Opera singers are not born, they are developed over time. Given the right raw ingredients, training and persistence, the most promising of them are winnowed out of a new generation. Today, the Metropolitan Opera announced the winners of the 2011 National Council Auditions. They are: Joseph Barron, bass-baritone from Pittsburgh, PA; Ryan Speedo Green, bass-baritone from Suffolk, VA; Michelle Johnson, soprano from Pearland, TX; Joseph Lim, baritone from Seoul, South Korea; and – seen above – Philippe Sly, bass-baritone from Ottawa, Canada. In the photo he is seen singing Marcello in Opera McGill’s production from early 2011 of La Boheme. Photo by Adam Scotti.
The winners were selected from eight finalists who performed arias with the Met Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Summers. Each winner receives a cash prize of $15,000 and even more importantly, the opportunity to launch a major operatic career.
The Grand Finals Concert was hosted by renowned mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. During the judges’ deliberations, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a Met star and 2001 Auditions winner, gave a special performance featuring “Je crois entendre encore” from Les Pêcheurs de Perles and “Ah! mes amis” from La Fille du Régiment.
The Grand Finals Concert was recorded for broadcast at a later date on public radio stations across the United States. Check local listings for air times.
Nearly 1,500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 years old participated in this year’s auditions, which are held annually in 41 districts and 14 regions throughout the United States and Canada and are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Given the reach of the auditions, the number of applicants, and the long tradition associated with them, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are considered the most prestigious in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.
Even more important than the cash prizes is the contestants’ chance to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra on the historic opera house stage before an audience that includes opera company executives, artist managers, music critics, and other opinion-makers of the music world. Some winners are invited to join the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, which assists talented young singers through training and performance opportunities at the Met. The remaining three finalists: Deanna Breiwick, soprano from Seattle, WA; Sasha Djihanian, soprano from Montreal, Canada; and Nicholas Masters, bass from New Canaan, CT were each awarded $5,000.
Past winners of the Met Auditions include many of today’s leading operatic artists such as Stephanie Blythe, Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn, Ben Heppner, Hei-Kyung Hong, Samuel Ramey, and Deborah Voigt. During a typical opera season, more than one hundred alumni of the Auditions are on the Met roster. In 2007, the National Council Audition process was captured by Susan Froemke in an acclaimed documentary, The Audition, which was shown on PBS and released on DVD.
Winners Biographical Notes
The following are brief biographical notes for the 2011 National Council Auditions winners. The region in which each singer won the earlier round of competition is notated at the end of his or her biography.
Bass-baritone (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Winner in Middle Atlantic Region)
Ryan Speedo Green
Bass-baritone (Suffolk, Virginia. Winner in Rocky Mountain Region)
Soprano (Pearland, Texas. Winner in New England Region)
Michelle Johnson received her opera training certificate from Boston University Opera Institute and her bachelor of music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. She is currently a candidate for her artist diploma at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, where she has sung the title role of Suor Angelica, the Countess in Capriccio, and Alice Ford in Falstaff. She has also sung Monisha in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha with Opera Providence, a Naked Virgin in Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro with Boston’s L’Orchestra da Camera. Upcoming is Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the Academy of Vocal Arts.
Baritone (Seoul, South Korea. Winner in Western Region)
Bass-baritone (Ottawa, Canada. Winner in Great Lakes Region)
Philippe Sly holds a bachelor of music degree in voice performance from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and was a young artist at Canada’s Banff Centre Opera as Theatre program. Among his recent performances are Marcello in La Bohème and Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress at McGill, Escamillo in Carmen at the Banff Centre, Masetto in Don Giovanni at the University of Ottawa, and Joey in Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey at Ashbury College. Upcoming is Doctor Bartolo in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. He has also sung in choruses with Opera Lyra Ottawa and the Ottawa Choral Society.
For an in-depth look at how the selection of opera virtuosi is conducted, you might enjoy this article in the New York Times magazine.