The MONCA Semifinals Adventure

The MONCA Semifinals Adventure

The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions last spring were an amazing experience many years in the making.  I don’t know exactly when I first heard of the Met auditions, but I knew they were important.  When I was looking at colleges for undergrad, I remember asking how many Met winners each school had produced, considering it the greatest measure of success.  I did not compete during my undergrad years, waiting until I was 27 to try for the first time.  I wanted to blow them away and had a naïve sense that I would of course win on my first try.  My first year I went home to Denver to compete, and did not make it to the second round.  I had put a lot of pressure on myself, and while I sang fine, it did not go as well as it could have.  It was a bit of a blow, but I figured I just needed more time to work on my singing and improve myself.

My second year I had a better attitude.  I wasn’t as nervous, I felt determined to be happy whatever the outcome, and I felt much more relaxed.  I did the auditions in San Antonio, only a few hours away from Houston.  San Antonio does a district audition and regional audition in one weekend, which makes things easy.  When I got to San Antonio, I was told that auditions would be pushed back by a few hours, so I went to Starbucks to kill some time.  Little did I know the reason for the delay: a problem with the accompanist had caused them to hire a new one who had to drive down from Austin.  It just so happened that the replacement accompanist was my dear friend Rick Masters, who works at UT Austin.  Once I found out he would be playing for me, my mind was even more at ease.  I sang Ach, ich liebte from Mozart’s Abduction and waited to hear the results.  I was absolutely gleeful to make it to regionals.  I think my lack of success the previous year made me appreciate moving on to the next level that much more.  I celebrated with Rick and got myself to bed early to prepare for the next level.  The following day was exciting, and I felt happy to sing first in the regional competition.  I sang Lucia’s act I aria and the judges asked to hear Ach, ich liebte again.  Everyone in the competition sang beautifully, and there were so many sopranos, I didn’t know how things would come out.  In the end, I placed second, which made me very happy.  Of course I would have liked to win and move on to the NYC rounds of competition, but I had far surpassed my performance in the previous year and overall, I was happy.

Things were a bit different the next year (spring 2012).  Houston was a new district, and San Antonio would choose fewer district finalists  to compete against them at the regional level.  Armed with Sempre libera, a new aria for me, I got ready to compete.  I kept telling myself that if I didn’t do as well as last year, it would be ok.  Competitions are subjective, opera is subjective, and every year it’s a different group of singers.  In the end, only 3 competitors from San Antonio moved on to compete with the Houston finalists.  I was very happy to be among them!  8 of us competed the following day at regionals, singing our two arias.  I was very pleased with my singing, starting with Sempre libera and ending with Ach, ich liebte.  As we all sat waiting the judge’s decision, I felt like any of us could have won.  They chose two winners, myself and fellow Rice alum Lauren Snouffer.  I couldn’t believe it!  On my third try, I would finally get to move on to the semi-final round in NYC, along with around 20 other singers.  It was so exciting and gratifying!

In between regionals and semi-finals, I kept very busy.  I was in Colorado Springs for a month rehearsing and performing my first Violetta in La Traviata.  It was a lovely, exhausting, exhilarating experience.  I was happy to be busy and working, but wished I could have rested more before the very important MONCA semi-finals.  I arrived in NYC a few days after the last Traviata performance, tired and excited.  All of us were staying at the Empire Hotel, just across the street from Lincoln Center.  It was wonderful to be there where so much wonderful music is made, in such an exciting part of town.  We got our official Metropolitan Opera name badges which let us into the backstage area (I still can’t bear to take that card out of my wallet).  I got lost every time I tried to navigate that labyrinth of halls and rooms!  They took us on a tour first, but I was too busy being in awe to pay much attention to my surroundings.  We definitely ran into some famous singers, and even shared an awestruck  elevator ride with Peter Gelb.  Everyone was so helpful and kind to us backstage.  We each got one rehearsal with our accompanist for the competition, but not a full load of all day coachings, as I had somehow expected.  I think they wanted us to just relax and do what we were used to doing, instead of them trying to suggest last minute improvements.

The day of the competition quickly came, and I nervously made my way to the dressing rooms.  I shared a room with Lauren, and we found out we both had the same text message notification sound, so every time we heard that little beep, we both went to our phones to see who had gotten a good luck message!  I had spent a lot of time looking for the perfect dress, and my violet chiffon Ralph Lauren gown was just right!  I also had some shoes which my teacher (Martile Rowland) had given me from her collection.  They were gold and lovely but the heel wasn’t too high, so I could be comfortable onstage.  Martile sang at the Met in her career, so it meant a lot to me to be literally standing in her shoes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.  The actual performance was surreal.  They let us all sing a bit onstage, just to get a feel for it before they opened the house.  The stage manager was so encouraging and lovely; he took my hands backstage and told me to enjoy my time on that very special stage.  I went somewhere in the middle of the group.  The house was mostly empty on the orchestra level, and our friends and the other invited audience members were seated on the balcony.  To look out and see those iconic chandeliers and seats was just too amazing!  I started with Ach, ich liebte, figuring it had served me well over the years.  I felt nervous, and keenly aware of where I was.  The aria went ok, but I am sure I was holding back and not as involved in the drama as I could have been.  When they asked for the Poison Aria, I knew I could let go.  It is so passionate and dramatic, and I always lose myself in it.  The second aria was much better than the first, and I felt emotionally honest in my performance.  As I left the stage, there were of course regrets about this or that imperfect note, or my general vocal condition, tired as I was from the previous month’s performance.  But I could not help but feel giddy at having sung onstage at the Metropolitan Opera, shoulder to shoulder with the best singers from all around the country.  I got to sing at the best Opera house in America, and whatever comes next in my career and life, I can hold on to that.

In the end, I did not move on to the final round of competition.  It seems like a sad end to this long story, but it is not really sad at all.  If this career has taught me anything, it is that things rarely come out in the perfect way I might imagine, but the way they come out can be wonderful and unexpected.  Next year is my last year to compete according to MONCA age regulations, but I might not be able to compete due to some scheduling issues.  Who knows what the future will bring?