UK opera alum Patrica Andress never advanced beyond the regional rounds of the Met auditions, but has since had a successful career in the United States and Europe. Copyrighted Herald-Leader/LexGo photo by Sam Richie, taken in 2000.
The Tri-State regional round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions is coming to Lexington for the third time since the Lexington Opera Society snatched the annual Met star search from Louisville in 2000.
University of Kentucky singers are one-for-two in parlaying the home-stage advantage into a trip to New York for the national semifinals. In 2001, theatrical baritone Corey Crider made the cut and found himself on the Metropolitan Opera stage in April. In 2004, dramatic soprano Lillian Roberts looked like a promising candidate but hit the stage hampered by a busy travel schedule and a cold, and failed to advance. This year, UK has some promising competitors.
Soprano Afton Battle has been blowing away pretty much everyone who hears her. Several UK voice professors said they would not normally advise a 26-year-old soprano to carry Turandot’s In questa reggia into a Met audition. But Battle did at the Kentucky Districts in November, and it turned heads, even among the judges.
Battle was taking an offensive approach after the Districts, saying it is time for UK to win at the national level again, “to start a new tradition, and give us someone else to talk about in addition to Greg Turay.”
Turay was the last UK student to win in the national competition, in 1995.
Giving UK a triple threat to advance this year are countertenor Christopher Conley and soprano Hannah Smith. Conley is making his second trip in as many years to the regionals. He struggled as a tenor but has blossomed after finding his higher range, and he seems to have matured several years in the 12 months between district competitions. Smith was a revelation with a delightful rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Glitter and Be Gay. She’s the sort of singer you could listen to all night.
The districts usually send three competitors to the next level, but only one singer traditionally advances from the regional round. Judges, however, can send more at their discretion.
Any of the three UK hopefuls could score a victory for the Bluegrass and give us a good excuse to turn our attention to New York later this year. In related news, mezzo-soprano Brandy Lynn Hawkins, who has just been accepted to the Washington National Opera’s young artist program, advanced to a regional out of Tennessee. So there are four UK singers vying for a trip to New York.
But even if that doesn’t happen, these singers might already be winners.
No, UK hasn’t had a Met winner since Bill Clinton’s first term as president. But it has certainly had singers go on to substantial careers.
~ Patricia Andress, a soprano star at UK earlier this decade, advanced
to the regionals the same year Crider and two other times. She didn’t
make it to the nationals but has since sung with Nashville Opera, Opera
Theatre of St. Louis, Virginia Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
She has begun a two-year contract in Bremen, Germany.
~ Crider, who made it back to the national semifinals in 2006, has performed with companies such as Florida Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Opera, and is set to join Lyric Opera of Chicago’s apprentice program later this year.
~ Whatley has built a successful career at houses such as Glimmerglass, Nashville and other regional companies.
UK Opera Theatre also has had its own successes, including hiring Gail Robinson away from the Met, recording a few operas, partnering recently with San Francisco Opera to present the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri’s Hotel Casablanca, and racking up a steady stream of fund-raising successes.
What are we saying?
Winning the Met auditions is huge, no doubt. It’s inarguably the biggest and most famous opera company in North America and among the greatest in the world. Winning its competition and, even better, getting in its young artists program is an amazing credit to have on your résumé that will get you first and even second looks.
But it isn’t everything.
You certainly can have a successful operatic singing career without ever setting foot on the Met’s legendary stage. The recent passing of Beverly Sills was a reminder that she already was a huge opera star when she made her Met debut in 1975. So even if none of UK’s hopefuls advance Saturday, it doesn’t mean their careers are over. Just getting to the regionals means they’re probably in pretty good shape.
But Battle is right, it would be really cool to have another Met winner from UK.