I watched the Metropolitan Opera National Council Semifinal Auditions on May 10, 2021. These auditions have always happened on the Met stage for a small invited audience, but due to COVID-19, this year they were happening virtually from wherever the singer was and the stream was available for viewing by whoever wanted to watch, either live or after the fact up to two days later.

 

Let me give you a brief overview of the audition process. I’ll explain it from the perspective of the Wisconsin auditions I had attended many times. It starts on the District level, which happened in Waukesha. These are open to anyone who meets the qualifications. The current qualifications are:

 

1. Singers must be between 20 and 30 years old. My friend Ethlouise tells me there’s a whole side industry of creating false documents to make singers younger than they actually are.

 

2. You’re no longer eligible if you reached the Grand Finals or had twice reached the Semifinals. Ditto singers currently on the Met roster, members of the chorus, or staff.

 

3. “Auditions are open to citizens and lawful residents of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Citizens of countries other than the United States, Canada, and Mexico must show either proof of residency through May 31, 2021 or proof of full-time enrollment in a qualified educational institution, in one of these three countries before being permitted to enter a District audition.”

 

The judges choose two or three singers to move on to the Regional auditions, which in Wisconsin happened in Minneapolis. They choose two or three singers to move on to the Semifinals.

 

Each singer has four arias on their list (it used to be five). They choose their first aria and the judges choose the second aria. Thankfully the Met included the list of each singers’ arias (which we would have if we were in person), and it’s always instructive to see what else the singer sees themselves singing, and fun to predict what the judges would choose for the second aria.

 

The format of the online Semifinals was interesting. You saw the singer on the screen in their local environment, usually the pianist was there in the frame with them. The singer introduced themselves and announced their first aria. They sang the aria, then left the frame, for about thirty seconds - - this was when they were being told what the judges had chosen for the second aria. They introduced the second aria, sang it, stood there for a bit, and we moved on to the next singer.

 

Melissa Wegner, Executive Director of the MONC, welcomed the audience and gave a brief overview of the process. She said that today we’d be hearing 23 singers who had been chosen from nearly 1,200 singers on the District level. The singers we’d be hearing would be performing from the US, Mexico, and South Korea.

 

Here they are:

 

Anne Marie Stanley, mezzo

Philadelphia, PA

First aria: “O mon Fernand” from *La Favorite,* Donizetti

Second aria: “Wie du warst!* from *Der Rosenkavalier,* Richard Strauss

 

She was a great first singer, she has a big voice and a grand manner. The high note at the end of the Donizetti maybe got away from her a little bit, but she knew what she was doing. The Strauss was lovely.

 

+ + +

 

Erica Petrocelli, soprano

Troy, NY

First aria: “Amour, ranime mon courage” from *Roméo et Juliette,* Gounod

Second aria: “Porgi, Amor” from *Le Nozze di Figaro,* Mozart

 

Juicy voice. The Gounod is Juliette’s “Yeah, OK, I’m gonna kill myself” aria and Petrocelli’s acting during the short intro had a slightly hilarious silent movie quality. Her acting was more integrated in the aria, and her singing was marvelous. It’s generally understood that if you have a Mozart aria on your list, the judges will choose that as your second aria - - Mozart has a way of bringing out all your flaws, which is what they want to hear! Her voice was smooth and clean, exactly what you want.

 

+ + +

 

Duke Kim, tenor

Washington, DC

First aria: “Fra poco a me ricovero” from *Lucia di Lammermoor,* Donizetti

Second aria: “Ah! Mes amis” from *La Fille du Régiment,* Donizetti

 

Nice voice, very secure, which is what you want to hear in a tenor. Maybe I could ask for a more distinctive sound in the voice itself, but he’s still young, that will develop in time. The raw material is very good and he knew what he was doing. The *Lucia* aria is Edgardo’s, “Yeah, OK, I’m gonna kill myself” aria and he performed it with sincerity.

 

It’s very unusual that the judges would choose a Donizetti aria after just hearing a Donizetti aria, but come on, if you’re going to have “Ah! Mes amis” on your list, with the nine high Cs, they’re gonna wanna hear you sing that. He totally nailed it.

