UK sends two singers to Met Auditions semi-finals

Matt Turner, who won the Mid-South Regional Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on Feb. 21, 2015, in rehearsal for the UK Opera Theatre's October 2014 production of "Sweeney Todd." © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

Matt Turner, who won the Mid-South Regional Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on Feb. 21, 2015, in rehearsal for the UK Opera Theatre’s October 2014 production of “Sweeney Todd.” © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

University of Kentucky bass Matthew Turner won the Mid-South Regional Round of the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions Saturday at UK’s Schmidt Vocal Arts Center, and has advanced to the audition’s national semi-finals, March 15 on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Reginald Smith Jr. Photo by Lynn Lane.

Reginald Smith Jr. Photo by Lynn Lane.

Turner will be joined by UK alum Reginald Smith, Jr., who advanced to the semi-finals out the Southeast regional round in his hometown of Atlanta, last weekend. Smith is currently in the Houston Grand Opera Studio Program for young artists and has appeared in numerous Houston Grand Opera productions.

Turner, 27, earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting and vocal performance at the University of Kentucky last year. He is a native of Jackson and currently resides on Lexington. Last fall, he shared the title role in the UK Opera Theatre production of Sweeney Todd.

The dual UK bass-baritone delegation to the Met National Semi-Finals is reminiscent of 2001-02, when Corey Crider advanced out of a regional round in Lexington and Mark Whatley advanced out of another regional. Whatley went on to the national finals. The last UK singer to advance to the national rounds of the Met Auditions was soprano Afton Battle in 2008.

This was the first regional semi-final in Lexington since 2008. Regional rounds used to come to Lexington, which always hosts the Kentucky District round, on a rotating basis. After a realignment of the competition, the Mid-South Regional was regularly held in Memphis. A change in the Memphis organization that hosted the auditions prompted the national organization to ask Lexington to host this year, according to regional co-chair Dr. Clifton Smith.

The audition was supposed to be open to the public, but due to inclement weather, it was moved from UK’s Memorial Hall to the UK Opera practice facility and closed to the public.

The runner up Saturday was Huanhuan Ma, a soprano from Philadelphia who earned a master’s from the Peabody Conservatory last year. Encouragement award winners were Josh Quinn, a bass from Tampa currently studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, and Christopher Kenney, a bass from Hawley, Minn., who is pursuing a master’s at UK.

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