Soprano Jessica Faselt singing at Bethel University on Sunday, Feb. 20. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera National Council – Upper Midwest Region.
The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the Upper Midwest Region took place yesterday at Bethel University in St. Paul. The first place winner, soprano Jessica Faselt, will continue on to the national competition’s semi-final round in New York City. After three days of coaching and training with Metropolitan Opera staff, Faselt and the winners of 11 other regional competitions will compete in the National Semi-Finals on Sunday, March 12, 2017, followed by the National Grand Finals Concert the following Sunday.
Just reaching the Regional auditions requires having won a previous, district-level audition round. Each of Sunday’s competitors had received a First Place/First Prize Award in one of five district competitions:
- North Dakota-Manitoba, and
A particular district can award more than one First Place Award at the discretion of its judges; thus, Sunday’s auditions featured 17 competitors from the five districts. In addition to many years of extensive training, entering the competition requires advance planning: each district only accepts the first 30-40 applications.
The potential stakes of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are high. Glance at the past winners’ list and familiar names leap out: Ben Heppner, Stephanie Blythe, Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Jessye Norman, Frederica Von Stade, and Nicole Cabell, to name just a handful. These alumni are now household names, but during their competition days they were still up-and-coming, early-career singers – which makes watching the auditions all the more exciting.
Diva stereotypes notwithstanding, Saturday and Sunday’s competitors were easy-going and at least visibly calm. Although relatively early in their careers, astute professionalism was on display. Opera’s a business where tongues tend to wag, and no one wants a reputation for being difficult to work with. While waiting for the results, the competitors mingled with the audience, many of whom come annually to see singers they hope to glimpse in the limelight down the road.
The Winner’s Road
Soprano Jessica Faselt received the First Place Award for the competition’s Upper Midwest Region and advances to the Semi-Finals in New York City. While this might at first glance look like a one-time break, it’s actually just one stop in a journey that requires impressive dedication to preparation and training over many years. Faselt, an Iowa native, was one of three winners for the Iowa District auditions in early 2014, when she was a college senior at the University of Iowa. That year, she received an Encouragement Award at the Upper Midwest Region auditions, and went on to graduate study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. (Clearly, the Encouragement Award had its desired effect.)
In an interesting artifact of modern travel and scheduling constraints, singers often compete in districts and regions that they don’t live in, so as to accommodate scheduling and other concerns while juggling work, study, and competitions. Faselt is a good example of this: November 2014 found her competing in the Indiana District’s competition, receiving Third Place. In the following season, she received First Place in the Middle/East Tennessee District’s auditions and advancing to the Mid-South Region’s competition, where she received a Second Place Award.
While this travel may appear glamorous from the outside, singers are responsible for their own travel and accommodations – and need to deal with the vagaries of modern air travel, including potential flight delays and the extra-dry air on planes. The weekend’s competitors arrived by a wide variety of machine transportation: personal car, Uber, taxi, train, and plane plus one of the above.
In the recently concluded round, Faselt selected to sing “Nun eilt Herbei” from Otto Nicolai’s opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor and the judges selected “Pace, pace, mio Dio!” from Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino. Because singers provide a list of only four arias to potentially sing (only the first one of which they can themselves pick), selecting one’s arias is a mix of shrewd strategy, knowing one’s strengths, and gauging potential marketability. Handel (d. 1750) was the earliest composer heard on Sunday, with most electing to go no earlier than Mozart (d. 1791).
Other awards were given to:
- Emily Pogorelc (soprano) – 2nd Place
- Christopher Colmenero (tenor) – 3rd Place
- Mary Evelyn Hangley (soprano) – 3rd Place
- Lara Secord-Haid (soprano) – 3rd Place
Colmenero, Faselt, Hangley, and Secord-Haird were all 2017 Minnesota District winners from the competition’s previous stage. Pogorelc was a 2017 Wisconsin District Winner.