 

+ + +

 

Courtney Johnson, soprano

Norfolk, VA

First aria: “Tacea la notte placida” from *Il Trovatore,* Verdi

Second aria: “Mi tradi” from *Don Giovanni,* Mozart

 

Maybe I’m being too critical, but it sounded to me like she had learned this aria by listening to the Leontyne Price recording. She was doing all of the Price-isms, which are glorious and sound like Verdi from Price, they sounded like second-hand Price from Johnson. My general impression is she would be a first-class Leonora in a small regional opera house but isn’t really ready for the big time. This impression was confirmed in the Mozart, she sounded underconfident and had some pitch issues.

 

+ + +

 

Jazmine Olwalia, soprano

College Park, MD

First aria: “We had one room” from *Elizabeth Cree,* Kevin Puts

Second aria: “O ma lyre immortelle” from *Sapho,* Gounod

 

This was very unusual, hearing an aria that was so new - - *Elizabeth Cree* was written in 2017. I heard a master class by Barbara Bonney back in the 90s - - a baritone sang a song from the AIDS Quilt Songbook and she said, “Very nice job, but can I give you some advice? When you’re in a situation like this, a master class or an audition, you want to sing something the judges know. You want them to be listening to you, you don’t want them to be paying too much attention to the song or the aria.” She sang it with conviction, the voice sounded good.

 

And another shocker, her second aria was another unusual choice. Definitely better known and more predictable than the Puts, but still not something the judges had heard a thousand times before. This aria showed off her voice better than the other aria, her singing was smooth and even, full of expression and musicality.

 

+ + +

 

Greer Lyle, soprano

New Haven, CT

First aria: “Das war sehr gut, Mandryka” from *Arabella,* Richard Strauss

Second aria: “Dove sono” from *Le Nozze di Figaro,* Mozart

 

Wow, the real deal, a Strauss soprano! Creamy voice, ample, even throughout the range, and most importantly, security and radiance above the staff. It was especially nice hearing her voice travel into whatever hall she was in. The Mozart was less impressive, her singing wasn’t as special (but still very impressive).

 

+ + +

 

Angel Romero, tenor

Pittsburgh, PA

First aria: “Si, ritrovarla io guiro” from *La Cenerentola,* Rossini

Second aria: “Je crois entendre encore” from *Les Pêcheurs de Perles,* Bizet

 

Gorgeous Italian, his Italian was so good it made the Italian we’d been hearing earlier sound approximated in comparison. That was the best aspect of his performance, there were some problems. Rossini writes lots of fast notes and they should be articulated but smooth. He often had little Hs between the notes, a “ha ha ha” situation, sort of a machine gun effect. Not a good thing. And his style was sometimes a little too pop-based, a little too gooey, and sometimes he had a creepy murky sound to his voice.

 

The Bizet was impressive, it was good to hear him having such control in his high voice, but he had many of the same problems as he had in the Rossini.

 

+ + +

 

Brittany Olivia Logan, soprano

Cincinnati, OH

First aria: “I want magic” from *A Streetcar Named Desire,* Previn

Second aria: “Senza mamma” from *Suor Angelica,* Puccini

 

Another odd choice for an opening aria. Not the greatest music, but she sang it well, her voice sounded great. Her singing in the Puccini was a little odd - - the style often asks for some portamento, a tasteful slide from one note to another. Her portamentos (portamenti?) were often a little too slow and sluggish. I imagine it’s difficult to know how to manage this.

 

I don’t know if this was a problem on my laptop or if everyone had the same problem, but the video feed was interrupted a few times near the end of the aria.

 

+ + +

 

Emily Treigle, mezzo soprano

Houston, TX

First aria: “Addio, addio, o miei sospiri” from *Orfeo ed Euridice,* Gluck

Second aria: “Allez, laissez-moi seul…Coeur sans amour” from *Cendrillon,* Massenet

 

Remember the machine gun situation we had with the tenor earlier? Treigle was a perfect example of how to sing those rapid notes distinctly but smoothly. Brava to her. And wow, her cadenza was stunning. The Massenet was less impressive but still very well done.

