Five Singers win top prizes at the Metropolitan Opera’s 2024 Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition

Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition: Metropolitan Opera, New York, 17.3.2024. (RP)

2024 Laffont Competition Grand Final Winners – [l-r] Daniel Espinal (tenor), Meridian Prall (mezzo-soprano), Emily Richter (soprano), Lydia Grindatto (soprano) and Navasard Hakobyan (baritone) © Karen Almond/Met Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition was held on 17 March at the Metropolitan Opera. Formerly known as the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the competition is now in its seventieth season. The ten finalists each performed two arias on the Met stage, accompanied by the Met Orchestra conducted by Evan Rogister, Principal Conductor of Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Reaching the finals of the competition is a career-making opportunity for the ten aspiring opera singers who competed in the grand finals of this year’s competition. Winning puts a singer in the league of such present-day operatic superstars as Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves, Eric Owens, Sondra Radvanovsky, Lawrence Brownlee, Michael Fabiano, Lisette Oropesa, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Ryan Speedo Green and Nadine Sierra.

The competition is operated in Districts and Regions by hundreds of dedicated volunteers and donors from across the United States, Canada and Mexico. This season, the competition had more than 1,500 applicants, and over 900 singers qualified to participate in 36 Districts. Of the roughly 900 singers in the regional rounds, 19 became semifinalists.

More than $300,000 in prize money had already been awarded prior to the final round. Topping that off was the $20,000 awarded to each of the winners, and the $10,000 for each of the other five finalists. Equally important are the prestige, exposure and networking opportunities that come with winning at any level of the competition.

The winners of the 2024 competition were tenor Daniel Espinal (24), soprano Lydia Grindatto (28), baritone Navasard Hakobyan (25), mezzo-soprano Meridian Prall (28) and soprano Emily Richter (26).

Among the highlights of the performances by the five top prize winners was Espinal’s impassioned singing as Gounod’s Faust and Verdi’s Alfredo. Grindatto seized the stage with her fiery, defiant ‘È strano…Sempre libera’ from La traviata. Richter enchanted with her soft, floating tones and expressiveness in ‘Depuis le jour’ from Charpentier’s seldom-staged Louise.

Prall displayed the full glory of her commanding, spacious mezzo-soprano voice in ‘O ma lyre immortelle’ from Gounod’s Sapho. Whether singing Valentine’s aria from Faust or ‘Ya vas lyublyu’ from Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, Hakobyan impressed with his scintillating baritone voice.

The remaining five finalists, who each receive a $10,000 cash prize, were tenor Nathan Bowles (27), mezzo-soprano Ruby Dibble (28), soprano Tessa McQueen (26), tenor Demetrious Sampson, Jr. (24) and tenor Eric Taylor (29). Displaying more vocal heft than Espinal, Taylor and Sampson were clear audience favorites and could have easily found themselves in the winner’s circle.

Denyse Graves served as a glamourous host for the competition, appearing in three different gowns. In addition to introducing the singers, she spoke of The Denyse Graves’s Foundation and its mission to challenge the status quo by the championing of an inclusive narrative of American vocal arts through programming and the training of young artists.

Graves applauded not only the Metropolitan Opera for being a partner in the work of the foundation, but also Peter Gelb’s emphasis on presenting operas that tell stories representative of society at large while maintaining a commitment to presenting the standard repertoire at the highest-possible level.

While the judges deliberated, Ryan Speedo Green sang ‘Die Frist is um’ from Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer. The power of his voice and the dramatic intensity of his delivery portend where this exciting singer’s future may lie.

The audience’s role was more than just sitting back and picking personal favorites. As Graves put it, their job is to help generate the ‘big-league buzz’ around all ten of these sensational young talents. Plus, they have perpetual bragging rights as witnesses to a moment in time which will forever be a part of the singers’ artistic journeys.

Rick Perdian

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