Metropolitan Opera, National Council Auditions, Sondra Radvanovsky
On Sunday afternoon March 10, the air was buzzing with anticipation at the Met, before the performances by 10 singers--out of 1500 hopefuls--who had made it to the Grand Finals of the opera company's National Council auditions. No, this wasn't the opera equivalent of American Idol, where the emphasis is on the judges as much as the performers. It was a grown-up affair, perhaps a little more staid than one would have wished for, but the talent was worth the wait--with every voice handsomely filling the enormous house.
Divided into two sections, the concert gave each young artist the opportunity to sing two arias that showed off different aspects of their voices, accompanied by the superb MET Orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato. Of the six who were named winners, perhaps the greatest contrast came from Thomas Richards, 24, a bass-baritone from Minnesota. He sang Britten's tortured "Oh Beauty" from Billy Budd; with his excellent diction, every word of the aria made its point. Then he let loose with an animated performance of Rossini's "La calunnia," the hysterically funny, faux-menacing aria for Dr. Basilio in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA.
Judging by the audience reaction, the concert's favorite was coloratura soprano Sydney Mancasola, 25, a Californian, who went from Donizetti's high-flying "Salut à la France" from LA FILLE DU REGIMENT to a tender, caressing "Caro nome," Gilda's aria from RIGOLETTO. Tenor Michael Brandenburg, 26, from Indiana, had a fine Italianate "ping" in his rendition of "È la solita storia del pastore" from Cilea's L'ARLESIANA before turning in an impressive, impassioned account of Lenski's aria from EUGENE ONEGIN.
Bass-baritone Brandon Cedel, 25, from Pennsylvania, went from an assured performance of the bel canto "Vi ravviso, o luonghi ameni" (LA SONNAMBULA by Bellini) to the ardent and romantic Aleko's Cavatina from Rachmaninov's obscure ALEKO. (I did find it odd that in a program of only ten singers, both these arias showed up twice, the latter done also by another winner, Musa Ngqungwana, 28, a South African bass-baritone.) The youngest of the finalists was Rebecca Pedersen, 21, of Utah, whose big soprano started with Massenet's "Pleurez, mes yeux" (LE CID) before nailing Nedda's aria, "Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's I PAGLIACCI.
The four other finalists--Efrain Solis, Richard Ollarsaba, Matthew Ansel and Tracy Cox--admirably filled out the fine program.
At the end of the performance, as the judges deliberated before naming the winners, Sondra Radvanovsky, the Met soprano who was a winner in 1995, sang "Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. She nearly blew the roof off. It was a reminder that no matter how good the winners are right now, there's still plenty of work left for these bellwethers of opera's future to do.
PHOTO (left to right): Brandon Cedel, Sydney Mancasola, Michael Brandenburg, Rebecca Pedersen, Musa Ngqungwana, Thomas Richards
Credit: Rebecca Fay/Metropolitan Opera
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Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein. |