Every year, more than 1500 young singers between the ages of 20 and 30 compete in 40 districts across the United States and Canada. The ultimate goal: to progress through three more rounds of auditions and be a Grand Concert Finalist on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
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 piloted the Regional Auditions in the Twin Cities with great success, and, as a result, established more regions across the country. Although the Regional Auditions were first based on the locations of the Met’s annual tour, eventually the entire country was organized into regions, each with its own sponsors and volunteers.
In 1958, the National Council assumed full responsibility for the auditions. The council decided to bring all Regional winners to New York where they participate in the Semi-Final competition with the winners performing in a Grand Finals competition concert on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House with the Met orchestra. The finalists attend Metropolitan Opera performances and receive coaching from Met staff during a week of preparation for the Grand Finals Concert. This fabulous opportunity, including the all-expense-paid trip to New York City, became part of each region’s first prize. Also in 1958, the National Council added District auditions as a first round leading to the established regions.
Today, at the Grand Finals concert generally five Grand Finals winners receive a $15,000 prize, the remaining finalists receive $5,000, and semi-finalists receive $1,500. For all singers, the experience gained by participating in the National Council Auditions 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: Lawrence Brownlee, Joseph Kaiser, Angela Meade, Simon O’Neill, Susanna Phillips, Alek Shrader, and Charles Taylor
- 1990s: Stephanie Blythe, Eric Cutler, Paul Groves, 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:
- 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