Five Young Opera Singers Win Metropolitan Opera Auditions

from left to right, 2012 National Council Audition Winners Andrey Nemzer, Margaret Mezzacappa, Janai Brugger, Matthew Grills, and Anthony Clark Evans. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.

No form of singing requires both an extraordinary voice and careful development than that used in opera. So each year, as the Metropolitan Opera announces the winners of its 2012 National Council auditions, we are all ears. This year’s winners are mostly from the USA, and internationally, from Russia.

They are: Janai Brugger, soprano from Darien, IL; Anthony Clark Evans, baritone from Owensboro, KY; Matthew Grills, tenor from Newtown, CT; Margaret Mezzacappa, mezzo-soprano from Euclid, OH; and Andrey Nemzer, countertenor from Moscow, Russia. The winners were selected from nine finalists who performed arias with the MET Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis. Each winner receives a cash prize of $15,000, as well as invaluable career exposure: the audience for the auditions includes influential opera executives, artist managers, and music critics, and some of the biggest stars in opera received their first major recognition as National Council Winners.

The Grand Finals Concert was hosted by renowned bass-baritone Eric Owens, a 1996 National Council Auditions winner. During the judges’ deliberations, he gave a special performance of “Ella giammai m’amò,” King Philip’s aria from Verdi’s Don Carlo.

The Grand Finals Concert was recorded for broadcast at a later date on public radio stations across the United States.

Nearly 1,500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 participated in this year’s auditions, which are held annually in 41 districts and 14 regions throughout the United States and Canada and are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Given the reach of the auditions, the number of applicants, and the long tradition associated with them, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are considered the most prestigious competition in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.
The remaining four finalists: Will Liverman, baritone from Virginia Beach, VA; Kevin Ray, tenor from Cornwall, NY; Lauren Snouffer, soprano from Austin, TX; and Michael Sumuel, bass-baritone from Odessa, TX, were each awarded $5,000.

Past winners of the Met Auditions include many of today’s leading operatic artists such as Renée Fleming, Hei-Kyung Hong, Angela Meade, Susanna Phillips, Sondra Radvanovsky, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Stephanie Blythe, Dolora Zajick, Nathan Gunn, Lawrence Brownlee, Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey. During a typical opera season, over one hundred alumni of the Auditions are on the Met roster. In 2007, the National Council Audition process was captured in an acclaimed documentary, The Audition, which was shown on PBS and released on DVD.

The following are brief biographical notes for the 2012 National Council Auditions winners. The region in which each singer won the earlier round of competition is noted.

Janai Brugger
Soprano (Darien, IL. Winner of the Western Region)
Age 29

Janai Brugger

Janai Brugger is a second-year artist with Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. This season’s highlights include Musetta in La Bohème with the Los Angeles Opera, Juliette in Roméo et Juliette for her debut with the Palm Beach Opera, and the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Last season she appeared in Los Angeles as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro and the Page in Rigoletto. She holds a bachelor’s degree from De Paul University and recently received her master’s degree from the University of Michigan (where she sang Tatiana in Eugene Onegin). In 2009 she sang Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the “Opera in the Neighborhoods” Program and the following year joined the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. She was a 2011 finalist in the Loren Zachary Competition and a Midwest Regional (Detroit district) winner of the 2008 Met National Council Auditions.

Anthony Clark Evans
Baritone (Owensboro, KY. Winner of the Mid-South Region)
Age 27

Anthony Clark Evans

Anthony Clark Evans attended Murray State University, where he sang Sir John Falstaff in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Olin Blitch in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, and the title role of Don Giovanni in the university’s opera scenes program. As an apprentice artist with Arkansas’s Opera in the Ozarks, his operatic credits include Marcello in La Bohème, Pish-Tush in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. He is a two-time finalist in the Orpheus Vocal Competition and appears frequently as the bass soloist in Handel’s Messiah.

Matthew Grills
Tenor (Newtown, CT. Winner of the Gulf Coast Region)
Age 25

Matthew Grills

Matthew Grills is a second-year master’s degree student at the Eastman School of Music, having completed his undergraduate work at the Boston Conservatory. Operatic credits include Prunier in La Rondine, Prince Charming in Massenet’s Cendrillon, the Prologue in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, and Ferrando in Così fan tutte at the Seagle Music Colony (2011). Performances with Eastman Opera Theater include Jamie in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. Later this month he appears at the Eastman School as Jeník in The Bartered Bride. He was a 2011 winner of the Friends of Eastman Opera Annual Voice Competition and placed first in the Jessie Kneisel Lieder Competition. He will spend the summer of 2012 as a young artist with the Santa Fe Opera and this fall begins a yearlong residency as a member of the Portland Opera’s Studio Artist Apprentice Program.

Margaret Mezzacappa
Mezzo-soprano (Euclid, OH. Winner of the Middle Atlantic Region)
Age 24

Margaret Mezzacappa

Margaret Mezzacappa is in her third year as a resident artist at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. At AVA she has been heard as the Mother’s Voice in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, the Princess in a concert version of Suor Angelica, Frugola in a concert version of Il Tabarro, Adelaide in Arabella, Mistress Quickly in Falstaff, Azucena in excerpts from Il Trovatore, and the First Wife in The Scarlet Letter. She recently sang Emilia in Otello with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Upcoming are her Carnegie Hall debut in Britten’s Spring Symphony in May and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Philadelphia Orchestra in June. She is a graduate of the Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory of Music. In 2011 she won the Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition, received first prize in the Gerda Lissner Foundation Competition, second prize in the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition, third prize at the Loren L. Zachary Foundation Competition, and fourth prize in the Giulio Gari Foundation International Vocal Competition. She is a 2012 winner of the George London Award.

Andrey Nemzer
Countertenor (Moscow, Russia. Winner of the Great Lakes Region)
Age 29

Andrey Nemzer

Andrey Nemzer, who is currently pursuing an artist diploma at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University Mary Pappert School of Music, made his operatic debut in 2002 as a tenor and has appeared as Alwa in Berg’s Lulu and Alexis in Grétry’s Peter the Great in the Russian premieres of the operas at Moscow’s Helikon Opera Theatre. He apprenticed at the Novaya Opera Theatre and in 2008 transitioned to the countertenor repertoire. He is a winner of Russia’s Bella Voce Student Competition (2002), the Singing World International Choral Competition (2009), the Pittsburgh Baroque Competition (2010), and the Mildred Miller International Voice Competition (2011). He joined the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh as a resident artist and is scheduled to sing with the company this summer. In Russia he has been heard with the Pocket Symphony, Intrada Vocal Ensemble, Moscow Sacred Music Ensemble, and Moscow Synodal Choir. In the United States he has appeared with Pittsburgh’s Mendelssohn Choir and as a frequent collaborator of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

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