Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Met Scene: Opening Night of Manon

Monday night's opening performance of the new production of Manon at the Met as featured in WWD.  The evening was co-sponsored by Yves Saint Laurent and raised $1.3 million for the Met.

Read the article and view pictures at WWD.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Popera News - Katherine Jenkins on Dancing with the Stars

As I posted before, the American production of Dancing with the Stars is, in its 14th season, host to Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins.

Apparently, she is quite good on her is last night's performance (is Emperor Joseph turning in his grave???) :

And last Monday's (first) performance:

and her singing DWTS performance:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nail-biting at the Grand Finals Concert

Monc ER Chair Melina Spadone with Grand Finalist
Will Liverman and Committee Member Stefanie Van Steelandt
Eight months ago about two thousand young opera singers all over the United States went out for their first audition (the District Auditions) on their path towards the Metropolitan Opera stage.  Here in the Eastern Region we went from seventy-five singers to ten singers; then to two singers at the Semi-Finals until only Will Liverman remained as he sang on the Met stage as a National Council Grand Finalist this past Sunday March 18th.

The Grand Finals as they are known today have only been around since 1999, but they are immensely popular.  Way back in November as I was waiting in line at the box office, people were queuing to buy tickets to the Grand Finals because they had just received the announcement in the mail.  The opera house was buzzing with excitement as almost all of the four thousand seats were filled with opera lovers and family members of the singers.

After rehearsing and coaching at the Met for a week all nine finalists were ready to take the stage at 3 PM on Sunday.  The program started with an introduction by Eric Owens, whose deep voice delighted the whole audience.  It is one thing to hear an opera singer perform, but to find out that their talking voice is just as musical is a great surprise.  Each singer performed one aria and if the audience enthusiasm was any indicator, there were definitely some favorites from the get go.  Will did an amazing job with his first aria: "Batter my heart" from Adams' Doctor Atomic. Afterwards I heard many people comment on how they loved his aria choice and what a wonderful rendition he delivered.

After a 15 minute break, where audience members enthusiastically discussed their favorites, the singers came back for their second aria. The most popular composer of the day seems to have been Mozart, and Will jumped on the bandwagon as he performed 'Papagena! Weibchen! Täubchen!' from Die Zäuberflöte (The Magic Flute).  He sure made an entrance bringing the house down: as conductor Andrew Davis started the music, Will ran on stage, his flute around his neck in order to find Papagena.

As the judges deliberated, audience members were entertained by General Manager Peter Gelb and bass baritone Eric Owens.  Peter Gelb discussed some tidbits on the Metropolitan Opera House which drew lots of laughter, but he also made a very interesting and serious point.  Even though there are hundreds of singers on the Met stage who won the Grand Finals, there are just as many who participated in the Auditions and never won but still have a career with the Met, like Patricia Racette.

Eric Owens himself was a winner of the Grand Finals in 1996,  but he did not make his Met debut until 2008 in Dr. Atomic.  This season he is a Met favorite in the new Ring cycle, playing the role of Alberich in Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.  I have seen him in all three performances, and I must say I could barely recognize him as I chatted with him at the reception afterwards.  He finished the singing part of the program as he performed 'Elle giammai m'amo' from Verdi's Don Carlo.  I am sure they picked the longest aria they could find to give the judges some extra time, but it was beautiful.

The judges are of course very experienced, and can make a good judgment call in a short period of time.    Today's judges were Sarah Billinghurst (Assistant Manager, Artistic Metropolitan Opera), Jonathan Friend (Artistic Administrator Metropolitan Opera), Gayletha Nichols (Director National Council Auditions Metropolitan Opera), Craig Rutenberg (Director Music Administration Metropolitan Opera) and Joshua Winograde (Artistic Administrator Los Angeles Opera).  As soon as Eric Owens finished singing he came back on stage to announce the winners.  Check out yesterday's post to see a full list of winners.  Of course I was hoping Will would win, but I am glad my number two won, Margaret Mezzacappa.  She definitely stirred some emotions in me as she sang "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sappho.  A concert like this is definitely a great place to discover some lesser known arias.  If you want to find out more information about all the singers, please check out the program of the day.

Even though Will did not win, he is a winner to all of us here in the Eastern Region.  He was very excited and happy as I chatted with him afterwards.  At twenty-three, he was the youngest Grand-Finalist this season, and he has some exciting times ahead of him.  He told me he is going to Chicago this weekend to find an apartment as he will join Chicago's Lyric Opera Ryan Opera Center in April.  Be sure to check back often as we will have much more to write about this talented singer in the coming years.

Each Grand Finals Concert is concluded by a reception at which all singers receive their prize.  Will received $5000 together with the other three Grand Finalists, while the five winners received $15,000 each.  All prizes were handed out by the person who donated the award money.

I tried to take some nice pictures of Will receiving his award, but it was a tough crowd and this was the closest I could get.  I must thank the one lady who told me to just push everyone aside so I could get my shot.  The stars of the day were of course all the singers, and patience was needed if you wanted a chance to chat with them and congratulate them.

Ryan Speedo Green attended the Auditions this year as an audience member and not as a participant (he won last year), but he was quickly recognized by the crowd as he left the opera house.  You may remember him from our Gala where he performed, and it was nice to catch up with him as well.  At the time of our gala he knew he would be performing during the 2012-2013 Met season, but he did not know which roles yet.  He told me today he will be performing in Turandot and Parsifal.  There were many more familiar faces in the audience, including Ricardo Rivera and other ER competitors who came to cheer on their colleague.

