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Metropolitan Opera competition offers local singers shot at the “big time”

By Greg Russell

Kristin Vienneau
Kristin Vienneau

University of Memphis music major Kristin Vienneau doesn’t mind a little stress that comes with auditioning for major competitions such as the upcoming Metropolitan Opera Council’s district auditions Feb. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Harris Concert Hall.

“No one likes a lazy singer,” said Vienneau, who is working on her Artist Diploma in Opera and is planning to graduate in May. “I don’t have terrible stage fright or anything like that. I do, however, get an adrenaline rush right before I go on stage for any audition, performance or competition. It’s necessary, like in sports, to have an extra boost of energy to get the job done right.”

Vienneau will join fellow U of M students Annabeth Novitzki, Margaret McMurray, Bethania Baray and Steven Albart in the annual competition presented by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Winners move on to regional competition with the final stop being the nationals in New York City.

“It is the biggest competition in the world for opera,” said Evan Jones, an assistant professor of voice who is helping coordinate the local district competition.

Met officials say the purpose of the competition is to “discover exceptional young talent” as well as to “provide a venue for young opera singers from all over the country and all different levels of experience to be heard by a representative of the Met and to assist those with the greatest potential in their development.”

Kristin Vienneau
U of M student Kristin Vienneau will be one of several U of M students competing in the Metropolitan Opera National Council District auditions Feb. 4 at Harris Concert Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

The competition also serves as a way for the Met Opera to find talent for its Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

Jones says the competition does even more.

“In other competitions, there is a winner, runner-up and then a handshake and you are done. But in this competition, each person gets five minutes of feedback from the judges — very specific advice,” Jones said.

The U of M’s own Susan Owen-Leinert knows the value of the competition — she was a national winner in 1990.

“It changed my life,” says the associate professor of voice in the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music. “In addition to the thousands of dollars it provides, it gets you into auditions you would not normally get into. And many winners go on to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.”

Owen–Leinert performed internationally for 20 years before joining the U of M in 2005. She founded the Memphis Opera & Song Academy, a summer academy for opera singers on the verge of international careers. 

“It is very important for a young artist to do this type of competition,” she said. “In this competition, you have three judges who are very esteemed professionals. They chose the winners and then meet with each competitor and provide career advice.”

Jones said he expects about 41 singers to compete — it is an open competition not strictly for U of M students. “Most are very high level,” he said.

Vienneau says she recognizes the importance of the upcoming competition.

“Any and every audition is important,” she said. “Auditioning for opera companies and competitions is an important facet of an opera singer’s job, so a performer should take any chance to practice the art of auditioning.  

“Auditioning for the Met competition is unique as it is one of the largest competitions available to American singers. The competition is steep and highly stressful. Sometimes, winning the Met at any level — districts, regionals and nationals — is the single most defining jumpstart to a singer’s career. I am excited to have the opportunity to practice this aspect of my job, to have such experienced judges give me feedback and to show off all the hard work I've put into my singing/acting in the past year.”

The event is free and open to the public.
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