12:15 p.m. Sorry to be a bit late in starting the live blog from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Kentucky District Auditions. The program has been moving fairly quickly with a bunch of UK singers up front, and since they are not quite as cool with people texting from opera seats as basketball seats, this is the first chance to check in.
As of Friday, we understood we had 28 singers in the field, but auditions chair Dr. Clifton Smith announced everybody’s favorite bug, the flu, took two competitors out, so then there are 26. (But in the end, there were 27, with a previously unannounced singer at the end.)
Still, a very full day that started a little after 10 a.m. with the always stunning group sing of the national anthem — all those opera students and teachers, think about it.
Through 12 competitors, this year is shaping up to be a lot like last, as we have yet to hear a bad voice, though some did stand out.
UK’s Nicholas Provenzale and Reginald Smith Jr. teamed up on two of the most fun arias in the baritone repetoire, “Largo al factotum” from “Barber of Seville” and “Madamina,” the catalog aria from “Don Giovanni,” respectively.
The judges, who get to choose each singer’s second aria, seem to be going for contrast, throwing the singers something that will bring out another side of them, like requesting Smith’s free-spirited “Madamina” after as serious take on “Sorge infausta una procella” from Handel’s “Orlando.” Amanda Balltrip was given a little control exercise in “The Magic Flute’s” “Ach, ich fuhls” after a rapturous “Ah! non credea mirarti” from “La Sonnambula.”
One of the fun moments of the morning was faintly hearing Smith warming up backstage when Balltrip finished “non credea.” Another was when UK Opera Theatre costumer Susan Wigglesworth had to grab a balloon left over from a previous event that floated down to the stage as UK’s Stephanie Granade prepared to sing.
The crowd was a bit smaller than normal, which was expected given this is the auditions’ first ever start before lunchtime. A lot of cars are winding through the Funkhauser lot finding no empty spaces, so there may be a rise in the afternoon audience. The afternoon lineup includes Julie LaDouceur, Karmesha Peake, Megan McCauley, Sarah Klopfenstein, and old UK friends Anne Fuchs and Afton Battle.
1:30 – Just saw a trio of distinctive, impressive voices in Cincinnati’s Daniel Anderson, UK’s Julie LaDouceur and Chicago’s Jonathan R. Green (a very old school baritone). Call them all contenders, and this promises to be not only the biggest, but most competitive Kentucky district auditions.
2: Megan McCauley looked and sounded as good as ever on “Vissi d’arte” and “Csardas.” great interpretation.
3 p.m. We have now seen 23 singers.
3:30: with previously unannounced competitor Kara Joy Lambert, we have heard 27 singers. The judges ended the singing competition with a crowd pleaser, “A Simple Sailor Lowly Born,” by Gilbert and Sullivan.
It seems there are big battles between sopranos and baritones, with numerous excellent competitors in each voice. the judges are deliberating, and you have to wonder if they might call a few from the morning back for a refresher.
4: Tedrin Blair Lindsay: “I think we not only had a record number of competitors, but a record number of excellent competitors.”
and the winners are:
Paulette Maria Penzvalto, mezzo-soprano, Oberlin Conservatory
Eric Brown, baritone, University of Kentucky
R. Kenneth Stavert, baritone, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Jeremy Parker, soprano, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Encouragement award: Holly Flack, University of Kentucky
There was general agreement in the hall with Tedrin’s assessment that we saw a record number of excellent competitors.
In Saturday’s field of 27, there was not one person who didn’t belong there and there were no obvious winners as evidenced by several people who usually nail the Top 3 (ahem, Tedrin) completely missing this year.
“A different set of judges on a different day might have picked a completely different set of winners,” auditions chair Dr. Clifton Smith said after the competition.
Smith said according to Met National Council rules he does have the option of capping the number of entries, but thus far he has not done that, leaning toward giving everyone that wants to participate a chance. Some districts, such as New York, have hundreds of competitors and the auditions stretch over several days.
The audience was noticeably down for this year’s auditions, which have in the past attracted as many as 500. No one had a crowd count yesterday. Smith acknowledged that saying the earlier start time may have scared people off. The noonish to 1 p.m. lunch break was designed to allow people to come in at the traditional start time if they didn’t want to make a day of it. But Smith said he didn’t think that was well known. Also, people who did come late missed many of UK’s best known voices, including winner Eric Brown.