As the performance was about to begin I received an application for our new season of auditions, and we have not even officially started yet.  People are very excited about this program and can't wait to be a part of it.  I love the enthusiasm all the singers have for their art, and I can't wait to start again.  It never hurts to keep trying as well, because the first remark Eric Owens made at the reception was that he participated in his local District Auditions three times before he was able to move on.  I think never giving up is the best lesson to end the 2011-2012 season of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

MONC Finals Results

In a message from the Met Opera National Council Operations:

We are pleased to announce the 2012 National Council Audition Winners:

ANDREY NEMZER – Countertenor

Although I was only able to personally attend the first half of the program, I was won over by the sweet voice of Ms Brugger and the dramatic nature of Mr. Nemzer's countertenor and acting skills. Very exciting to watch them perform, and I can imagine what it must be like to sing in front of a reasonably full house at the Met and with an orchestra. Breathtaking and I applaud and admire all the singers for their dedication to their craft. Congratulations to all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Today is the Grand Day!

Good luck to Will Liverman and all of today's auditioners at today's MONC Grand Finals Concert! 

The schedule is as follows:

Andrew Davis

Eric Owens

“Si può? Si può?” from Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
Anthony Clark Evans

“Padre, germani, addio!” from Idomeneo (Mozart)
Lauren Snouffer

“Tradito, schernito” from Così fan tutte (Mozart)
Matthew Grills

“O ma lyre immortelle” from Sappho (Gounod)
Margaret Mezzacappa

“Madamina, il catalogo è questo” from Don Giovanni (Mozart)
Michael Sumuel

“Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater” from Die Walküre (Wagner)
Kevin Ray

“Depuis le jour” from Louise (Charpentier)
Janai Brugger

“Batter My Heart” from Doctor Atomic (Adams)
Will Liverman

“Domerò la tua fierezza” from Giulio Cesare (Handel)
Andrey Nemzer


“Hai già vinta la causa... Vedrò mentre io sospiro” from Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart)
Anthony Clark Evans

“Air du Feu” from L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (Ravel)
Lauren Snouffer

“Ah! mes amis” from La Fille du Régiment (Donizetti)
Matthew Grills

“Hence, Iris, hence away!” from Semele (Handel)
Margaret Mezzacappa

"Aleko’s Cavatina" from Aleko (Rachmaninoff)
Michael Sumuel

“Durch die Wälder” from Der Freischütz (Weber)
Kevin Ray

“Ach, ich fühl’s” from Die Zauberflöte (Mozart)
Janai Brugger

“Papagena! Weibchen! Täubchen!” from Die Zauberflöte (Mozart)
Will Liverman

“Ratmir’s Aria” from Ruslan and Lyudmila (Glinka)
Andrey Nemzer

guest artist
“Ella giammai m’amo” from Don Carlo (Verdi)
Eric Owens

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A day at the Met: L'Elisir d'Amore

If I were an opera singer, my dream role would be Adina in Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore.  I would be living on a picturesque farm in a 19th Century Italian village.  I would have a suitor, Nemorino, whom everyone sees as a little 'slow', but who is actually very genuine and sweet.  He is the exact opposite of my second suitor, Sergeant Belcore, who has just arrived in town with his men and immediately asks for my hand in marriage.

Judging by the name of this opera, I am sure you can guess where the story goes from there: traveling salesman (Dulcamara) arrives in town and sells Nemorino a love potion in exchange for his last cent.  The love potion doesn't work fast enough and Adina decides to marry Sergeant Belcore the next morning.  Nemorino buys more love potion, but in order to afford it, he has to enlist in the army in order to get more money. Then Nemorino's uncle dies, leaving him an inheritance and all the town's girls fall in love with him.  Adina gets jealous and realizes she does love Nemorino after all.

I have seen this opera twice before, but none of those performances were as memorable as the one I saw last Monday night at the Met.  A lot of it had to do with the cast because I had seen this production, by John Copley, once before.  It didn't impress me back then, so tonight was a revelation.  It is, however, one of my favorite operas as it has beautiful music.  I like something with a lot of melody and happiness in it, and L'Elisir certainly fits the bill.

'The Elixir of Love' is a melodrama giocoso, which translates as a playful melodrama.  It is one of Gaetano Donizetti's biggest successes, and he composed it in 1832 in a six-week period, making changes up to the last minute.  In Italy, where the opera had its premiere, it was the most often performed opera between 1838 and 1848.  Then again, during that period, one out of every four operas performed in Italy was one composed by Donizetti.

The last few years the opera has always been a great success as well, and the Met is premiering its brand new production by Bartlett Sher on Monday September 24, 2012 as the Opening Night of the 2012-2013 season.  Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani star in the title roles.

Nemorino's underdog role has always been one to bring fame and fortune to singers.  It was the role that jump-started Enrico Caruso's career.  Ever since he received overwhelming applause during his performance on March 17, 1900 at La Scala, his name has been synonymous with Nemorino.  He would repeat his success at the Met over a course of ten seasons, and up to this day people still listen to his rendition of 'Una Furtiva Lagrima.'  The same goes for Luciano Pavarotti.  'Una Furtiva Lagrima' is one of my favorite arias of the opera and is one you will recognize even if you have never listened to opera before.  Another aria I like is 'La Nina Gondoliera,' which is hilariously funny, especially if you read the translation with it.    

Even in opera there is such a thing as typecasting, and Juan Diego Flórez, who plays Nemorino in this season's production, is a perfect example of that.  Every role I have seen him in at the Met has been a comical one.  I first saw him in La Fille du Régiment, where he was crowned the king of high C's by the New York Times.  He is a great Bel Canto singer who has a very sweet and easily recognizable voice, and I just love to listen to him.  Of course, he is also nice to look at and he is a great actor.  If you are actually watching a performance in an opera house, I find the acting almost as important as the singing.