 

+ + +

 

Jennifer Mariel, soprano

Cholula, Mexico

First aria: “Dove sono” from *Le Nozze di Figaro,* Mozart

Second aria: “Stridono lassù” from *I Pagliacci,* Leoncavallo

 

Lovely voice, but the thing that impressed me most was her poise/presence/acting. She was rooted in the drama and full of immediacy, all of it tied to the text and the music. Maybe her singing in the repeat of the “Dove sono” phrase was a little grand and Romantic for Mozart, but it worked for her and worked in this concert context. The Leoncavallo aria was a little more generalized and less immediate, but it was still very effective, though her voice sounded less at home.

 

+ + +

 

Chuanyuan Liu, countertenor

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

First aria: “Welcome, wanderer…I know a bank” from *A Midsummer Night’s Dream,* Britten

Second aria: “Vivi, tiranno” from *Rodelinda,* Handel

 

Beautiful voice, but his production was maybe a little too introverted for an opera singer. It was hard to imagine him on a big stage holding his own against a full orchestra. The Handel was well sung, but again it seemed a little small-scale for an opera singer.

 

+ + +

 

Raven McMillon, soprano

Houston, TX

First aria: “Ah! Douce enfant” from *Cendrillon,* Massenet

Second aria: “Caro nome” from *Rigoletto,* Verdi

 

Nice voice, great high notes, but in two arias that have quite a few trills, you should be able to do a real trill and not just a Star Trek laser approximation, am I right? Plus her staging seemed very coached. Hand on hip, mischievous smile, caress air with hands.

 

+ + +

 

Emily Sierra, mezzo soprano

New York, NY

First aria: “Ces lettres!” from *Werther,* Massenet

Second aria: “Deh per questo istante solo” from *La Clemenza di Tito,* Mozart

 

The Massenet is very moody and has a lot of interludes for the piano. It’s up to the singer to give the impression of a cohesive drama, and Sierra did a good job with that. And she was on fire in the big breast-beating ending (thankfully she chose to not actually beat her breast). The voice sounded good throughout. The Mozart was a big change in mood, docile and smooth. She sang it with similar dramatic commitment but with more restraint (as is required). FYI the video feed went out again at the end of her second aria. That must be heart-breaking for these people.

 

+ + +

 

Murrella Parton, soprano

Cincinnati, OH

First aria: “Tacea la note placida” from *Il Trovatore,* Verdi

Second aria: “I want magic” from *A Streetcar Named Desire,* Previn

 

We’d heard the Verdi aria earlier in the day, sung by someone who was challenging Miss Price. Parton’s interpretation was more fresh. She didn’t have what they call the “Verdi line,” but how the hell do you learn to do that, anyway? The voice sounded ripe and free, I liked her a lot. She was particularly exciting in the high moments, I loved how her voice bloomed at the top (and she seemed to like it, too). The rapid second section was especially impressive, and thank you, she does appear to have something resembling a real trill and not a Star Trek phaser in her pocket.

 

I was surprised the judges chose “I Want Magic” for her second aria, especially since “Non mi dir” from *Don Giovanni* was on her list. Maybe they wanted to hear her do something modern, or wanted to see her chew the scenery a little bit? Maybe they wanted to hear her sing in English? Maybe (though I can’t imagine it) they actually like this aria? I’ll say this: she certainly sang it like it was a great piece of music, which is an art in itself.

 

+ + +

 

Emily Sierra, mezzo soprano

New York, NY

Third aria: “Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein” from *Die Fledermaus,* Johann Strauss

 

Yes, they brought her back for a third aria. Maybe because the video feed had been such a disaster at the end of her Mozart aria? She seemed to have a fun time with the *Fledermaus* aria.

