The purpose of the National Council Auditions’ Program is “to discover exceptional young talent and provide a venue for young opera singers across North America at all levels of development, to be heard by representatives of the Metropolitan Opera and to assist those with the greatest potential for operatic careers.”
It all began in the spring of 1935, when even the Metropolitan Opera was feeling the effects of the Great Depression. In order to bring in much needed cash, Mrs. Eleanor Belmont - a major donor to the Met and opera lover - established the Opera Guild, an organization consisting of opera lovers whose membership dues support the Met up to this day. As the Guild published the first Opera News in 1936, organized backstage tours and held lecture series and programs for students, Mrs. Belmont proclaimed “the democratization of the opera had begun!”
With an eye on further increasing national support for the Met, Mrs. Belmont founded the Metropolitan Opera National Council in 1952. Within the year, the National Council started organizing the Auditions of the Air, a radio show organized by the Met itself since 1935, where young American singers competed for a contract with the Met (a practice Met General manager Rudolf Bing stopped in 1950; contracts were no longer automatically awarded to the winners, as it is to this day).
William Marshall, director of the Auditions of the Air in 1950, noticed the program was dominated by New Yorkers; many young singers from around the country could not afford to make the trip even if they had the talent. As the National Council had roots in communities across the country, the Met considered it the perfect vehicle to bring the auditions to the singers. Up until today, money awarded in the first round of auditions is meant to pay for a singer’s trip to the Regionals; the Met then pays the final trip to New York for each Semi-Finalist.
Soon after reorganizing the auditions under the umbrella of the National Council, the structure of the National Council auditions as we know it today was established. The only change since 1952 has been the addition of the Grand Finals Concert, which only happened in 1998 for the first time. The National Council Auditions are held annually in 14 Regions of the United States and Canada. Within those Regions there are 42 Districts (give or take a few depending on the year), and it are the Districts which form the first round of auditions at a local level. Winners of several Districts come together in a Region for the second round of auditions, except in the Eastern Region, where the NY District does not combine with any other District. Basically, the Eastern Region consists of just 1 District.
The winners of the Region Finals (aka the second round of the auditions) move on to the Semi-Finals, the third round of the competition. On average, there are about 25 Semi-Finalists from across the country who perform two arias on the Met stage accompanied by a pianist. Between 10 and 12 singers are then chosen to perform in the Grand Finals Concert, an opportunity of a lifetime to perform in front of an audience of 4000 while accompanied by the full Met Orchestra. In this fourth and final round about 5 singers are chosen as Grand Finals winners, but the number of singers selected at each level is up to the judges’ discretion, so it changes each year.
The National Council Auditions are an amazing opportunity for up and coming opera singers, as it gives them a foot in the door with the Metropolitan Opera. Not only does each winner receive a cash price (Grand Final winners receive $15,000 - Non Winners receive $5000 - Semi Finalists receive $1500), but every Semi-Finalist can return to the Met over the course of three years to audition for its artistic staff.
While 1500 singers audition each year across the country (90 of them in the NY District/Eastern Region), as many as 100 singers on the Met roster each year have auditioned for the National Council at some point. Since the beginning of the program there have been hundreds of Grand Final winners, many who have become the opera divos and divas of their generation, such as Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Jessye Norman, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade, Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick.
The first two rounds of the auditions (the Districts and the Regionals) are administered by National Council members and volunteers. They are responsible for fundraising all the money needed to organize these auditions and award meaningful prize money which helps singers further their careers. Because of donors like yourself we were able to raise $18,850 at the Season Launch event on November 9th.
If you would like to find out more about our organization or make another tax-deductible donation, please go to www.nycmonc.org. Our fundraising goal for the season is $50,000 and we are halfway there! This money not only allows us to award prizes, but it also enables us to hold first class auditions, a hallmark of the National Council Auditions for over fifty years. We bring in judges from all walks of the music business (vocal teachers, conductors, singers…), hire a top-class accompanist for singers who can’t bring their own, and rent a professional concert hall with great acoustics.