Even though this opera is a hoot to watch, it is a killer to sing.  Last week's cast had the ability to make it look easy, but you need to have amazing control to make this difficult coloratura (the embellishment) look easy.  Diana Damrau as Adina was able to do that as well.  She made it look so easy and real I just wanted to get up and go dance with them on stage.

Another favorite of mine was Mariusz Kwiecien, who played Sergeant Belcore.  Needless to say, I liked everyone.  I am so glad I went to see this production one more time before it disappears in a few weeks.  I hope you will do the same, because it will brighten your day...and your week.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Timeline of MONC ER Winners

In anticipation of Sunday's Grand Finals, I thought it would be nice to look back and see which Grand-Finals winners came to the Met stage through the Eastern Region.  Hopefully we can add Will Liverman's name to this list on Sunday.  Just like all the other Grand-Finals winners, and all the competitors, they have kept opera alive and thriving here in the US, and all over the world, for the last 58 years.

I highlighted one singer every decade, but you can find out more about all their appearances on the Met stage at

  • 1959: Baritone Norman Mittelmann and Soprano Teresa Stratas
  • 1960: Soprano Mary Jennings, Bass-Baritone Spiro Malas and Soprano Benita Valente
  • 1961: Soprano Billie Lynn Daniel, Soprano Francesca Roberto, Tenor George Shirley and Soprano Shirley Verrett
  • 1962: Soprano June Genovese, Soprano Janis Martin, Tenor James McCray, Soprano Carol Toscano, Soprano Veronica Tyler-Scott and Bass-Baritone William Walker
  • 1963: Baritone Russell Christopher, Bass-Baritone Justino Dias and Tenor Michael Trimble
  • 1964: Baritone Gene Boucher, Soprano Maria Candida, Soprano Mary Beth Peil and Mezzo-Soprano Huguette Tourangeau
  • 1965: Soprano Loretta Di Franco, Baritone Theodore Lambrinos and Bass-Baritone Will Roy
  • 1966: Baritone Dominic Cossa, Mezzo-Soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew, Soprano Evelyn Mandac and Soprano Marylyn Mulvey
  • 1968: Tenor William Cochran
  • 1969: Soprano Elaine Cormany and Mezzo-Soprano Frederica Von Stade 
Frederica Von Stade is still involved with the National Council Auditions and serves as MONC's National Advisor.  After winning the Auditions she made her Met debut on January 10th, 1970 as a Genie in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.  In her first season at the Met, she tackled many more operas, including La Traviata, Tosca and La Fanciulla del West.  She sang at the Met for forty years, and made her last appearance on March 14th, 2010 during the National Council Grand Finals, singing pieces from Werther and La Périchole.  

  • 1976: Soprano Ashley Putnam
  • 1977: Tenor Vinson Cole
  • 1979: Mezzo-Soprano Jane Bunnell, Soprano Sandra McClain and Bass-Baritone Jan Opalach
In the seventies, the Met started to hold a yearly concert to highlight that years's Audition winners.  They fittingly called it the National Council Concert.  It was at this concert that Vinson Cole made his first Met appearance.  He did not make his official debut in a full Met opera until ten years later in 1987 when he took on the role of Alfred in Die Fledermaus.  Ever since then he has been on and off the Met stage while singing at other leading opera houses and concert halls all over the world.     

  • 1980: Bass Kevin J. Langan, Soprano Margaret Vazquez, Soprano Lauren Wagner and Baritone Thomas Woodman
  • 1981: Soprano Gail Dobish, Soprano Joyce Guyer
  • 1982: Mezzo-Soprano Lucille Beer, Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong, Tenor Walter MacNeil and Soprano Katherine Ritz
  • 1983: Soprano Jo Ann Pickens
  • 1984: Tenor Richard Croft
  • 1985: Baritone Stephen Biggers, Soprano Maryte Bizinkauskas, Bass-Baritone Philip Cokorinos and Soprano Karen Williams
  • 1986: Soprano Andrea Cawelti and Tenor Michael Sylvester
  • 1987: Soprano Amanda Halgrimson and Soprano Mi-Hae Park
  • 1988: Soprano Renée Fleming, Mezzo-Soprano Susan Graham and Soprano Carolyn James
  • 1989: Mezzo-Soprano Ning Liang and Soprano Veronica Villarroel
Renée Fleming made her first Met appearance on April 10, 1988 at the National Council Winners Concert.  As you can tell, she shared the stage with a whole bunch of amazing talent which grace the Met stage up to this day.  As mentioned in our 'View from the Top' article, 1988 was a particularly good year for opera talent.  That year she sang 'Song to the Moon' from Rusalka, which would always be one of her best arias.  She describes it herself in her autobiography 'The Inner Voice':
"In the end I felt things really started to turn around for me when I began auditioning with 'The Song to the Moon' from Rusalka.  It wasn't a widely known aria yet, but it was perfectly suited to my temperament and voice."    
Renée Fleming has become one of the most recognizable faces at the Met, and she has been performing on its stage every year since the year she won.  