 

+ + +

 

Ethan Vincent, baritone

Los Angeles, CA

First aria: “O Carlo, ascolta…Io morrò, ma lieto in core” from *Don Carlo,* Verdi

Second aria: “Ya vas lyublyu” from *The Queen of Spades,* Tchaikovsky

 

At last, a man with a low voice. Are they really such a rare commodity? This guy had a gorgeous voice, he sounded like a genuine Verdi baritone. Maybe he was a little too shouty in the top of his range, but he seemed to have a good sense of the style. This is another Dirt Nap Aria, but unlike the others we’d heard, he’s not killing himself, he’s just dying in a languid and dramatic manner. I love how in the real world, the guy would be in a coma or in so much pain he can’t put three words together, but in an opera he sings for five minutes and lets loose with a string of G flats that would stun an ox.

 

Oh yes! I saw the Prince’s aria from *The Queen of Spades* on his list and so hoped the judges would choose that. Clearly this guy thinks he’s going to move into the rep of Dmitri Hvorostovsky - - these arias are both from roles he sang at the Met. He died in 2017, so I guess they do need someone (or a few people, more likely) to take over. One thing I’ll say: this is a pretty straightforward “I love you” aria, in my mind it should be gorgeous and dreamy. Vincent sang it with a bit too much desperation. The guy is a prince, he should have more nobility.

 

+ + +

 

Jacqueline Piccolino

Palatine, IL

First aria: “Ó marno, ó marno te je” from *Rusalka,* Dvořák

Second aria: “Morrai; sì, l’empia tua testa” from *Rodelinda,* Handel

 

Interesting that she sang a lesser-known aria from *Rusalka,* everyone wants to do her show-stopping number, the Song to the Moon. Piccolino sang it like it was a verismo barn-burner - - like she was Santuzza cursing her boyfriend and not the Little Mermaid. And it worked. Maybe she was a little too manic, but I’d rather see someone really throw it out there (as long as she’s not doing herself any harm) than be cautious.

 

Her voice sounded good in the Handel but her grand, scary lady style of delivery didn’t quite line up with the elegance of the music. She had a high note at the end of the B section that had a swoopy approach and sounded like it required a lot of effort, you could hear the ceiling in her voice. That happened a couple more times in the repeat.

 

+ + +

 

John Marzano, tenor

Tacoma, WA

First aria: “Miles” from *The Turn of the Screw,* Britten

Second aria: “Ah! je vais l’aimer” from *Béatrice et Bénédict,* Berlioz

 

I was a little skeptical about the Britten aria working in this context, it seemed to me like it would only work in a staged production. But Marzano made it work, he really delivered it. It’s a spooky number. The voice sounded great, he had the high English style.

 

The Berlioz sounded good, it was nice to hear him sing something that sounded more like an opera aria. His singing had a great sense of propulsion and sweep.

 

+ + +

 

Cheyanne Coss

Phoenix, AZ

First aria: “Take me back” from *Our Town,* Rorem

Second aria: “Prendi, prendi” from *L’Elisir d’Amore,* Donizetti

 

Jeez, why do these people want to do these drippy recently-written American arias, when there are thousands of better choices? The Rorem was better than the *Streetcar* aria because Rorem knows his way around the human voice better than Andre Previn, and Coss sang it beautifully, but I’d rather hear something else. I wasn’t pleased with her singing in the Donizetti, she didn’t have the smoothness you need in this rep. Her Italian was very vague. On the plus side, I was surprised to hear her voice move as quickly as it did in the finale of the aria.

 

+ + +

 

Hilary Grace Taylor, mezzo soprano

Dallas, TX

First aria: “Sein wir wieder gut” from *Ariadne auf Naxos,* Richard Strauss

Second aria: “Parto, parto” from *La Clemenza di Tito,* Mozart

 

The voice sounded great, plenty of thrust and color, even throughout the range. She seemed to engage with the camera in a way that the other singers didn’t. I imagine that’s not a skill that the judges are looking for, but it made an impression on me. The Mozart was good but not as exciting as the Strauss. Maybe that’s just my taste. There are two high points in this aria for me, one about artistry and one about vocalism, and the nailed both of them.

