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:


JANAI BRUGGER – Soprano
Western Region
ANTHONY CLARK EVANS – Baritone
Mid-South Region
MATTHEW GRILLS – Tenor
Gulf Coast Region
WILL LIVERMAN – Baritone
Eastern Region
MARGARET MEZZACAPPA – Mezzo-Soprano
Middle Atlantic Region
ANDREY NEMZER – Countertenor
Great Lakes Region
KEVIN RAY – Tenor
Midwest Region
LAUREN SNOUFFER – Soprano
Southwest Region
MICHAEL SUMUEL – Bass-Baritone
Rocky Mountain Region
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