New York, NY (March 19, 2017) – After a months-long series of competitions at the district, regional, and national levels, a panel of expert judges named six young singers as the winners of the nation’s most prestigious vocal competition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Each winner receives a $15,000 cash prize and the prestige and exposure that come with winning the competition that launched the careers of many of opera’s biggest stars.
This year’s winners are Samantha Hankey, 24, mezzo-soprano (Eastern Region: Marshfield, MA); Kirsten MacKinnon, 26, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Vancouver, BC, Canada); Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, 23, countertenor (Eastern Region: Brooklyn, NY); Richard Smagur, 26, tenor (Central Region: Clarkesville, GA); Kyle van Schoonhoven, 28, tenor (Central Region: Lockport, NY); and Vanessa Vasquez, 26, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Scottsdale, AZ).
Earlier this afternoon, nine finalists performed on the Met stage in the final phase of the competition, hosted by Renée Fleming, a 1988 National Council Winner. Each finalist sang two arias with the Met orchestra, led by Nicola Luisotti. The audience for the Grand Finals Concert included artistic directors of leading opera companies, artist managers, important teachers and coaches, music critics, and many other industry professionals with the potential to play an influential role in the career of a young singer.
The Met Auditions, currently in their 64th year, were the public’s first introduction to many of today’s best-known stars, including Lawrence Brownlee, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Eric Owens, Sondra Radvanovsky, Deborah Voigt, and Frederica von Stade. Recent winners who have gone on to embark on major operatic careers include Paul Appleby, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Lisette Oropesa, Susanna Phillips, and Alek Shrader. Over 100 singers who participated in the National Council process early in their careers are on the Met’s roster in the current season.
The Grand Finals Concert featured a performance by guest artists Amber Wagner, Jamie Barton, and Michael Fabiano; all three singers first came to prominence as winners of the 2007 auditions, which were documented in the film The Audition. The concert was recorded for broadcast at a later date on public radio stations across the United States.
The remaining three finalists—Natalie Image, 24, soprano (Western Region: Tsawwassan, BC, Canada); Cody Quattlebaum, 23, bass-baritone (Eastern Region: Ellicott City, MD); and Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez, 24, soprano (New England Region: Meriden, CT—each received a cash prize of $5,000.
The regional and district-level auditions, held across the U.S. and Canada, are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council and administered by National Council members and hundreds of volunteers from across the country. Given the reach of the auditions, the number of applicants, and the program’s long tradition, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are considered the most prestigious competition for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.