Metropolitan Opera Tri-State Regional Audition winners Jonathan Lasch (left) and Afton Battle (right) pose for pictures with judge and legendary soprano Mignon Dunn (center). Lexgo photo by Rich Copley.
A few notes from Saturday's Tri-State Regional Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which were won by University of Kentucky soprano Afton Battle and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music baritone Jonathan Lasch. Read the Herald-Leader story at LexGo, Sunday.
Stiff competition: Once the competition got started, you knew whoever won was going to have to have a really good day. Indiana University's Jing Zhang was second up with a heart melting Un bel di, and she looked the part of Cio-Cio-San. Then came Lasch with his muscular rendition of Ford's Monologue from Falstaff. Baritones have fared well in this region -- see Corey Crider -- and it seemed obvious Lasch could have a good day. Indiana University mezzo Kathryn Leemhuis, who ended up finishing second, came in showing range with comical Cosi and an endearing Romeo's Tomb Scene from from Bellini's I Capuleti ed I Montecchi, plus a rather hip look in a black jacket and slacks with an antiquey top (I'm no fashion writer. Leave that to Opera Chic). Then the competition ended with IU's Jung Nan Yoon, making it look like this could be a three-soprano race between Zhang, Battle and Yoon for win, place and show.
That's what's great about the regionals, which we get once every three years: These are the best of the districts, and with Indiana, CCM and Kentucky in our region, all of the singers are bound to be good.
Sports: Watching the talented field reminded me how former UK voice professor Stephen King used to relate singing to golf, and it's a particularly apt analogy in the Met Auditions. Basically, all you can do is play your game, and hope you have a better day than everyone else. You're not going to impact anyone else's performance, so you just have to do your best, and hope it's good enough.
The Met Auditions always make me think of sports, because covering them, I feel a bit like a sportswriter: "How'd it feel out there today?" "What do you take from this going to the next round?" "How does this impact the program?"
Opera Scene investigators: The Met auditions usually go like this: The competitors come out, sing the aria they choose. Then, the three judge panel requests another piece, the singer does it and is gone. Occasionally, the judges will request a third piece, leaving the audience to wonder, "What does that mean? Does it mean they liked the singer? They didn't Know? They just wanted to hear something else."
Today, the judges threw the auditioners a lot of curve balls, stopping them in the middle of arias, asking for three, but only hearing parts of some works and generally seeming to be on a hunt for very specific things.
"They made us work out there," Lasch said, after the competition.
Speaking of the judges: Weather travails prevented Opera Theatre of St. Louis director Charles McKay from getting to Lexington to judge. So, competition co-director Henno Lohmeyer called Carroll Freeman, essentially the Everett McCorvey of the University of Tennessee Opera, and he agreed to make the three-hour drive up I-75 to fill in. He was joined by Met pianist and assistant conductor George Darden and acclaimed soprano Mignon Dunn.
Bet who Everett bets: Between the judging and the awards, UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said it was tough to figure out who won. But a few minutes before the awards were announced, he looked at the Met auditions mission statement in the program. He pointed to No. 1, "To discover exceptional young talent," and said if that's what the judges went by, it would be Battle or Lasch. A few minutes later, with the surprise announcement two singers would advance, Everett was proven right. I think I'm going to call him on Derby day . . .
Word from Memphis: Mezzo-soprano Brandy Lynn Hawkins was also in a regional yesterday, in Memphis. She did not advance though. "A baritone from Arkansas advanced," McCorvey wrote in an e-mail. "She felt good about her singing and the comments evidently were very positive. They only advanced one from that region to NY. She was very excited for Afton."
On to New York: The National Semi-Final will be at the Metropolitan Opera Feb. 17, with the finals Feb. 24. If it works the way it did in 2002, when UK's Corey Crider and Mark Whatley advanced, the semis were a smaller, essentially semi-private event. But the nationals are a big, ticketed concert. Here's the link for tickets.
Read it in the (college) paper: Memorial Hall was swarming with a bunch of reporters from UK's student paper, The Kernel, Saturday. I can't wait to see what they write, and will let you know if there are any online links. As a former college paper editor, I love seeing college papers actively covering the arts.