 

+ + +

 

Timothy Murray, baritone

San Francisco, CA

First aria: “E fra quest’ansie in eterno vivrai” from *I Pagliacci,* Leoncavallo

Second aria: “Hai già vinta la causa” from *Le Nozze di Figaro,* Mozart

 

Beautiful voice and a compelling way of singing and communicating the drama. Something weird was happening with his performance, though - - he was standing on a stage in a concert hall and there was a grand piano behind him, but no one sitting at it. He introduced himself, said what he was singing, and I expected his pianist to walk onstage. But then the piano part started and still no pianist. Was the pianist on another part of the stage? Or was the piano part pre-recorded? I don’t understand (and I don’t suppose I have to). The Mozart was very good, again showing off his ability to put over the drama. One worry: his low As were almost non-existent, and he had quite a few of them in this aria. So why didn’t he sing something else?

 

+ + +

 

Jongwan Han, bass-baritone

Seoul, South Korea

First aria: “Ves tabor spit” from *Aleko,* Rachmaninoff

Second aria: “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” from *Don Giovanni,* Mozart

 

Yes, he was in South Korea! He sounded great. I’ve made my point about singing arias people don’t know, but even though I hadn’t heard this Rachmaninoff aria, it certainly behaved like countless other arias I’ve heard, so in that sense it was familiar. Han sounded great, he’s got a gorgeous voice and really held the stage. The Mozart was delightful, he captured the charm of Leporello.

 

+ + +

 

Hyoyoung Kim, soprano

Seoul, South Korea

First aria: “Où va la jeune hindoue” (Bell Song) from *Lakmé,* Delibes

Second aria: “Ach, ich fühl’s” from *Die Zauberflöte,* Mozart

 

She was in a different hall than the guy before her, and bless her heart, in her little introductory speech she said it was 5:20am in Seoul. The Bell Song opens with a long a cappella section, capped off with a high E - - her high E picked up a scary frequency. It might have been an audio problem, or it might have been the 5:20am situation. We may never know. She had what I refer to as Zero Gravity Arms. They were up, they were down, they were in constant motion. In one section the Bell Song turns the soprano into a sort of Human Glockenspiel. She was a little troubling in this section, both the first time and on the repeat, because even though she hit all those high notes, she didn’t always hit them square on target. Which you have to.

 

I knew the judges would choose the Mozart because 1) it’s Mozart and 2) it’s short and they were ready to be done! She sang very well and did a lovely job of communicating Pamina’s heartbreak. She did, however still have a few pitch issues.

 

+ + +

 

Shaina Martinez, soprano

New York, NY

First aria: “Tanto amore segretto…Tu che di gel sei cinta” from *Turandot,* Puccini

Second aria: “Ah! je ris de me voir” (Jewel Song) from *Faust.* Gounod

 

Her voice was a little worrisome. The production was uneven, the vibrato was a little slow. She had nice access to her high voice, but that didn’t outweigh the problems. I hope the judges won’t hold this against her, but it appeared that whoever was running the camera for her performance had his/her thumb or finger in exactly the wrong place, at one point taking up about a third of the frame. I’m sure she wasn’t happy to find out about that after the fact.

 

The Gounod brought up a whole new set of challenges for her, not all of which were met with success. Her voice lurched a bit and here was another case of someone who can’t do a trill choosing an aria in which you have to trill. I don’t understand.

 

WINNERS

 

The judges chose ten singers to move on to the finals audition on Sunday May 16:

 

Jongwon Han

Duke Kim

Hyoyoung Kim

Brittany Olivia Logan

Raven McMillon

Timothy Murray

Murrella Parton

Erica Petrocelli

Emily Sierra

Emily Treigle

 

I had put the 23 singers in three lists: I had six singers on my Yes list, meaning I hoped/expected them to be winners. I had seven singers on my Maybe list, meaning I wouldn’t be surprised if they were winners. And the remaining nine singers were on my No list. You know what that means.

 

I was happy to see Jongwon Han (catalog aria bass-baritone) and Duke Kim (nine high Cs tenor) in the winners, I thought they were wonderful. I was surprised that Greer Lyle (Strauss soprano) and Ethan Vincent (Verdi baritone) were not among the winners, I thought they were two of the strongest singers we heard. And I was surprised to see Hyoyoung Kim (Bell Song soprano) in the winners. I thought her pitch issues were a serious problem, I had put her on my No list.

 

I’ll definitely be watching the finals. Stay tuned!