Delta State University is preparing to host the 2006 North Mississippi District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, inside the Delta Pine and Land Theatre in the Bologna Performing Arts Center on the University campus. In cooperation with the opera support group, Amici, the Delta State department of music will serve as host to the Saturday, Jan. 28 auditions at 10 a.m.
According to the Metropolitan Opera, the National Council Auditions is a program designed to discover promising young opera singers and assist in the development of their careers. The auditions are held annually in 16 regions of the United States and Canada. There are 50 districts within these regions, each providing an opportunity for talented singers to enter the auditions program at the local level. The North Mississippi district is a part of the Mid-South regions and ranges from Vicksburg, Jackson and Meridian north to the Tennessee state line. District auditions are now open to any singer from across the nation.
The auditions are administered by National Council members and volunteers in each region. Dr. Mary Lenn Buchanan and Dr. Mark Butler, both professors of music at Delta State University, are the North Mississippi co-chairs and serve as hosts. Amici, founded by Keith Dockery McLean of Dockery and Dr. Stephanie Smith, established the North Mississippi auditions in the early 1960s and underwrites the local auditions.
Winners of the district auditions advance to their region finals where they compete to win a trip to New York to participate in the national semi-finals, a competition held on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera. This year’s Mid-South region auditions are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18, in Memphis.
Approximately ten of those Semi-Finalists are selected as National Finalists, and compete in a public concert, the Grand Finals Concert, accompanied by The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The jury awards up to five Grand Winner awards of $15,000 each. The concert is broadcast nationwide on The Metropolitan Opera Radio Network.
Many of the world’s foremost singers, among them Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Jessye Norman, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade, Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick have received awards from the National Council. Annually, approximately 100 former auditioners appear in Metropolitan Opera productions.
Judges for district and regional auditions must be sanctioned by the Metropolitan Opera organization. According to Buchanan, the North Mississippi district director, “This year will be very special for us in North Mississippi in that Gayletha Nichols, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York, will serve as our head judge. The quality of the judging is an important element of any auditions. We are extremely fortunate and honored to have her in the Delta.”
Nichols joined the artistic staff of the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2000 as Executive Director of the National Council Auditions. She has brought to the Met two decades of experience as a singer, teacher and career advisor. From 1992-2000, she was Director of Houston Opera Studio, the young artist development program at Houston Grand Opera, where she created and individualized the training both for singers and pianists. During the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons, she was director of both the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and MONC. Nichols auditions hundreds of singers across North America every year and in her travels addresses many universities, conservatories, and festivals on developing the next generation of opera singers. She is a frequent adjudicator in national and international competitions and consults for other young artist programs across the country.
The other distinguished judges are Michael Egel of Des Moines Opera and John Baril of Central City Opera in Colorado.
Egel serves as the Artistic Administrator / Director of Education for the Des Moines Metro Opera. He oversees DMMO’s extensive audition process which annually includes more than 600 Apprentice Artist Auditions and contributes significantly to the company’s casting process – both for the Mainstage and for the Apprentice Artist Program. During DMMO’s summer festival season, he coordinates the activities of more than 150 company members, including creating the performance and singer-training components for the Apprentice Artist Program. Egel often functions as a stage director within the Apprentice Program during the summer season. During the winter, he works with the young artists of DMMO’s OPERA Iowa touring troupe in developing education materials and artist-led workshops and serving as a stage director for several of their touring productions. He is currently on the Affiliate Music Faculty at Simpson College where he teaches Opera History and private voice lessons.
Previously, he has been on the administrative and directing staff at both Opera Memphis and the Natchez Opera Festival and has served as an adjudicator for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions. He has been a panelist for OPERA America and the National Opera Association regarding career issues for young singers and has contributed to national publications for both organizations regarding the auditioning process and training for singers.
John Baril is a native of Stagecoach, Nev., and began his operatic career as an 18-year old chorister in a production of Carmen. He studied with famed vocal pedagogue Ted Puffer at Nevada Opera, where he ultimately spent thirteen years, singing numerous tenor comprimario roles and subsequently making his professional conducting debut in L’elisir d’amore. While managing the Yale Opera program for six years, where he conducted La Cenerentola and Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, Baril’s duties with Central City Opera included Chorus Master, Associate Conductor and Music Administrator. In 2000, he added Resident Conductor to his duties, and conducted numerous productions including Street Scene, Candide, Little Women, La Traviata, Carmen, Pagliacci, Goyescas, Les contes d’Hoffmann, and last summer’s sold-out Madama Butterfly, marking the directorial debut of Catherine Malfitano. In October he was named the company’s first ever Music Director and will lead a new production of Don Giovanni this summer. He is slated to conduct Massenet’s Cendrillon in the company’s 75th anniversary season in 2007. John has also led numerous young artist cover performances including Tosca, Rigoletto, and La fanciulla del West. He has collaborated with such artists as Dolora Zajick, Catherine Malfitano, Colin Graham, Paul Curran, James Robinson, Stephen Lord, David Agler and Toni Tennille, and is currently in his fourth season as Chorus Master with Opera Colorado. Mr. Baril has judged Met Opera auditions in San Diego and Kansas City.
The public is invited to attend the auditions. However, due to the nature of the event, the auditions are not appropriate for young children. There is no charge for admission. For more information, please call the Delta State department of music at (662) 846-4124.