  • 1990: Soprano Clare Mueller, Soprano Susan Owen, Mezzo-Soprano Rebecca Russell and Soprano Young-Ok Shin
  • 1991: Tenor Paul Groves and Tenor Kenneth Tarver
  • 1992: Soprano Marie Plette
  • 1993: Soprano Ainhoa Arteta, Mezzo-Soprano Elizabeth Bishop and Tenor Dennis McNeil
  • 1994: Soprano Norah Amsellem, Soprano Olga Makarina and Mezzo-Soprano Svetlana Serdar
  • 1995: Soprano Anita Johnson and Tenor Jon Villars
  • 1996: Baritone Jung-Hack Seo and Soprano Lynette Tapia
  • 1997: Soprano Alexandra Deshorties
  • 1998: Countertenor David Walker
  • 1999: Soprano Meagan Miller
The Grand-Finals Concert was introduced in 1999, so Paul Groves was one of the last singers who made his first Met appearance in the National Council Winners Concert.  He is still a regular on the Met roster, and could last be seen a year ago in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride with Placido Domingo and Susan Graham.    

  • 2000: Mezzo-Soprano Elizabeth Batton, Soprano Latonia Moore and Finalist Soprano Kyung-Sun Choi
  • 2001: Soprano Melissa Citro and Tenor Jésus Garcia
  • 2002: Finalist Tenor Simon O'Neill
  • 2003: Male Soprano Michael Maniaci
  • 2006: Soprano Holli Harrison
  • 2009: Tenor Paul Appleby, Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and Tenor Sung Eun Lee
  • 2010: Soprano Lori Guilbeau
Paul Appleby is one of the most recent winners, and he has been studying at the Lindemann Young Artist Development program since winning.  Every year the LYADP holds several recitals at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and Paul Appleby will be performing on Friday March 23rd.  Opera Idols plans to be there, so stay tuned for an eye-witness account of this event.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Post-Semi Finals Interview with Will Liverman

Congratulations Will Liverman!!! Opera Idols managed to get in touch with the MONC Finalist via "online interviewing" during his week of training before Sunday's big conclusion at the Met Opera House. For more information regarding attending the event, go here
Opera Idols - Can you give us a description of what it is like to be part of the Semi-Finals?
Will Liverman - There was a gap of time between regionals and the semis, so the semis was always sitting in the back of my mind until it's time to meet everybody on the first day of orientation and then the nerves start to set in.  It was finally time to get the ball rolling with this next round and things were starting to feel intense. Fortunately, everyone in this group was really nice and we were all supportive of each other. What helped tremendously with our nerves was that the MONC staff and the coaches working with us were so nice and helped us to feel comfortable with this whole process.  

Opera Idols - What were some of the highlights of the experience? What did it feel like to be on stage?
WL - Of course for me and probably everybody the biggest highlight was singing on the stage at the Met.  I mean for all of us it's something a lot of people can't say they've done.  It's a different story when you're facing the house and looking out at this vast space.  For me, it was a whole lot of emotions running through me at once.  Being scared out of your mind, excited, nervous, more excitement and I can't believe I'm doing this. It was something I'll never forget and I enjoyed it very much.

Opera Idols - How are things now as you prepare for the Finals? More relaxed or more intense?
Will Liverman - Things I think are more relaxed.  In my opinion the biggest hurdle is getting past the semis.  With the semis we only have a few days and the most cuts happen at this round.  With the finals at this point in my mind we are all winners.  To get to sing with orchestra and get that exposure on the stage can't be topped.  Also, we know the two arias we are going to sing about a week out so you don't have to worry about the whole aria package. You only have two and you know when on the program you sing them AND you don't have to sing them back to back. So hopefully we can all go out there and have fun singing on the stage!  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Attending the Semi-Finals at the MetOpera

Today, I think I found out what it must feel like to send your child off to college.  This won't happen anytime soon because I am not even married yet, but I think seeing Will and Ricardo on the Met stage gave me a similar feeling.  I felt proud and sad at the same time: sad that the journey together to reach the Met stage is now over, and proud to see two amazing artists realize a significant step in their dreams and having played a part in it.

After almost a year of hard work to organize the Eastern Region Auditions, we finally passed on the torch to the Met in January and I could enjoy the Semi-Finals as an audience member.

People were going about their business as usual and enjoying an exceptionally warm 'Spring' Sunday in New York, but the nerves inside the Met, usually quiet on a Sunday, were high as nineteen Semi-Finalists from all over the US were ready to sing the role of a lifetime for a spot in the Grand Finals.  The audience of about two hundred guests, seated in the Grand Tier, included fellow region organizers, voice coaches and family members and friends of the singers.  It was the perfect spot to observe the talent of the future and feel the excitement in the air as guests awaited the performance of their friend or family member.

I have always made it a game to see if I can guess who will win.  I have done it for the last three years at the Grand Finals and over the years I have been getting better.  I have absolutely no credentials to judge a talented group like this, except my experience from going to see the opera at least once a week.  Over the years I have gotten better, and I even surprised myself when I compared my list of winners to the actual list of Finalists today.

The Semi-Finals started at 12pm, and we did not have to wait long to see the first familiar face: Ricardo Rivera.  Ricardo started with 'È allor perchè' from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.  He followed that with 'Avant de quitter ces lieux' from Gounod's Faust at the request of the judges.  All that hard work for ten minutes on the Met stage, but it is a dream come true for every opera singer.  For me it was a great feeling to see Ricardo on stage, knowing that all our work organizing the District Auditions and Region Finals was worth it.  He did an amazing job, and I was not the only one in the audience who thought so.  There were some very ardent fans there to support him.

Both Will and Ricardo had been staying at The Empire Hotel across from Lincoln Center since Thursday, together with the seventeen other Semi-Finalists.  They were coached by the Met staff for the last four days and were accompanied today on the piano; Ricardo by Ted Taylor and Will by Howard Watkins.

