6 Young Singers Top Met Auditions

From a starting field of nearly 1,500 aspiring opera singers across the country, it came down to 10 – three sopranos, one tenor and six deep male voices – on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House.

Photo: Metropolitan Opera, Rebecca Fay/AP
(L-R) Brandon Cedel, Sydney Mancasola, Michael Brandenburg, Rebecca Pedersen, Musa Ngqungwana, Thomas Richards.

The contestants, all in their 20s, got to perform two arias with full orchestra Sunday afternoon, and when it was over, a panel of judges named six of them winners of the 60th annual National Council Auditions.

The heavy concentration of bass-baritones was a random occurrence, but it made for some unusual duplication in the program. Brandon Cedel, from Hershey, Pa., and Richard Ollarsaba, from Tempe, Ariz., both chose the same aria from Rachmaninov’s “Aleko.” Cedel sang his version with a beautifully burnished tone that put him in the winner’s circle; Ollarsaba, almost as good, had to settle for being a runner-up. Earlier, Cedel brought elegant phrasing to the long lines of an aria from Bellini’s “La Sonnambula”; that piece was also performed by another winner, bass Musa Ngqungwana, originally from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and representing the Middle Atlantic region.

The day’s only tenor, Michael Brandenburg, from Austin, Ind., won a top prize by displaying an intriguingly distinctive sound, ardent and tinged with a slightly acidic vibrato, in arias from Cilea’s “L’Arlesiana” and Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”

The youngest contestant at 21, soprano Rebecca Pedersen, from Bountiful, Utah, used arias from Massenet’s “Le Cid” and Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci” to highlight a polished technique and potent sound that suggested she might grow beyond lyric roles. The lighter-voiced Sydney Mancasola, from Redding, Calif., sang with sparkling high notes and expressive nuance in “Caro Nome,” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” improving on an uneven first outing in an aria from Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment.” Both were among the winners.

Dramatically, the standout was bass-baritone Thomas Richards, from Burnsville, Minn., who gave a chilling interpretation of Claggart’s soliloquy from Britten’s “Billy Budd,” and then closed the competition with a rollicking account of “La calunnia” from Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”

Besides Ollarsaba, the runners-up were baritone Matthew Anchel, from New York City; soprano Tracy Cox, from Dallas; and baritone Efrain Solis, from Santa Ana, Calif.

The winners receive a $15,000 grant for further study, while the others get $5,000 each.

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and bass-baritone Eric Owens – both competition winners back in the 1990s – acted as co-hosts, and Radvanovsky helped fill the time during the judges’ deliberations by unleashing an imposing but at times earsplitting version of “Pace, pace, mio Dio,” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.” Marco Armiliato conducted the Met orchestra.