing a second aria. Then go ahead and do what is requested!
    Maybe you receive a “Thank you, you will hear from us.”  In that case stay polite, bow, say “Thank you” and leave the stage with your head held high.
  • Never, ever excuse yourself!
    No one is interested in your personal matters, your sore throat or your lack of sleep due to nerves. Always act professionally.

10) And now?

When we break it down, there are four possible outcomes:

A) You were not satisfied, and the director was not satisfied.

In that case you go back, lick your wounds and analyse ruthlessly your mistakes or flaws.
Make a plan of all the issues you want to work on and the steps you will be taking in order to achieve what you intend to. Then put your plan into action:

  • Work with your teacher on your vocal challenges or look for a teacher if you haven’t got one.
  • Hire an excellent pronunciation coach who helps you to improve your diction and to understand every word of your arias so that your performance will reach a new level.

And then try it again. There is always a next audition.

B) You were satisfied, but the director was not satisfied

Be very honest with yourself: was your performance the best you could do and were you really satisfied with it?

If your answer is yes and you still did not get therole then maybe you did not fit into it for other reasons but your voice. As you know very well there are various factors that lead a director to cast a role with a certain person, for example your appearance, your height (and weight) or maybe you reminded him of his first-grade teacher which he loathed.

If, however, after thinking hard about it, you did find some flaws in your performance, go back to A), make a plan and put it into action.

C) You were not satisfied but the director was satisfied

Congrats, you got the role!

Even if you were not satisfied, the most important thing at this moment is: you nailed it. However, as discussed under #B) you could have been chosen for various reasons apart from your voice and thus, if you had some points you were not satisfied with, go back to #A) and make a plan and put it into action.

D) You were satisfied and the director was satisfied

Again: congrats you got the role and you didn’t find any flaws in your performance. Very well done!

Continue the good work and constantly strive to improving your art. Every new role will bring up some new challenges you will have to tackle. Singing is a life-long process of learning and improving. So, take stock from time to time and work with a teacher or a coach when the need arises, even if – or better: especially when – you are doing well in business.


If you have read to this point, I want to say a big “Thank you!”
I hope this list will help you to prepare your next audition perfectly or at least cut down the stress a bit.

As stressful as these events can be, they are only one part of your profession and
should neither freak you out nor ruin your pleasure in singing.

So, if there is only one thing you take with you from this post, I would love it to be:

Have joy and fun in singing! Love what you do and strive to do it perfectly!
Contribute your art to the world! We need it.