Will took the stage around one o'clock and brought the house down.  The audience is encouraged to applaud, and they certainly did their best for Will.  He started his audition with 'Batter my heart' from Adams' Doctor Atomic.  I have never seen Doctor Atomic, so it was a nice change of pace to discover something new.  The second aria is always one requested by the judges, and they wanted to hear some Handel (Rinaldo's 'Sibillar gli angui d'Aletto).

Of course, the competition was stiff, with singers from every part of the country competing.  I made up my score sheet and came up with 11 winners.  I knew I messed up somewhere because there can't be more than 10 winners.  I also wasn't sure what the criteria was to get on my list: did I think like the judges as a professional or did I think like myself as an opera-lover?

Today's panel of judges consisted of Andrew Davis (Conductor MetOpera), Jonathan Friend (Artistic Administrator MetOpera), Alexander Neef (General Director Canadian Opera Company), Gayletha Nichols (Director National Council Auditions MetOpera), Lenore Rosenberg (Associate Artistic Administrator MetOpera), Brian Zeger (Director Lindemann Young Artist Development Program MetOpera) and Diane Zola (Director of Artistic Administration Houston Grand Opera).  They had a very difficult task ahead of them as they retreated to a private room around four o'clock to deliberate.  

Anticipation rose as people gathered on the Mercedes Bass Grand Tier to await the results.  About thirty minutes later, Gayletha Nichols took the stage after a few words of thanks from National Council Auditions Chairman Camille LaBarre.  I had my list handy and wondered if Will and Ricardo were as nervous as I was as they awaited the results, standing with their fellow competitors in front of the audience.

I must say I am usually not very vocal at an opera performance.  I applaud, loud, but I am not the person who will scream 'bravo bravo' over and over again at the top of their lungs.  When I heard Will Liverman's name announced I did scream...and applaud.  What a wonderful feeling, and seeing his face and the huge smile he had right after winning when I congratulated him was worth every minute of the last months of hard work.  

Unfortunately, Ricardo will not be moving on to the Grand Finals, but without a doubt, we will see a lot more of him in the future.  For one thing, he will be coming back to the Met over the course of the next five years to audition for the Education Fund (an additional $5000) with Gayletha Nichols.

All in all, when I compared my picks to those of the judges I must say I did not do bad at all.  I guess I have learned more over the last few years than I give myself credit for.  I had picked all the same singers as the judges, with the exception that I had two extra ones they did not pick.

This was my first time at the Semi-Finals and the whole MONC Auditions have finally come full circle.  The Grand Finals are held this Sunday, and I have attended many times before, but I finally know the journey the nine Finalists had to make to get to that point.  I am glad to have been a part of this journey, and can't wait to do it all over again.

The following is a list of National Council Finalists who will compete on March 18th in the last round of auditions, the Grand Finals:

Western Region
Mid-South Region
Gulf Coast Region
Eastern Region
Middle Atlantic Region
ANDREY NEMZER – Countertenor
Great Lakes Region
Midwest Region
Southwest Region
MICHAEL SUMUEL – Bass-Baritone
Rocky Mountain Region

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Semi-Final Build Up - A Day in the Life of an Auditioner: Will Liverman

This is Part 2 of a look into the daily life of our two singers heading to the Semi-Finals on Sunday March 11, this time featuring Will Liverman's words and performances from the MONC ER Benefit Gala as well as from his Leap Day recital this past Wednesday February 29. Enjoy!

Opera Idols: Please provide a summary of the aftermath of your 1st place win at the Regionals.
Will Liverman: It may be cliche, but it really was a surreal feeling after winning the Regionals in NYC. NYC is one of the most toughest regions to get past with the competition level being so high and so I go in hoping to perform as best I can on that day. Being a singer, most of the time you just never know how decisions are made so you can't beat yourself up if you don't win something. That has always been my mindset going into this competition especially the third time around. Being confident and thinking to myself that I can win, but if I don't win I still know that I'm a good singer and you go on to the next competition. When I heard my name called as one of the 1st place winners I didn't move right away because I wanted to make sure I was hearing correctly. Waiting for results as a singer is THE most nerve wracking thing ever. Rather it be a competition or an audition. Everything hangs in the balance when your waiting for results and announcements of who got what. In the case of the Regionals my name was the last name called so I actually gave up hope after they called Riccardo's name because in my mind I knew they weren't going to take two baritones. I was shocked to find out that I was the other winner. Ever since then I've been really excited about going on to the semi-finals. The only time I've ever sang at the Met is when I was outside facing the Met and I sang a scale. It was fun. Anyway, I've been feeling great and I'm looking forward to singing inside on the Met stage for the first time.

OI: Please describe a typical day for you as your prepare for the Semi Finals....any regular routines? any new routines? diet? exercise? vocal practices? mental exercises? If you can, take us step by step from the time you wake up to the time you drift off to sleep.
WL: Hmmm.... haha I think the main thing for me is NOT to get sick. That's always the case with us singer type. When you have something important coming up you become the most cautious person ever. Every time I feel like I'm going to get sick post regionals I'm taking that airbourne stuff drinking tons of water , a million vitamin C tablets, etc. Its like your body knows you have something important coming up so it decides to fail on you. As for my typical day I really haven't changed anything. I'll wake up and warm up a little bit in my room and eat a big breakfast. Breakfast is the best. I go to school and then sing and coach, go to class and come back home and maybe go through some music and then I'm off to bed. If I were to pinpoint something different about my day its that I'm trying to sing more and keep my voice in good shape. I'll try to sing through my competition arias every other day and keep working at it. My old voice teacher used to say that being a singer is like being an athlete training for a big game. You have to keep exercising and training the voice in order to sing well. At least thats how it is in my case. I think singing when your sick is important to do. Not too long ago I wasn't feeling 100% but I kept singing anyway because you have to know how to sing when your sick and figure out what's different. So if your body decides to fail on you and it will at some point when you have a performance etc. you'll know what to do to make it work.

