The Metropolitan Opera's National Council Audition places its participants, and especially its winners, in the public eye, often paving the way for young singers to launch successful operatic careers. Among its famous alumni are Sondra Radvanovsky, Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, and Eric Owens. Naturally, participating in, and winning this elite competition is the dream of many aspiring operatic singers, making competition stiff and formidable.
Last Sunday, March 13, I attended this year's Grand Finals, and got a glimpse into the kind of talent required for this event. There were 9 finalists: Brian Vu (baritone); Emily D'Angelo (mezzo soprano); Sol Jin (baritone); Lauren Feider (soprano); Sean Michael Plumb (baritone); Jonas Hacker (tenor); Theo Hoffman (Baritone); Jakub Józef Orlinski (countertenor); Yelena Dyacheck (soprano). Each participant sang two arias: one in the first half, and one after intermission, in the second half.
Antony Walker conducted the orchestra and our host was Deborah Voigt, with a guest performance by Eric Owens. I could not help but overhear the seasoned couple sitting behind me discussing how the judges panel "never" picks the rightful winners, a sentiment I have learned is shared amongst many people who keep up with this event. I was in for a pleasant surprise, however, because my personal favorites did end up winning that day.
Of course, each singer on that stage was talented and clearly worked hard to get there. But the singers who stood out for me, and who happened to also win were: 30-year-old South Korean baritone, Sol Jin, who holds a master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music; 21-year-old Emily D'angelo of Toronto; 25-year-old award winning professional breakdancer Jakub Józef Orlinski from Warsaw; and 24-year-old Californian, Yelena Dyacheck. Each one of these singers had what I would call a "Met" voice: large, resonant, polished, powerful.
Sol Jin won over the audience in the first half with his dramatic rendition of Di Provenza il mar, from La Traviata. His large, resonant baritone filled the house with his seamless legato technique, while his passionate acting seemed to draw forth real feelings, as he wrung his hands while singing, overcome by the intense emotions of his character. Jakub Józef Orlinski's lovely countertenor voice filled the room, as his classical stage presence was thoroughly pleasing to behold. Yelena Dyacheck's voice was large and supple, giving hints at its promising potential for an operatic career. Emily D'angelo also had a big, beautiful voice, made all the more impressive with the realization that she is only twenty one years old and has not even finished her undergraduate vocal degree. In addition to my personal favorites, Sean Michael Plumb, age 24, of Philadelphia's Curtis Institute, took home the prize as well.
After the contestants finished their final arias, Eric Owens performed O tu, Palermo, from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani, his huge, seasoned voice, acting as a distant mirror for the young singers that day, and what they can hope to vocally attain in the future.
I left the Met feeling excited for the future of opera and the artistic lives of these fortunate singers. Whoever says opera is dying has only to look at the immensity of talent and perseverance that exists in the singers coming up today - for these types of singers will exist tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow - just as they have been for centuries. The fact must be acknowledged that as long as humanity and civilization exist, there will be a sonorous well of talent waiting its turn to seize the day.