Above: The winners of yesterday's Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are (L-R) Amanda Balltrip (who won the encouragement award), Christopher Conley, Afton Battle, Emily Lorini, and Hannah Smith. Photo by Pat Trotter/Lexington Opera Society. Below: Baritone Corey Crider is the last UK singer to advance past the Tri-State regional auditions to the national semifinals at the Met. Copyrighted Herald-Leader/Kentucky.com photo by Janet Worne.
University of Kentucky countertenor Christopher Conley is heading to the Tri-State Regional Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the second straight year, so he has a good idea of what he's facing.
“I learned you have to have the whole package to win,” Conley said of his regional-round experience. “You have to have a total and complete performance.”
There are two big reasons for that:
1. Now, instead of facing a field in which anyone can enter in the Kentucky District auditions, the district winners face winners from two other regions: Ohio, dominated by opera powerhouse the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Indiana, dominated by opera powerhouse Indiana University.
2. Unless the judges call an audible, which they have the option to do, only one singer advances from the regionals to the national semi-finals in New York, on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
Saturday afternoon, four singers advanced from the Kentucky district auditions: UK's Conley, sopranos Afton Battle and Hannah Smith, and Miami of Ohio mezzo-soprano Emily Lorini. The Tri-State regionals float among the three states, and since this year is Kentucky's year, the competitors come right back to Memorial Hall for the competition Jan. 19.
With that advantage, UK is one-for-two. In 2001, baritone Corey Crider won in a Memorial Hall Tri-State. In 2004, UK sent only one competitor to the regionals at Memorial, soprano Lillian Roberts, and she didn't advance.
This time around, UK seems to be sending some strong competitors:
~ Battle, 26, a distant cousin of Kathleen, whose rendition of Giacomo Puccini's In questa Reggia from Turandot makes you think about that iconic Maxell audio tape ad.
~ Conley, 27, who in two years has gone from being a struggling tenor to a fine countertenor. Less common voices can do well in the Met competition.
~ Smith, who displayed a vibrant and controlled coloratura yesterday in renditions of Bernstein's Glitter and Be Gay from Candide and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Durch Zartlichkeit und Schmeicheln from The Abduction at the Seraglio.
To get ready, all three say they're going to be getting to work with their respective teachers and UK's beloved vocal coach Cliff Jackson. If one breaks through, it'll be the first time UK has advanced to the nationals since 2001, when Crider went joined by tenor Mark Whatley, who advanced through another region. Whatley advanced to the finals, but didn't win. Gregory Turay still stands as the last UK singer to win at the Met Auditions, a victory that launched his international career.
Before going to get critiques from the judges of yesterday's competition, Battle said the mission is, "to start a new tradition, and give us someone else to talk about in addition to Greg Turay."