The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
University of Kentucky senior Rebecca Farley and Ph.D. candidate Thomas Gunther were winners in Saturday’s Kentucky District Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and they are still in the running to sing on the Metropolitan Opera stage. Their next stop is Memphis, Tenn., for the Midsouth Regional round of the auditions on Jan. 26, where they will be joined by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of music graduate student Edward Nelson, who rounded out the field of three winners, Saturday.
Traditionally, only one singer advances to the national semi-finals in New York from regional rounds.
The win rounds out a big fall for Farley, 22, who was one of three UK sopranos who sang the role of Christine in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s blockbuster production of Phantom of the Opera. Gunther, 29, was one of three singers who played Raoul.
Also honored Saturday were two other stars of that production: baritone Jacob Brian Waid who played the Phantom and tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson who played Piangi, both 20. They received encouragement awards, which included cash prizes, though they did not advance to the next round.
All four honorees are students of UK voice professor Cynthia Lawrence.
The Met Auditions were held at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall, and 24 singers competed Saturday.
Note: This post was update to correct the number of UK winners stated in the initial posting.
The Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions isn’t until until Nov. 17 at Memorial Hall. But two University of Kentucky singers already have advanced to the regional round of the competition by competing in other district competitions.
Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. was one of four winners at the Ohio District Auditions on Oct. 20 in Cincinnati. That put Smith in direct competition with singers from the prestigious University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and he held his own in advancing to the Central Region Auditions on Nov. 4 in Evanston, Ill. University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey said Smith went to the Ohio audition because of scheduling conflicts with the Kentucky District.
Soprano Holly Flack, a UK graduate now living in Chicago, also won Saturday, at the Wisconsin District Auditions. She has advanced to the Feb. 2 Upper Midwest Regional in St. Paul, Minn. Flack has been working in Chicago and is cast as the Queen of the Night in Chicago Chamber Opera’s 2013 production of The Magic Flute.
Both Smith and Flack have advanced to regional rounds of the Met auditions before, but neither has gone on to the national rounds in New York.
As many as 30 singers might be in the running when the Kentucky District round is held on Nov. 17. Traditionally, a sizable contingent of UK students has participated, and at least a couple usually advance to the regionals. So there is a chance of a historic field of regional competitors from UK this year.
Anthony Clark Evans looks around Clifton and Renee Smith’s Lexington home. “This is the nicest house I’ve ever been in,” he says matter-of-factly. A few minutes later, the house is his performance venue.
Evans entertains the small crowd of musicians and arts supporters at the Smiths with a rendition of Hai già vinta la causa!, a plotting aria from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro sung by the Count, whom Evans privately describes with a colorful, contemporary term for jerk.
His baritone voice is full and commanding, and in the performance you get the idea the guy he’s playing is up to something, even if you don’t understand the Italian. Minutes later, Evans, 27, grabs a beer and sits down with his wife, Kim, and some guests thrilled to be in the company of a man who is one of the opera world’s stories of the year.
Evans was selling cars at Swope Toyota in Elizabethtown when he took part in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He advanced to the Mid-South Regional round in Memphis in March, and attracted widespread attention when he moved on to the national semifinals on the Metropolitan Opera’s stage in New York. In March, he was named one of five winners in the prestigious competition.
“I just expected to go out and do what it is I thought I could do,” Evans says. “I never got nervous, because I had nothing to lose. I was a car salesman trying to win an opera competition. What did I have to lose?”
It’s not as if Evans came completely out of nowhere. He studied voice at Murray State University and worked with programs including Opera in the Ozarks in Eureka Springs, Ark., where he had major roles in Puccini’s La bohème and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.But then he got married and left school to get a job to support himself and his wife, who is now a middle school music teacher.
While many of his competitors were still in school, drilling daily with teachers and coaches to prepare for the Met auditions, Evans was selling Corollas and Camrys, and was several years removed from his voice lessons.
“Obviously, I had this fantasy of, ‘This will be so cool if I win the whole thing,’” Evans says. “But I was more wondering, ‘Are they going to take me seriously?’ I don’t have my college degree. Nobody’s ever heard of me in any other facet of singing. Are they really going to take me seriously? And to tell you the truth, none of that stuff really matters when you can put something on the stage that people enjoy.”
Evans recalls that he met some singers during the competition who joked that they must have wasted their time and money going to college.
But he wasn’t rattled taking the stage for the Grand Finals Concert of the Met competition.
“He went first, which is a really intimidating place to be,” says Henno Lohmeyer, who has seen many Met competitions as a producer and the husband of Gail Robinson, the late University of Kentucky voice professor who for decades directed the Met auditions. “You worry that people will forget you going first. But he came out and let everyone know he was the one to beat.”
By that time, he had a little help from Lexington.
University of Kentucky senior Rachel Sterrenberg won the encouragement award at Saturday’s Mid-South Regional round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
The soprano from Madison, Ga., has had quite a year as an undergraduate in a program that usually shines its brightest spotlight on graduate students including performing the title female role in Charles Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette in October and following that up with a win at the Kentucky District round of the Met Auditions in November at Memorial Hall.
The winner of the Mid-South Regional was baritone Anthony Clarke Evans, apparently channeling some of the winning mojo of the men’s basketball team at his alma mater, Murray State. According to Amanda Balltrip of Lexington-based United Artists and Authors Agency, the Elizabethtown-based singer has not been taking voice lessons since 2008 and has been working as a car salesman. He’ll need to make time for a trip to New York for the national semi-final round and possibly the finals.
