BWW Review: The Met Anoints Its New 'Fab Five' at National Council Auditions' GRAND FINALS CONCERT
Saturday night, I heard soprano Lisette Oropesa deliver an alternatingly delicious and desperately dramatic Violetta in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA at the Met. Less than a day later, she was the emcee at the GRAND FINALS CONCERT of the Met's National Council Auditions--where she was a winner herself in 2005 and "it changed my life," she recalled--delivering the latest batch of opera babies into the big time.
The winners were:
- Gabrielle Beteag, mezzo-soprano, 25 (Southeast Region: Lilburn, GA)
- Blake Denson, baritone, 24 (Midwest Region: Paducah, KY)
- Jonah Hoskins, tenor, 23 (Rocky Mountain Region: Saratoga Springs, UT)
- Alexandria Shiner, soprano, 29 (Middle Atlantic Region: Waterford, MI)
- Denis Velez, soprano, 27 (Gulf Coast Region: Puebla, Mexico)
Besides showing off their unique talents, they gave us a chance to listen to some music not often performed in the house, along with some favorites that we never seem to get tired of hearing. While the Met has a long history of bringing new works to its stage, there was definitely a shortage of contemporary works on the program (the most recent from Andre Previn's 1995 A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE).
As usual, the two-part program offered each singer a pair of opportunities to show off different parts of their talent, accompanied by the Met Orchestra under Bertrand de Billy.
For example, mezzo Beteag started off with a dramatically vivid "Give him his orchid" from Britten's THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA, showing off wonderful diction that needed no titles, even in the giant Met. She followed that up with a boisterous "Ja, Gretelchen...Hurr hopp hopp hopp," as the witch in HANSEL AND GRETEL, filled with good humor.
Baritone Denson's first aria was the luxuriant French version of Rodrigo's "Carlos, ecoute...Ah, je meurs, l'ame Joyeuse," from Verdi's DON CARLOS, wonderfully accompanied by the orchestra. Next, there was the rarity, the earthy "Lawd, Jesus, hear my prayer," from Gruenberg's EMPEROR JONES, from 1933, which had its premiere at the Met, with the famed (but white) baritone, Lawrence Tibbett in the role meant for an African American.
Tenor Hoskins showed himself a budding "Prince of the High C's," in Donizetti's "Ah! Mes amis..." from LA FILLE DU REGIMENT, moving on to another bel canto favorite, the highly ornamented "Si, ritrovarla io guiro," from Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA, which also called for his ability to sing in hushed tones.
From the dramatic soprano of Shiner, there were a pair of very different pieces. First, there was "Dich, teure Halle," from Wagner's TANNHAUSER, which showed off her bright timbre and lively stage presence, then turning to Menotti's heart-rending "To this we've come" from the (unfortunately) politically timely THE CONSUL.
Finally, there was soprano Velez's rapturous "Depuis le jour," from Charpentier's LOUISE, which reminded us why it was a favorite of Beverly Sills and Leontyne Price. She followed it up with Liu's plaintive "Tu che di gel sei cinta," from Puccini's TURANDOT.
Each of the five received a $20,000 cash prize to further their careers. It was a $5000 increase from previous years (the first raise since 1998), thanks to the generosity of emcee Oropesa, who realized that the prizes were the same as when she won 15 years ago and made a gift of $25,000 to be shared by the winners. (The National Council has named her its National Advisor in recognition of this gift.) It inspired existing donors to join her effort, raising the prizes for the other finalists from $7500 to $10,000.
The other finalists were:
- Lindsay Kate Brown, mezzo-soprano, 28 (Upper Midwest Region: Waterloo, NY)
- Chasiti Lashay, soprano, 27 (Western Region: Houston, TX)
- Jana McIntyre, soprano, 28 (Midwest Region: Santa Barbara, CA)
- Xiaomeng Zhang, baritone, 29 (New England Region: Wenzhou, China)
It must have been a difficult choice for the judges (who I saw rush out as soon as each half of the concert was finished, to compare notes and make their final decisions), with each of the other singers showing qualities that pointed to their future careers. I particularly like baritone Zhang's "Mab, reine des mensonges," from Gounod's ROMEO ET JULIETTE, and Lashay's "I Want Magic," from Previn's STREETCAR.
As if the performances by the nine finalists wasn't enough, there was special guest artist Javier Camarena, whose ardent, heart-felt singing is always a treat. This afternoon, he added his personal touches (and sweet tone) to "Ah! Leve-toi soleil!" (Gounod's ROMEO) and the less familiar "E la solita storia del pastore" from Cilea's L'ARLESIANA.