NEW YORK 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.
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., chose the same aria from Rachmaninovs Aleko. Cedel sang his version with a beautifully burnished tone that put him in the winners 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 Bellinis 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 days 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 Cileas LArlesiana and Tchaikovskys Eugene Onegin.
The youngest contestant at 21, soprano Rebecca Pedersen, from Bountiful, Utah, used arias from Massenets Le Cid and Leoncavallos 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 Verdis Rigoletto, improving on an uneven first outing in an aria from Donizettis 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 Claggarts soliloquy from Brittens Billy Budd, and then closed the competition with a rollicking account of La calunnia from Rossinis 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 Verdis La Forza del Destino. Marco Armiliato conducted the Met orchestra.