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America’s Next Top Opera Singers

The Metropolitan Opera’s yearly competition for young stars with great pipes. We’ll talk opera shop with 2011 judges and winners.

In this 2009 photo provided by New York's Metropolitan Opera, Anna Netrebko, foreground left, appears in the title role of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." (AP)

In this 2009 photo provided by New York's Metropolitan Opera, Anna Netrebko, foreground left, appears in the title role of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." (AP)

Steven Tyler wasn’t there, or J. Lo, it wasn’t that kind of singing competition. More Wagner, Verdi, Bellini, Puccini.

The Grand Finals of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions come around every spring. The competition is intense. Young singers, with great pipes and everything on the line.

This hour On Point: Beyond American Idol. We’re inside young opera’s Grand Finals.

- Tom Ashbrook


Gayletha Nichols, executive director of the National Council Auditions at the Metropolitan Opera.

Brian Zeger, executive director of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program and artistic advisor for the vocal program at the Juilliard School. He judged the semifinals for the 2011 National Council Auditions.

Michelle Johnson, soprano and winner of the 2011 National Council Auditions. She recently played the role of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at the Academy of Vocal Arts.

Ryan Speedo Green, bass baritone and winner of the 2011 National Council Auditions. He’ll be attending the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program.  Read the New York Times piece profiling his experience with the Auditions.

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  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    This is hopeful.  It’s good to know that a new generation of opera singers is coming up.  Now if only the audiences will keep attending and buying the music.

  • Frenchyt

    In the two young women I heard, Michelle Johnson and the young woman who sang Porg’i Amor, I heard noticeable wobbles in the voice.  My experience is that only gets worse as they get older.   Isn’t this considered a vocal problem that would have downgraded their auditions?  The very top singers of recent history (Callas notably excepted) had crystal clear wobble free high notes in their prime.  Comments from guests, please.
    Frances Tucker

    • Marion

      I agree – it’s distressing to hear young singers who’ve been pushing so hard that they develop a wobble.  I’m almost 60, and when a health problem caused me to temporarily lose my voice a couple of years ago… and pushing to resume singing caused it to return with a wobble… I refused to sing, even at private parties, until I was able to get the wobble under control.  It was something I was ashamed of.

      Some young singers seem to think that a wobble is something to strive for!  I have a student who insists on manufacturing a wobble, insisting that otherwise her voice is “boring” – she compares it to the texture manufactured by a flutist or violinist, refusing to listen when I tell her that a healthy vibrato happens naturally in a healthy voice, and is not at all like a wobble.

    • Cchalden

      I agree, wobblers sound terrible and is associated with “old” singers, past their prime

  • Marion

    Oh, yes – those of us with opera in our souls and some talent can’t stop trying.  I’ve hit one road-block after another, and I always find some way to keep singing… or to support other singers even when my health has taken away my own voice.  These days I run an annual Music to Cure MS concert to support the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis – and sing one aria, if I’m healthy enough. 

    I know I could raise a lot more money holding a sports event, or a pop music event… but opera is my life.  I want to give more singers a chance to perform; I want to introduce opera to new audiences.  It’s always a thrill to meet a new young singer, or an audience member who comes for the charity, and goes out in love with the art.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bobby-Fontaine/1433889990 Bobby Fontaine

    download free PDF copy of “Steven Tyler’s Secret Past” or order a paperback version at the following webpage – http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/BobbyFontaine

    Everyday this story isn’t told begins new tragedies around the world, that’s how important it is for you to hear it. Just released “ Steven Tyler’s Secret Past” is an absolute must read. This true story will keep you on the edge of your seat taking you into the dark world of Steven Tyler, the Mafia bosses who managed his career, and the very strange tactics used to deploy Aerosmith to the top of the world’s rock and roll scene. It’s a story of struggle and hardship, and overcoming great odds against enemies who’d stop at nothing to get their way. A few simple mistakes at the beginning of his career and Steven was in over his head caught between the CIA and his own Sicilian roots.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/QXHUG6B22T6CKA3CRQ4EG3UOCM Laurence

    Wow…only five comments and one of them shouldn’t even be there.  As I listened to the program, two things crossed my mind:  narrowing the field down to five from hundreds (maybe hundreds more really can’t sing at that level; I know they said the starting base was 2,000) is ridiculous.  The cohort of finalists and near-finalists probably have as much to offer as the winners. ( The book “Winner-Take-All Society” by Robert Frank and Philip Cook discussed this phenomenon.) It’s almost a lock that some singers who were bypassed by the auditions will still find a home on the operatic stage and others who reached the finals will eventually take up another career. And second:  for all the punctilious focus on the right-voices for the right parts, and the need to convey the meanings of the words as well as the music.  These singers’ managers may line them up for performances in works of all types…Donizetti in Milwaukee; Beethoven’s “Fidelio” in Omaha; a contemporary opera in Baltimore, etc.  They really won’t be able to turn down any booking just because they might not be exactly the right voice type.  And they may perform in acoustically dead theaters, or conversely very “lively” halls, like Boston’s Jordan Hall, and therefore adjust their singing accordingly.  Not only that, when they arrive for rehearsal, they may very well encounter a crazy director who throws away all concepts of a reasonable staging, who wants  to make a name for himself or herself by going overboard in an “experimental” direction.

  • Straightshooter155

    Who is screwing around with the links? All I can get is a 6 minute blurb about teachers. Fix it!

  • Innes Heather

    Glorious voices engage the soul and it does not need to be forced.The young Maria Callas was wonderful but sadly in the latter part of her career in my opinion she became shrill in her top register.This years BBC Singer of the year has 20 of the worlds most talented young opera singers what a future all of them have, the judges will have a hard choice to make

  • Rkt4462

    Where is Myra Molloy?

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