The Metropolitan Opera began sponsoring a structured auditions program for young singers in 1935 with the Auditions of the Air, the predecessor of the present Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. The Auditions of the Air was a radio program that featured exceptionally talented young American singers auditioning to become part of the Met’s working roster. This program continued until 1958, however, it was in New York City, dominated by local singers, and not readily accessible to young artists throughout the country.
In 1954, a group of volunteers in the Twin Cities piloted the Region Auditions with great success, and, as a result, established more regions across the country. The Region Auditions were first based on the locations of the Metropolitan Opera’s annual tour, and eventually the entire country was organized into regions, each with its own sponsors and volunteers. In 1958, the National Council added District auditions as a first round leading to the established Region Finals.
In 2021, the auditions were renamed The Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition.
Today, over 1000 young singers between the ages of 20 and 30 compete annually in 37 Districts throughout the continental United States, in addition to one District in Canada, one District in Mexico and one District in Puerto Rico. District winners move on to Region Finals held in 12 Regions. The ultimate goal: to progress through all five rounds of competitions (Qualifying, District, Region, Semi-Finals, Grand Finals) and be a Grand Concert Finalist on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Approximately 20-25 Region first place winners are brought to New York as Semi-Finalists. The Semi-Finals competition takes place on the Metropolitan Opera stage with piano, and are closed to the general public. Semi-Finalists receive $2,500. Approximately 9-12 Semi-Finalists are selected as Winners, and advance to the Grand Finals Concert competition the following week. During the week between the Semi-Final competition and the Grand Final Concert, the finalists attend Metropolitan Opera performances and receive coaching from Met staff during their week of preparation for the Grand Finals Concert. The Grand Finals Concert is a ticketed event open to the public, and singers are accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Approximately 4-6 Grand Finals Winners are chosen, and each receives $15,000, the remaining finalists receive $7,500. For all singers, the experience gained by participating in the Competition is worth far more than the cash prizes. Each of the many regional winners who travel to New York City can return during the next three years and audition before the Met’s artistic staff for additional grants of up to $5,000. In this way, the National Council has the opportunity to track the singers’ progress and continue to be of assistance in their career development.
The following National Council Audition participants represent a prime sample of important artists who have appeared or currently appear on the Met stage. Notable examples include:
- 2000s: Jamie Barton, Lawrence Brownlee, Nicole Cabell, Sarah Coburn, Michael Fabiano, Kate Lindsey, Angela Meade, Simon O’Neill, Lisette Oropesa, Susanna Phillips, Alek Shrader, Charles Taylor and Amber Wagner
- 1990s: Stephanie Blythe, Eric Cutler, Paul Groves, Nathan Gunn, Eric Owens and Sondra Radvanovsky
- 1980s: Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Hei-Kyung Hong, and Deborah Voigt
- 1970s: Samuel Ramey, Wendy White and Delores Ziegler
- 1960s: Paul Plishka and Frederica von Stade
During any given season, more than 100 singers on the Metropolitan Opera roster are alumni of the National Council Auditions. While there are many paths to the Met stage, for North American singers, the National Council Auditions provide an introduction that might have otherwise eluded them.
Upper Midwest Region Winners
Below is a list of Upper Midwest Region Audition winners (by year) who went on to win the National Council Auditions on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera:
- 2019: Miles Mykkanen, tenor
- 2018: Jessica Faselt, soprano
- 2002: James Valenti, tenor
- 2000: Esther Heidemann, soprano
- 1999: Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano
- 1998: Eric Cutler, tenor
- 1990: Steven Combs, baritone and Kitt Reuter-Foss, mezzo-soprano
- 1988: Wendy Hoffman, mezzo-soprano
- 1987: Mary Burt, mezzo-soprano
- 1985: Julia Faulkner, soprano
- 1983: Elizabeth Holleque, soprano
- 1968: Patricia Craig, soprano
- 1967: Costanza Cuccaro, soprano
- 1964: Robert Goodloe, baritone
- 1962: Elizabeth Fischer, mezzo-soprano
- 1958: Lucille Kailer, soprano
For additional history compiled in 1983 by Mrs. William L. Porter (Chairman, Public Relations), view this page.
A tribute to Vivian Weyerhaeuser – founding patron of the first National Council Auditions in St. Paul, Minnesota – that was written by Howard Hook and appeared in the Fall 1983 edition of Aria, can be accessed here.
An interesting 16 minute documentary video about the 60 years of Metropolitan Opera Auditions can be seen HERE