The runners up, who do not advance, were soprano Vanessa Isiguen from Charlotte, N.C., in second place and baritone Thomas Gunther of Cincinnati in third. Gunther was also a Kentucky District winner.
Feb16Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Opera, UK; Tagged as: Alan Sherrod, Amanda Woodbury, Andrea Trusty, Crestwood, Ezel, Kentucky District, Metropolitan Opera, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Mid-South Regional Round, Middle/East Tennessee District, Morehead State University, Reginald Smith Jr., Rice University, Tri-State Regional, University of Kentucky
In its first time competing in the Mid-South Regional Round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the Kentucky District distinguished itself with two out of the top three winners, including the competitor who will advance to the national semi-finals in New York City.
Ezel native Andrea Trusty, a soprano who graduated from Morehead State University and then went to Rice University in Houston, won the Regional and will compete in a closed auditions on the Metropolitan Opera stage March 6. The national finals are a public performance March 13.
“I have waited so long for the opportunity to sing at the Metropolitan Opera,” Trusty said to the Morehead State University News. “I’ve dreamed of this for a long time, and now it is finally happening. I’m very blessed.”
This was Trusty’s second trip to the Regionals. In 2008, she advanced to the Tri-State Regional round and came in third. That could be a good omen for University of Kentucky Baritone Reginald Smith Jr., who finished third at the Mid-South regional.
It was actually an all-Kentucky top three as, according to Alan Sherrod’s Classical Journal blog, the second place winner was Amanda Woodbury of Crestwood, who advanced out of the Middle/East Tennessee District.
This was the first year Kentucky District winners headed South to face winners from regional rounds in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Previous years, Kentucky District winners faced off against winners from Indiana and Southern Ohio. Only the first place winner advances from the regionals to the national semi-finals.
Sep30Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Classical Music, Lexington Opera House, Music, Opera, Reviews, UK; Tagged as: Alfredo, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Giacomo Puccini, Gregory Turay, La Bohème, La Traviata, Manuel Castillo, Mary-Hollis Hundley, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Mitchell Hutchings, Nicholas Provenzale, Reginald Smith Jr., Rent, Richard Kagey, University of Kentucky Opera
Over the last decade, the University of Kentucky Opera program has been lucky to count Gregory Turay among its alums.
He’s the one who fulfilled the dream of winning at the national level of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, making it into the young artist program and embarking on an international career that we could sometimes tune in on TV or radio. And he occasionally came back for a recital or even a role, as he did in 2006 when appeared as Alfredo in a benefit performance of La Traviata.
UK and Lexington area opera fans are even luckier to have Turay as an artist-in-residence, leading a full UK Opera production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The Richard Kagey sets and 1920s vibe will be familiar to local opera fans who saw this production in 2008, but the faces are different as many of that productions’ stars have moved on.
Clearly, with many of its artistic leaders involved in numerous activities related to the World Equestrian Games – including UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey heading up the opening and closing ceremonies – the program decided its best contribution to the cultural element of the Games was to revive a recent success.
And Boheme provides a nice showcase for several of the program’s most talented students, particularly Reginald Smith Jr. as Colline and Nicholas Provenzale as Schaunard, a really nice progression for him from Eisenstein in last spring’s production of Die Fledermaus. We’re also introduced to new UK doctoral candidate Mitchell Hutchings as Marcello, and he fits right in with the program that puts a heavy emphasis on acting in its operas.
Dec10Filed under: Christmas music, Classical Music, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Rupp Arena, Singletary Center for the Arts; Tagged as: Daniel Anderson, Eric Brown, George Frideric Handel, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Jefferson Johnson, Kentucky Christmas Chorus, Kentucky District, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Mary Joy Nelson, Messiah, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Sarah Klopfenstein, Scott Terrell
Eric Brown has had at least one big thing to do between winning at the Kentucky District round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and heading to Tri-State regionals in Indianapolis next month: Get ready for Messiah.
Brown will be singing one of the iconic baritone parts for the Lexington Philharmonic and Lexington Singers’ annual presentation of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”
Joining him will be two other UK stars, soprano Mary Joy Nelson, mezzo-soprano Sarah Klopfenstein and Cincinnati tenor Daniel Anderson. All four were competitors in this year’s Kentucky Districts.
The performance will be conducted by Singers director Jefferson Johnson for the second straight year.
If you are wondering where new Philharmonic conductor Scott Terrell is, he was already engaged to conduct the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s holiday pop concerts Friday through Sunday when he was appointed to the Philharmonic post, and the “Messiah” date here had already been set. So 2010 will likely be the debut of Terrell’s take on “Messiah.”
Terrell will be on the podium at Rupp Arena Tuesday evening to make his debut conducting the Kentucky Christmas Chorus, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on WKYT and WYMT and rebroadcast at noon on Christmas Day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gregory Turay, the tenor who helped put the University of Kentucky’s voice program on the map, will be back at UK next year.
According to UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey, Turay will be an artist-in-residence at the school, teaching master classes, giving recitals and even possibly performing in some of next year’s opera productions. Turay will also have some national and international engagements while he is working here.
“They get to work with someone who is currently out in the field having a career,” McCorvey said of the UK students. “They are pretty excited.”
When Turay won the Metropoilitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1995, it sort of fast-tracked his career. So, while he started work on a masters degree, he has not had the time to complete it. He will be working on that degree while at UK next academic year. UK has had numerous internationally acclaimed singers and directors in to work with students for short durations. Turay’s stay will be the first time the opera program has had a year-long artist-in-residence.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich