District Auditions 17/18 Information

Judges' Bios

Melissa Wegner joined the artistic staff of the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 and currently serves as Deputy Director of the National Council Auditions and Artistic Administration Associate. She auditions hundreds of young singers annually and is passionate about assisting them with their career development. Additionally, Ms. Wegner hears artists in stage and screening auditions at the Met and facilitates the casting of covers and comprimarioroles. A frequent judge for the District and Region auditions of the Met’s National Council Auditions, Ms. Wegner has also adjudicated the SAI Vocal Competition, the McCammon Voice Competition, and the Belvedere Competition in South Africa and Russia.  As a soprano, Ms. Wegner has performed opera, concerts and recitals in the United States and Europe. She joined New York City Opera as a Supertitles Associate and continues this work on a freelance basis with organizations including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BAM, and Opera Orchestra of New York. Ms. Wegner is a member of Families of FANA WNY, which fundraises to support the orphanage in Colombia from which she was adopted. She is a Trustee of the Foundation Board of SUNY Potsdam, and founding member of the Alumni Board of Bard Conservatory’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program.  Ms. Wegner holds degrees from Bard College, The Manhattan School of Music, and The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam.

Longtime Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, Dennis Giauque is a pianist and vocal coach based in New York City.  He was the pianist and head of musical preparation for the award-winning recording of Ariadne auf Naxos, recorded with James Levine and the Vienna Philharmonic.  He has assisted Maestro Levine at summer festivals in Salzburg and Ravinia, as well as with the Boston Symphony.  In addition to assisting Maestro Seiji Ozawa on Der Fledermaus and Carmen for the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy, he has recently been musical assistant and consultant for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Der Rosenkavalier and Das Rheingold, Caramoor Summer Music Festival’s Fidelio, and the International Festival of Milano’s Akhnaten, by Philip Glass.  He is also an instructor at the Atkins Young Artist Program of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Chamber music is also an important part of Dennis’ musical career. He has collaborated as pianist on the recital stage with such singers as Luciano Pavarotti, Dawn Upshaw, Hei Kyung Hong, James Morris, and many others, as well as regularly performing in chamber music concerts with some of the finest chamber music players of today.  Before coming to New York, he was a coach on the music staffs of opera houses in Nürnberg and Stuttgart, Germany; and assistant chorus master for the San Francisco Opera.

Ken Benson is one of the leading managers for opera singers, including 25 years as Vice- President of Columbia Artists Management, Inc.,where his artists included Thomas Hampson, Aprile Millo,, Jerry Hadley, Florence Quivar, Susanne Mentzer, Marcello Giordani and Jamie Barton. He is Vocal consultant at Juilliard School of Music, and he regularly gives classes and consultations at Yale, UCLA, Mannes, Manhattan School of Music, Boston Conservatory, DePaul, Roosevelt and Indiana Universities. He also offers private consultations. Mr. Benson is invited to serve as adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera National Council's auditions, as well as to judge in most of the major vocal competitions throughout the US. Frequently, he lectures on operatic subjects, includes a series of talks on Wagner's "Ring" at the Metropolitan Opera House. He is also heard as frequent Host and panelist on the Metropolitan Opera broadcast's Opera quiz. As a writer, he regularly contributes to such publications as Opera News and Classical Singer magazine. He has recently returned to Artists Management, representing a select group of the most talented singers from the emerging generation. 


Met Opera Auditions Yield a Young Star


Met Opera Auditions Yield a Young Star: Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen


Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen - Credit Richard Termine for The New York Times

Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen - Credit Richard Termine for The New York Times

There were several good singers onstage Sunday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions Grand Finals concert, a venerable tryout for future stars. (Renée Fleming, the event’s host, was a winner in 1988, on her third attempt.)

But there was only one complete artist. At just 23, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, a baby-faced countertenor from Brooklyn, already possesses a remarkable gift for intimate communication in a vast hall, combined with a voice of velvety gentleness — surprisingly penetrating given the tenderness of its texture — and a taste for adventure.

In a competition that hews toward the standards, Mr. Cohen chose a harrowing aria from Jonathan Dove’s 1998 opera “Flight,” based on the true story of an Iranian refugee stranded for years in a Paris airport. While most young performers in the National Council Auditions concentrate simply on nailing their high notes, Mr. Cohen — his diction superb, his acting alert without overplaying — provided an eloquent reflection on a current international crisis.

But he is no contemporary specialist. Twenty-first-century singers, like 21st-century instrumentalists and orchestras, are rightly expected to range widely as well as deeply. For his second selection (the nine finalists each picked two pieces to perform with the Met orchestra, conducted by Nicola Luisotti), Mr. Cohen balanced the aria from “Flight” with “Dove sei,” an aching lament from Handel’s “Rodelinda” (1725). Expressive yet dignified, his phrasing confident and his ornamentation stylishly discreet, he brought tears to my eyes.

Mr. Cohen was deservedly named one of the competition’s six winners, but he stood clearly apart from the pack. Not that there weren’t other talents on offer. I appreciated Samantha Hankey’s mellow mezzo-soprano; the budding heldentenor Kyle van Schoonhoven’s steady, burnished sound; the soprano Kirsten MacKinnon’s liveliness. Vanessa Vasquez impressed merely by acquitting herself in two of opera’s most recognizable soprano hits, “Un bel dì” from “Madama Butterfly” (here nicely dreamy) and “Sempre libera” from “La Traviata.” Richard Smagur offered old-fashioned poise, verging on staidness, in tenor arias from “Carmen” and “Werther.”

Samantha Hankey - Credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times 

Samantha Hankey - Credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times 

Even the three finalists not named winners were pleasing. Natalie Image’s soprano was notable for its pristine high notes, Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez’s for its generosity. Cody Quattlebaum, his bass-baritone voice more restrained than his bicep-length mane of curly hair, was unusually low-key as Mozart’s Figaro and Gounod’s Méphistophélès.

But there was only one singer who could plausibly stand with the voluptuous-voiced Jamie Barton, the commanding Amber Wagner and the impassioned Michael Fabiano — the distinguished previous winners who performed while the judges deliberated. Mr. Cohen is ready.

District Auditions Results 2016

District Winners and moving on to the Region Finals on January 18th:

Mary Claire Curran
Michael Gracco
Lawson Anderson
Betsy Diaz
Samantha Hankey
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen
Cody Quattlebaum
Emily Misch
Anna Dugan
Julie Wolcott
Jonathan Tetelman
Heather Bobeck

Encouragement Winners:

Alaysha Fox
Yesul Yeon
Kirsten Scott
Derrell Acon

Congratulations to everyone 👏🏻