Pre-game analysis: The Met Auditions

Amanda Balltrip, shown as Ann Rutledge in "River of Time," has never left the Kentucky District Round of the Met Auditions empty handed. She will compete again Saturday. Photo by Rich Copley.

Amanda Balltrip, shown as Ann Rutledge in October's "River of Time," has never left the Kentucky District Round of the Met Auditions empty handed. She'll compete again Saturday. Photo by Rich Copley.

Usually singers in the Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions have a 1-in-5, maybe 1-in-4 chance of advancing to the next round. This year, it’s more like 1-in-9.

Maybe it’s some sort of anniversary karma because this will be the 10th year the Kentucky District auditions have been contested in Memorial Hall, but regardless of the cosmic reasons, the fact is 28 singers are going to give it a shot Saturday.

Billy the Barber (Reginald Smith Jr.) is a key character in reminding Abraham Lincoln (Nick Provenzale) of his commitment to fight slavery.

Reginald Smith Jr., 21, will compete in the Met Auditions for the first time, Saturday. Nick Provenzale, foreground, is also in the field of 28. Photo by Rich Copley.

We don’t know a lot of these singers, as they hail from Indiana, Cincinnati and even as far off as New York and Chicago. But in the midst of them is a veritible all-star team of University of Kentucky singers we know very well, including virtually all the leads in October’s world premier production of Joseph Baber’s “River of Time.”

And over 10 years, UK has developed a strong record of sending people who come into town looking for an easy win home empty handed. Certainly any of the voices judges will hear could break through to the regional round in Indianapolis, but here are a couple of locals and one well-known visitor worth watching:

Amanda Balltrip — She has never left a Met Auditions empty handed. Her first two years she won the encouragement award and last year she broke through to the regionals. Clearly a variety of judges have liked what this 24-year-old soprano does, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see her finish in the money again.

Former UK student Afton Battle, the last UK student to advance to the national rounds of the Met Auditions, will be competing Saturday. Photo by Tim Collins.

Former UK student Afton Battle, the last UK student to advance to the national rounds of the Met Auditions, will be competing Saturday. Photo by Tim Collins.

Reginald Smith Jr. — Since 2000, when 21-year old Asbury College tenor Norman Reinhardt won the first Met Auditions at Memorial Hall, Lexington fans have understood the Met likes to get singers young. Since he appeared as the baritone soloist in George Zack’s final “Messiah” in 2007, 21-year-old Smith has been knocking local music fans out with his massive voice. Given his age, if he has a similar effect on the judges, it’s easy to imagine him advancing to Indy.

Afton Battle — Speaking of massive voices, Battle was the last UK singer to advance from the Kentucky Districts to New York, where she competed in the national semifinals. A former student of late UK voice professor Gail Robinson, Battle has moved on to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. But she’s returned to Kentucky to take another shot at the Met, and Lexington could easily be the first of several steps for her, again.

Of course, there are 25 other singers in the field, and one thing that was striking last year was the vastly improved quality of the Kentucky District field over the years. So, regardless of who wins, it should be a great day for the audience.

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