HOW DO YOU GET TO THE MET? If you are in NYC, you can take a taxi or the IRT 7th Avenue to the Lincoln Center stop at 66th and walk across the Plaza. If you mean “HOW do you GET to the MET?”, as in “What does it take for a singer to get to The Big House?” then the answer is for starters the old cliché: “Practice, practice, practice!”

But no matter how long and faithfully a young singer practices, if he or she does not have the vocal equipment to stand on the MET stage and fill that hall with sound, then that singer better set his or her sights on something more attainable.

There are plenty of fine Papageno-ready lyric baritones hanging out at conservatories these days. Stand outside any voice studio and you will likely hear a lovely light lyric soprano essaying Susanna’s aria, or a budding coloratura scaling the heights of Caro nome.

Mezzo-sopranos tackling Rosina or Cenerentola abound, but let me know when was the last time you heard a potential Amneris or Eboli in a music school setting. What about the full-bodied spinto voices for Verdi and Puccini? I don’t know. Wagner? That’s a long shot. And the fact is that the MET is not looking for promising light voices.

Look at the names of the very many big-voiced MET audition winners over the past several years: Deborah Voigt, Eric Owens, Renée Fleming, Sondra Radvanovsky, Jamie Barton, Michael Fabiano, Amber Wagner… It could be argued that some audition winners do not have big dramatic pipes, but they came to the operatic table with uncanny vocal gifts. Think of tenor, Lawrence Brownlee with his astounding flexibility and stratospheric high notes, or Anthony Roth Costanzo, with the kind of countertenor voice that makes one imagine what some of the great castrati must have sounded like.

Today I barely made it to the Metropolitan Opera District Auditions here in Cincinnati: I was late getting out of a meeting, and by the time I walked into Werner Recital Hall on the campus of the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, singer no. 6 was just finishing her second aria. Being that I was one hour late it would not be fair for me to comment other than in a general way about the whole event and the results.

For starters: the turnout. In past years during which I attended the MET auditions I seem to recall upwards of thirty singers often turning up. There were fifteen singers this year: six sopranos, three mezzo-sopranos, one tenor, two baritones, one bass-baritone, three basses. By and large these were all youthful, not fully-mature singers ranging in age from 21 to 30. There were perhaps one or two male voices and one or two female voices large enough to have the heft and lung capacity to fill the vast reaches of the MET with something approximating an operatic sound. And that’s saying something, when one considers that a twenty-three year-old budding dramatic baritone  or a young bass will probably not fully mature to sing the big stuff until their thirties.

That’s fine: the young baritone or the baby bass will take another year to finish their Master’s degrees and probably another two if they opt to stay on to do the Artist’s Diploma. Meanwhile their voices will mature so as to equip them someday to maybe sing the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro or Wolfram in Tannhäuser or Leporello. Meanwhile they will be out in the real world of Opera in their mid-20’s trying to decide whether to head for Germany, where they are more likely to get hired in any one of that country’s eighty-plus opera houses or otherwise opt for the safety of a nice teaching job, a family, a dog, and a barbecue in the backyard.

But the MET is a different story. When the three singers chosen today go to Chicago for the next stage of the process they will be competing with a dozen or more winners of district auditions from around the Midwest at a regional level. After that the winner will go to NYC for the finals, at which time five or six will make the final cut. That’s five or six out of hundreds of hopefuls from all over the country.

There were three judges today; of the three, only one stayed to give the singers a nice pep talk before the winners were announced. Three ‘Encouragement Awards’ of $500 each and three winning awards of $1,000 each were given out. There was applause and a sense that the small audience of opera devotees agreed with the decision of the judges. Bass, Thomas Petrushka will be among those moving on to the Regional auditions. So will mezzo-soprano, Karis Tuckers and soprano, Joanna Latini.

The cost of flying down the judges and lodging them, in addition to the $4,500 in cash awards and the lack of direct support from the MET has become such a burden for the members of the committee in charge of the Cincinnati District MET Auditions that, rumor has it the auditions will be moved out of Cincinnati next year lock stock and barrel to the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College, in Berea, Ohio. Cincinnati’s loss will be Berea’s gain.

Rafael de Acha           All About the Arts