Yesterday marked the end of the 2014 -2015 National Council Auditions' Season, and what an end it was. Both Eastern Region Grand Finalists, Mezzo - Soprano Virginie Verrez (26) and Tenor Joseph Dennis (30), were chosen as winners. In addition, Nicholas Brownlee (Bass-Baritone 25), Marina Costa-Jackson (Soprano 27) and Reginald Smith Jr. (Baritone 26) were selected as well. All five of them will receive $15,000 to help them in their careers.
Joseph will be moving to Vienna with his fiancé (opera singer Hailey Clark) in the next few months to join the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera, while Virginie will join the MetOpera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in the fall. The arias that brought them overwhelming applause on the Met stage yesterday were "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust and "Dein its mein ganzes Herz" from Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns for Joseph and "Deh per questo istante solo" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito and "Must the winter come so soon" from Barber's Vanessa for Virginie.
Of course, the end of their journey started last week at the Semi - Finals, when they were joined by Bass David Leigh for their first performance on the Met stage. Seventeen singers from all over the country vied for a spot in the Grand Finals. The auditorium was filled with friends and family as the singers set foot on the Met stage for the very first time, accompanied only by a pianist. While it is never sure beforehand how many singers will be chosen, eventually the distinguished panel of seven judges selected nine singers to move on to yesterday's Grand Finals.
No matter what the outcome, all Semi - Finalists and Grand Finalists were winners in the eyes of the audience. They were selected from a group of about 1500 applicants this year and while over 100 singers on the Met's roster this season have participated in the National Council Auditions (including our very own Matthew Anchel), not all of them need to win the Grand Finals to reach stardom (James Morris for example).
Yesterday's Grand Finalists were accompanied by the full Met orchestra under the baton of Maestro Fabio Luisi. Over the last week, as the Finalists prepared at the Met for one of the most important days in their careers so far, he helped them select the two arias they would be performing for an almost sold out Met auditorium. Reginald Smith Jr.'s selection of The Emperor Jones caused some chaos during the week as the opera is so rarely performed they had to search the world over to find the orchestra score for this beautiful piece. This rarely performed work actually had its world premiere at the Met in 1933 and hadn't been heard there since 1934!
While the judges deliberated, Angela Meade entertained the audience with the two arias which brought her to stardom: "Casta Diva" from Bellini's Norma and "Ebben? Ne andrò Iontana" from Catalani's Walli. In 2007 she performed on the Met stage for the first time as she participated in the Grand Finals concert (shown in the movie The Audition), and one year later she was asked to cover Elvira in Ernani. Little did she know her co-star would call out sick; she performed a major role on the Met stage just one year after winning the auditions and she has been a star ever since. After a round of applause which almost brought down the house, Angela talked about the amazing volunteers all over the country which help make the auditions possible, and about the expenses of becoming an opera star.
This was once again confirmed by Virginie Verrez in today's Wall Street Journal, when she answered this to what she would do with her prize money: “I owe a lot of money to my mother.” This is the reason why donations are so important to us! Your donations enable us to provide substantial amount of prize money to our singers in the first two rounds of the competition, when no financial help from the MET is available yet. They use this money to take voice lessons for example and prepare for the next round of auditions based on the judges' feedback. Although, expenses do not stop there for an opera singer; there are clothes to buy, cities to travel to... And while we do everything to keep the cost of running the auditions down, a major aspect for the singers participating in the MONC auditions is that they get to perform on a quality stage (Merkin Hall) for the very first time. Please consider making a donation, even though the 2014 - 2015 season only ended yesterday, we are already preparing for next season. And if you are a singer interested in auditioning next year, you can sign up here to be notified when the application becomes available this summer.
Below is a pictorial account of the last two weeks, including parts of the program which will give you information on the judges and all the singers who participated. More pictures can be found on our social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Also check out the full album of pictures taken by the wonderful Becca Fay.