Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert

There are a variety of organizations that use
different methods to ensure that the next generation of singers is equipped
with the experience they need to have a fruitful career in an extremely
competitive environment.

Last year, for instance, Juliard’s opera department teamed up with the Met
for their first annual co-production. In this case, Smetna’s The Bartered
allowed young singers to acquire stage experience as well as to work
with big name officials such as James Levine. Other organizations such as
Virginia’s Wolf Trap Opera Company dedicate themselves to cultivating new
singers by designing entire seasons around them.

Still, the most popular method is the Evergreen Vocal Competition. The
Met’s National Council Auditions are a fine example of such a vocal
competition. Each March, less than ten finalists, selected from across America,
are flown to New York for a concert, hosted by a famous singer and conducted by
a well-known conductor. The concert also includes a surprise guest. The event,
open to the public, is designed in such a way as to grant participants an
invaluable experience while at the same time allowing the audience a sneak peek
at upcoming talent. For the five chosen winners, the prize is $15,000 each and
the opportunity to join in the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development

This year, the Grand Finals Concert of the National Council Auditions took
place on Sunday, March 18th. It was hosted by bass-baritone Eric Owens, who has
been making waves in the role of Albrecht in the Met’s new Robert Lepage
Ring cycle. Owens also fulfilled the role of guest artist. The five
winners were baritone Anthony Clark Evans, tenor Matthew Grills, mezzo-soprano
Margaret Mezzacappa, soprano Janai Brugger, and countertenor Andrey Nemzer. The
Metropolitan Opera orchestra was led adroitly by Andrew Davis.

All the participants, regardless of whether they won or lost, should
congratulate themselves on making the concert an extremely close competition.
In past years, there were clearly defined winners and losers. This wasn’t the
case this year. Anthony Clark Evans sang magnificently. Both his arias, “Si
puo? Si puo?” from Pagliacci, and “Hai gia vinta la causa,” from
Le Nozze di Figaro, proved that despite the lack of such baritones as
Sherrill Milnes, true Italianate singing is thankfully not dead. Although, it
must be said that his portrayal of the angry yet risible count in the latter
case came up a little short.

Despite the extraneous vibrato in her rendition of “O ma lyre
immortelle,” from Gounod’s Sappho, Margaret Mezzacappa was able to
showcase her warm chest tones. Also, her rendition of “Hence, Iris, hence
away!” from Handel’s Semele, showcased her adaptability with
baroque ornamentation. Countertenor Andrey Nemzer showcased his ability as a
fine-singing actor in Giulio Cesare’s “Domero la tua firezza,”
while his interpretation of “Ratmir’s Aria,” from Glinka’s Ruslan
and Lyudmila
, was an utter joy to hear.

Soprano Janai Brugger, a crowd favorite, is clearly someone to watch. In
both her arias, the famous “Depuis le jour,” from Louise, and
Die Zauberflote’s “Ach, ich fuhl’s,” demonstrated warm tone
and command of legato and ornamentation. The highlight of Matthew
Grills’ two performances was the always-popular, “Ah! mes amis!” from
La Fille Du Regiment. It was eye-opening; so many tenors go for the
champagne aspect of the aria, a la Pavarotti, but his interpretation had a more
day-dreamlike quality. His Tonio was definitely thrilled with his amorous
success, but was lost in daydreams of love, as opposed to pouring forth
ebullient expressions of joy.

The joy of this concert was that so many of those who didn’t win deserved
compensations for their performances. Soprano Lauren Snouffer sang excellently
in her second aria, “Air du Feu,” from Ravel’s L’Enfant et les
. However, I was very impressed with her ability to handle the
seemingly endless recitative of “Padre, germani, addio!” from Mozart’s
Idomeneo. Kevin Ray proved himself versatile, both as a Helden tenor
in “Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater,” from Walk¸re, and as an
Italianate singer in “Durch die Walder,” from Weber’s Der

Michael Sumuel was a superb actor in Leporello’s catalogue aria, yet he
was also moving in Aleko’s cavatina from Rachmaninoff’s
Aleko. Despite the concert’s short duration, Andrew Davis and the
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra can congratulate themselves on splendidly
navigating a wide range of repertoire that extended from Handel to John Adams,
and along the way, incorporated seldom-performed composers such as Rachmaninoff
and Weber. Eric Owens sang splendidly in King Philip’s showpiece, “Ella
giammai m’amo,” from Verdi’s Don Carlo. His adept ability at
phrasing was especially noteworthy during the repetitions of “Amore, per me
non ha” (She never loved me).

Lastly, the audience was blessed with an appearance by Peter Gelb as Eric
Owens was getting ready to sing. As he spoke, he reminded the audience that
even if a certain singer didn’t win, it did not mean that they would not be
seen again on the Metropolitan Opera stage. After all, it is important to keep
in mind that such singers as Richard Tucker, Patricia Racette, and Joyce
DiDonato did not win. Still, I am happy to say that all of them deserved to be
there, regardless of whether or not they won. I look forward to seeing them all
on the Met stage again.

Greg Moomjy

image_description=Left to Right: 2012 National Council Audition Winners Andrey Nemzer, Margaret Mezzacappa, Janai Brugger, Matthew Grills, and Anthony Clark Evans. [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]
product_title=Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert
product_by=By Greg Moomjy
product_id=Above: Left to Right: 2012 National Council Audition Winners Andrey Nemzer, Margaret Mezzacappa, Janai Brugger, Matthew Grills, and Anthony Clark Evans. [Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]