OI: What will you be singing for the Semi Finals (if this is confidential, please disregard this question of course)
WL: I will be offering Batter my heart from Doctor Atomic, SIbillar gli angui d'Aletto from Rinaldo, Papageno's suicide aria from the Magic Flute, and Silvios' aria from I Pagliacci.

OI: What are your thoughts and feelings as you prepare for the Semi Finals?
WL: There's no doubt I'm going to be super nervous for this next round, but I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy it. At this stage when your competing against the best from around the country it can get intimidating pretty fast. Like I said before I'm going to go in and do my best and if I don't make it to the Grand Finals I still know that I'm a good singer and there's more to singing and life then just winning a competition.

Benefit Gala Concert Performance

Wenn Mein Schatz Hochzeit Macht

Ging Heut Morgen Ubers Feld

Ich Hab Ein Gluhend Messer

Die Zwei Bauen Augen Von Meinem Schatz

Au Fond Du Temple Saint

Chanson Romanesque

Chanson Epique

Chanson a Boire

For You, For Me, For Everyone

They Can't Take That Away From Me

A Woman Is A Sometime Thing


Encore Piece from Porgy and Bess

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Semi-Final Build Up - A Day in the Life of an Auditioner: Ricardo Rivera

The original intent was to keep up with Ricardo and Will to demonstrate a day in the life of an opera singer however the task proved to be more difficult than not as I also expected to keep my normal work hours of my day job. Fortunately I managed to catch up with them on a couple of occasions to be able to share some footage with you as we look forward to the upcoming Semi-Final auditions at the Met this Sunday March 11.

This article will feature a couple of videos from is from a live recording session at Mannes College and the other is his performance from MONC ER's Benefit Gala Concert.

Enjoy! (Will Liverman's article will be featured on Saturday March 10)


Recording Session

Benefit Gala

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A View from the Top: Discussion with MONC's Gayletha Nichols and Melissa Wegner

by Sylvanna (SVP) and Stefanie (SVS)

Monday February 27, 3.45pm - I meet with Opera Idols blog co-editor Stefanie in the lobby of the Met, on the benches off to the side of the ticket box office. We discuss the article ahead that will result from this interview with Gayletha Nichols and Melissa Wegner from the Met. Gayletha on one hand has twelve years of experience and Melissa is just finishing her first season once the Semi Finals (Sunday March 11) and Finals (Sunday March 18) are concluded and the winners are crowned. This is also the current MONC ER Committee's first season together, having taken over from previous Chairwoman Mary Hobart and her crew. Now feeling confident regarding our ability to help pull off successful District and Region Auditions and a Benefit Gala, but eager to learn how to improve our performance behind the scenes, and wanting to see our involvement from a different perspective...a view from the top as we head into the central nervous system of the whole competition.
We agree that the purpose of this blog has been threefold for MONC ER: 1) to promote our singers; 2) to promote our activities and operations; 3) to promote young, amateur artists in general because it's a magical thing to help young talent find its way in this big world so that they may brighten and inform our lives. The unspoken mission of course is to have fun, and we agree once again that this has definitely been an enjoyable initiative - with so much ahead of us.

half expected to be led to this room
3.55pm - after reviewing our questions, we head down the elevators, down the hall, through the stage door, and to a security counter where we ask for Melissa to come pick us up. Melissa shows up shortly thereafter and guides us through the Met's lower lobby (which was empty and irksomely serene) and around a corner, past the bar, and through a door labeled "the atrium" that reveals the hustle and bustle back office operation of the Met. With the underground nature of the back office and its 1960's staircase and finishes, plus having recently seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I really felt like I had walked into a secret world of sorts.

Along the way, Melissa explained that all the Semi Finalists are staying at the Hotel Empire just steps from the Lincoln Center (and for those Gossip Girl fans, yes, that would be THE Hotel Empire, less Chuck Bass and company) during the Semi Final weekend. They will have the opportunity to practice in the Met warm up rooms, and for those who qualify for the Finals, spend the next week also at the Hotel Empire as they receive vocal training from Met staff. Not to mention have a thrilling time in New York City.

Our Eastern Region winners, Will Liverman and Ricardo Rivera will both be taking advantage of the invitation and so will be joining their fellow contestants and competitors. I would just love to join this hotel party myself; I can imagine the banter, the singing, the nerves, the friendships that will form and the memories that will be carried in the singers’ hearts from this point forward.

Gayletha Nichols: So, is this for the blog?
SVP:  It is for the blog. Thank you so much for meeting with us. We wanted to get what I call "A view from the top" kind of thing. You have been involved for...

GN: This is my twelfth season.
SVP: The twelfth season. I would be curious to find out from you how you have
seen it change, if at all, over the years.

GN: Well, the numbers are still extremely high. The people that enter that first
round, that has not diminished at all. So for all the other things that are going on
in the world, fewer jobs to be had when they get out, there's no lack of people
who still want to try and do this. They will pursue it a long time.

GN: They are still signing up to be music majors as undergrads. And they are still going on to graduate schools hoping to advance their training. They are still looking for young artist training programs and still searching out summer festivals. They are trying to hit all the phases of training and development that is available to them so they can become opera singers.

SVP: That's wonderful.

GN: I think it's amazing.

SVP: It is not a dying art at all.

GN: Not from that standpoint, no.

SVP: How did you get into judging? Are you a judge for multiple regions or is it just the ER that you judge for?

GN: No. By my job title I go to as many as I can. We have more auditions on one weekend than any one person can ever do obviously. We have forty Districts next year and I am clearly not going to go to all those, but between Melissa and I we are probably going to cover a good ten or twelve of the Districts. I will also probably judge about half of the Regions too. It is a lot of travel. I mean, it falls into my responsibility. I have a small posse of people that I can count on absolutely to know what we are about, what we are looking for and to make good choices and to bring this year just nineteen singers to the Met.

SVP: How many typically have you seen?

GN: Twenty to twenty-two is the average number of semi-finalists.

SVP: (to Melissa) How are you finding it? Where did you come from before this?

MW: Before I was freelancing I had gone to school as a singer so I understand that side of things and very happy to be on this side of it now. Even though we are in this crazy busy time I am so happy to be on this side of it.

SVP: You don't like performing and that kind of thing.

MW: I just really like being on the other side of the table. There is a different set of preparation that needs to be done that is much more comfortable for me right now. I would have said something different ten years ago, but when I walk backstage at the District and Regionals and feel those nerves and that sense of just...oh. I don't miss that at all.

MW: I don't. So I am very...This is nice, this is wonderful. With the nineteen coming I am excited. Very excited.

SVP: So what challenges have you encountered adjusting into this role?

GN: She has to put up with me first; and that's the hard part.

MW: That's my favourite…I don't know; I think that this year I have been learning so much that it has just been about getting a clear picture of how, it's a nationwide program, how that works and meeting as many of the people as I can throughout the country. And then also getting to learn how the Met works. So it is two very big and very different systems. We are the lynchpin between them and it is really Gayletha, Camille and I who are the liaisons between all of our volunteers and the Met.

GN: It is a big job.

MW: It is fascinating. I love to learn how things work, so that has been great. And as a singer coming up I have been hearing all that stuff of the dying art form and there is only people over the age of sixty at the opera. I have to say, especially since I started working here, and I was at City Opera doing supertitles before that, but especially here because it is a little more traditional fare, I am absolutely inspired by how many people come to see the opera and how many people spend their hard-earned money here. And especially with National Council, that you have people even in North Dakota who care enough about opera to support young singers and host the districts there. It's amazing and I think that this program is a testament to how much  volunteerism and spirit there is.

SVP: I feel like there is a bit of a mystery about this. I was reading the history and how they started to build up the regional volunteers. What compelled people to kind of do it?

GN: In the first place?

SVP: Yes.

GN: Prestige and money.

MW: It was like the social clubs from the fifties and sixties.

SVP: And opera really occupies, I would imagine, that and art galleries.

GN: You must remember sixty years ago the generation of let's say, over fifty and under seventy, was still a group who might have been first-generation Americans but their parents were Europeans. So that European tradition of “we grew up with classical music in the house.” And what were their options for some of them?
The Texaco Saturday Afternoon Broadcast for some places in the country was the only option for opera fifty years ago. So it started with those kinds of things in place and then of course, Mrs. Belmont with the aid of Howard Hook. Howard spend a lot of time going around the country literally identifying the most important people in the community and the people with money and saying "Would you like to host in your community a level of the National Council Auditions?" So it started with one and then of course Auditions of the Air being its precursor. It was decided that since Auditions of the Air was only getting a few people on the East Coast participating in it, that the National Council was formed. And it took a few years to get that all going and we celebrate the birthday of the National Council, which was 1952. 1954 was the first year we had auditioners from around the country.

SVP: It comes down to whom you know.

GN: Absolutely, just as it was for Mrs. Belmont and Howard. Who do I know in Seattle? Mrs. Gothrocks, she will probably do this for us. It is like that. The difference now is I go to people who are passionate about opera rather than have a lot of money. It is great if they have a lot of money, but what is even more important is that they want to actually organize it and do the work and they are connected enough in the arts community to have a friend who has a friend who has money. You know how the whole fundraising thing goes that way.

SVS: Are you a judge on the semi-finals as well?

GN: Yes.

MW: And the finals.

SVP: All the way through.

GN: All the way through. I see them all the way through.

SVP: Who are the other judges?

GN: For the semi-finals, the ones from the Met Artistic Staff will be Jonathan Friend, Lenore Rosenberg and Brian Zeger. Andrew Davis is conducting the next week so he will be there for the semi-finals and will be one of the judges as well. Alexander Neef from Canadian Opera Company and Diane Zola from Houston Grand Opera are our other guest judges….and then for the finals, Jonathan joins me again and we add Sarah Billinghurst and Craig Rutenberg from the Met Staff. Our guest for the finals is Joshua Winograde from LA Opera.

SVS: Do you help the finalists and the semi-finalists with their preparations or is that left to someone else here?

GN: We organize it and they come in on a Thursday and by Friday they are already coaching.

MW: They coach with the Met music staff and then the ones who become finalists... they will get dramatic coaching from as well as work with Sir Andrew Davis, the conductor.

SVP: Makes me want to get into it; I wish I could sing.

GN: It's a great opportunity for them.

SVP: Absolutely. So what are your backgrounds?

GN: I was a singer first.

SVP: An opera singer? Soprano?

GN: Mezzo most of the time.

MW: I sang as a soprano and I also have a degree in music business so I have
always sort of done both.

SVS: That must help; obviously having a background like that must be very helpful.

GN: Immensely.

MW: It is.

SVP: Looking at the different regions, how are they similar and... Well, obviously it is all about opera for starters.

GN: It is all about opera and that is as similar as it gets. We have, as you have probably seen, a sort of extensive handbook on how to do the auditions. Everyone is given that guideline, but it really is then molded to how their community wants to handle the auditions. There are certain rules that they follow, but really, when you go to them they are all so different. A lot of our volunteers go to each other's to see how someone else does it, especially if they are really interested in either trying to do it better or changing it up in some way that makes it more interesting for the audience. They will say: "Where should I go, who should I look at it?" I can make a suggestion "So and so does a really great job; go look at them." They travel to each other’s a little bit.

GN: Most of the regions now have their own website which is really great.

SVP: Are there any changes that you would like to see happen in the whole audition process?

GN: In terms of administratively, structurally? No. Whenever it comes up we just change them.

SVP: I guess what the various regions could do to improve or help you guys out.
Other than just getting really great talent, because it all comes down to…

GN: And they can’t really be responsible for that. That’s a hard call, but we certainly network with all the opera companies and young artist programs and schools and festivals to try at least let everybody know where it’s available. It’s something they might do. I will say that in these areas our volunteers network with their local groups. In a way they do involve themselves a little bit with quality issues because they work at making sure that these institutions know that they are there and making it very easy for their people to get there and have the access. You can bring your own pianist if you want, but we always provide one, every audition.

MW: I think we are also, in general, almost all on the electronic bandwagon.

GN: Almost, we are ninety-five percent there.

SVS: Do a lot of them come to the finals?

GN: A lot of them. I should look up percentage wise how many, but I am always surprised how many do because it is hike from Seattle and Los Angeles. But both of those places always have at least half a dozen if not more from their group who come.

SVP: You work so hard towards it.

GN: I really encourage the volunteers to come because I want them to see how important they are.

MW: A lot of them really take a vested interest in the singers that they send on and they become lifelong fans.

SVP: As we doing this blog, we are asking ourselves: “How are we going to focus this? What are we going to focus on?” We are not going to become agent for these singers; we can’t do that, but at least just support them and promote them as much as we can. At the gala, a couple of them came up to me and said it was far-reaching, the articles that we did for them, and that they could have people look to it, proof that they had this experience there. It helps them out.

GN: If you can keep in contact with all of them and they send you updates.

SVS: We have it on the website as well, ‘Where are they now?’ So I said they could always let me know what they are doing.

SVP: To me that is the point of it. It really is what keeps you going, because they are such great groups of people, they really are. They have hearts of gold.

GN: You get to know them (the singers) and you think: “Wow, how can I help you make this happen?”

SVP: And when you see them advance and see how happy they are and how satisfied they are to be doing what they love to do.

SVS: It is fun to see when I am watching an opera and I am looking through the program, I like to see if they came through the Grand Finals and I love it because there are so many of them. We are doing something.

SVP: You are not just doing stuff that isn’t having an effect…it is adding up to something.

GN: So often, it comes up, is this the way we should be doing it still? I mean it is sixty years now. Should we have found a different way of doing it? Well, we have found a different way because we keep improving it and we keep making it better. In terms of an outreach, almost like a blast, we could never afford to do this just from the Met without the volunteers and all of these District levels because that’s the first level. When someone says now: “What is the screening?” The screening is the first audition, the District Audition.

SVP: Was there any particularly good year for singers? Does it go in waves?

GN: Yes, it is a roller coaster, a little bit. Before I came everyone pointed to the year of 1988 as a great year. I heard about 1988 I don’t know how many times.

MW: I have a picture of the winners in my office.

GN: It’s the Renée Fleming year, the Susan Graham year, Ben Heppner, Heidi Grant Murphy… and even those who did not advance are big stars like Pat Racette, Denyse Graves. We’ve had several big years in the recent past.

SVP: It’s nice that you have more than one winner. That’s the frustrating thing in like, say American Idol, where you only get one winner.

GN: Every so often somebody wants to do that. Let’s just have one winner and then have a second, third, fourth… The judges will kill each other first. We would never agree on that in a million years, partially because we are not looking at a finished product either. Even that is so subjective. No two people will ever agree on their favourite opera singer. Even if it was a finished product and it was just best performance that day, you wouldn’t get seven people to agree on one person. So take away that it is not finished and that this is about development and you are listening with ears of what is possible for this person, who is the big investment, whose got the biggest gifts, the biggest package of possibilities… If I didn’t make them just list: pick your favourites one through eight and we’ll do the math we would be there forever.

MW: You know Will is going to the Ryan Center in Chicago. And with the Education Fund, any of the singers who get to the Semi-Finals get to come back and sing for Gayletha or other members of the Met staff to be heard for that money. It is great that they stay tethered to the Met even if they are not in the Lindemann program. When Will goes to Chicago, he can still call up and make an appointment to be heard by Gayletha or maybe Lenore or someone. It’s great.

GN: The Ed Fund auditions we try to make sure Lenore is there because she is the one who casts the small roles and the covers. A lot of times our people are ready in a year or two to do that kind of work here. So we keep track of them.

MW: The story of Angela Meade.

GN: The story of Angela Meade, which is now all over the paper and we are happy to be a part of it. I got an email from a colleague saying: “I am listening to the Ernani broadcast this afternoon thinking when you and I were in Seattle listening to Angela Meade and she won that year and how cool…” That was cool.

MW: Everyone has days at work where you just throw up your hands and you can’t believe all the emails and phone calls you are getting. We had our monitors on and they were rehearsing Ernani and I said: “But Gayletha, just listen to Angela.” She said: “What we do matters.” I was just downstairs at lunch and I saw Michael Fabbiano and Lisette Oropesa and these are people who have won in the last eight years. They are here.

GN: They are working all over the world now.

MW: This is one of their homes. You can see that they are comfortable here and it is partially because of the National Council.

~ many thanks to Gayletha and Melissa for their participation