Young Singers Compete, with Met Opera Aspirations

 United StatesUnited States Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, Ohio District: Robert J. Werner Recital Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio. 18.10.14 (RDA)


As last year in the Ohio District of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, the turnout was impressive, both in the number and quality of young singers. In the list provided by Ohio District Director Richard Lauf, there were 18 participants ranging in age from 21 through 29, with 5 sopranos, 7 tenors and 6 baritones. Each entered these auditions hoping to make it all the way to the regional competitions, and eventually to the New York finals in the spring. The voice faculty at the College Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati, which trained the majority of the participating singers, is naturally cautious and only sends those students who are truly ready for what a Met audition entails. What we saw and heard was the cream of the crop.

In most cases, a Met win will not ignite the start of a career, even a modest one. Singers must usually participate in the obligatory young artist training programs, the age-old audition tour of German opera houses, and the opportunity to get an engagement or two in regional opera companies. Further, no bass or mezzo-soprano voices (with some exceptions) can be recognized as potential career instruments until the late 20’s and beyond.

Nearly all of the singers evidenced well-trained and fresh voices, secure technique, a nice ear for the standard languages (German, Italian French), fair English diction, musicianship and musicality. As the young talents stepped out onto the stage of the Robert J. Werner Recital Hall, one thing became clear before a note was sung: there were exceptional, larger-than-life personalities who laid claim to the stage immediately, a presence that cannot be taught.

The singers got to choose their “calling card” arias, then the judges would select another from a list of five each singer provided. Among my caveats: a better job could be done, encouraging these singers to explore unusual corners of the repertory—outside the tried and true. For every Count’s aria (Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro) trotted out, one hoped for one “Rivolgete a lui” (Cosi fan tutte). The latter is roughly the same range, makes somewhat similar demands, is a lot more colorful and showy, and is better suited to the voices of the young baritones than the utterances of Count Almaviva.

The same can be said for “Una furtiva lagrima,” listed again and again by the tenor contingent. Outside of Elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor and Don Pasquale, Donizetti has 66 operas, most of them chock-full of terrific tenor arias. How about “Angelo casto e bel” from Il Duca d’Alba, “Spirto gentil” from La Favorita, or “Deserto in terra” from Don Sebastiano? I would bet that anyone who programmed one of these would have edge on others in done-to-death arias that inevitably invite unfair comparisons with established artists.

There was also a bit of Fach confusion among some of the singers. While it is a fact that many singers at their peak moved comfortably from the lyricism of Manon and Gilda to the larger demands of Donna Anna, a young soprano in her mid-20’s would do better to concentrate on the lyric-coloratura repertory. Donna Anna is a role that straddles the lyric and the dramatic soprano ranges, and there are some big-voiced ladies who have sung the role.

The three judges must be commended and thanked for taking time from their busy careers: Gayletha Nichols, Executive Director of the National Council Auditions; Roger Pines, dramaturg and broadcast commentator at the Lyric Opera of Chicago; and William Florescu, General Director of the Florentine Opera Company. At the piano and sounding like an orchestra—and breathing and thinking with each one of the singers—Donna Loewy was the made-in-heaven accompanist.

There were two encouragement awards, each carrying a $500 prize. Baritone Samuel Chan sang a nice “Bella siccome un angelo” (Don Pasquale) and evidenced a good feel for the legato and flexibility. Later he impressed with a stentorian and agile rendition of “Sibilar, gli augui d’ Aletto” from Handel’s Rinaldo. The other went to tenor Alec Carlson, who chose “Dal labbro il canto” from Verdi’s Falstaff and then continued with “Tom’s Here I stand” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.

There was a tie for the $1,500 first prize: both tenor Christopher Bozeka (23) and soprano Jessica Faselt (22) impressed the judges and audience. Bozeka sang a gorgeous “Una furtiva lagrima” with the sort of vocal panache and style that comes from years in the operatic trenches. He followed it with Sam’s touching aria from Carlysle Floyd’s Susanna. Ms. Faselt, a big-voice spinto soprano-in-the-making, warmed up with a good “Come scoglio” (Cosi fan tutte) and then sang, very impressively, Elsa’s Dream from Wagner’s Lohengrin.

Unlike the disgruntlement that can often follow the announcement of results in most vocal competitions, the afternoon came to a happy conclusion, with the audience and a well-behaved group of singers cheering the judges’ decision.

Rafael de Acha

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