Three University of South Carolina opera students have been busy practicing arias, praying and preparing their voices for next Saturday’s Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Madeline Beitel, John Siarris and Valencia Callens will be three of 39 auditioners in Columbia, which is one of the locations for the first stage of the prestigious competition. Each year, thousands of hopefuls nationwide compete for a cash prize and an opportunity to launch a major operatic career.
Three winners will be chosen from South Carolina. Each winner will receive $1,200 and advance to the Southeastern Regional Auditions in Atlanta. The winner in Atlanta will then compete in the Grand National Finals at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York before representatives of opera houses from around the world. Winners in New York receive $15,000.
For the past four years, a winner from South Carolina has won in the regionals and gone on to sing at the finals.
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Previous winners include David Daniels of Spartanburg, who is now a famous counter-tenor.
Saturday’s auditions are at Columbia College and are free and open to the public.
“If you’re curious about opera, this is a way to hear the highlights without having to listen to a whole, three hour opera,” co-director Van Edwards said.
Each singer prepares five arias and the judges pick two for them to perform.
Siarris said preparing for the auditions is not just about singing, but about delving into the characters.
“I know opera is an older art form, but it’s a very great art form and people should give it a chance,” he said. “There’s a stigma that it’s boring and is all viking helmets and fat ladies, but it’s much more than that. It’s telling a drama that’s larger than life.”
The three USC contestants
Name: Madeline Beitel
Voice type: Mezzo-soprano
First time I heard opera: I didn’t hear any opera until my freshman year of undergrad, when I saw “Carmen” live for the first time.
Audition pieces: “Una voce poco fa” from “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini, “Voi che sapete” from “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Va! Laisse couler mes larmes” from “Werther” by Jules Massenet, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle” from “Romeo et Juliette” by Charles Gounod, and “Chacun à son goût” from “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss II.
Why I picked them: I have fun singing these pieces, as they feel the most settled in my voice and the most developed in terms of character.
Favorite thing about opera: I live for the moment of stillness on stage right before the curtain goes up. It is unlike any other excitement that I have ever felt — it engulfs your entire body and floods you with energy. I never feel more alive than I feel on the opera stage.
Thoughts before the audition: I’m going to make sure that I am as prepared as I can be. After that, there’s nothing more I can do. The rest is all up to the judges.
Name: John Siarris
Voice type: Baritone
First time I heard opera: The first time I heard opera was my mother. She’s an opera singer. I grew up listening to her sing. I frequently saw shows she was in. That motivated me to pursue a career in opera.
Audition songs: “O du mein holder abendstern” from “Tannhäuser” by Richard Wagner, “Hai gia vinta la causa” from “Le nozze di Figaro” by Mozart, “Come paride vezzoso” from “L’elisir d’amore” by Gaetano Donizetti, “Sois immobile” from “Guglielmo Tell” by Rossini, and “Warm As the Autumn Light” from “The Ballad of Baby Doe” by Douglas Moore.
Why you picked those songs: Who doesn’t love Mozart? Rossini was definitely a rockstar of his day as well. “Warm as the Autumn Light” is the 20th century selection I chose, and is the newest for me. “The Ballad of Baby Doe” by Douglas Moore is one of the few American operas that is in the standard repertoire today.
Favorite thing about opera: My favorite thing about opera is that it’s very collaborative. You get to work with many different people, and it combines all the art forms — theater, art, music, drama and literature — to create one grand masterpiece.
Thoughts before the audition: I auditioned last year and won an encouragement award, so I’m excited about this year to see how far I can get. I’m also excited to see all the talented singers, because some people there are much more experienced than me.
Name: Valencia Callens
Voice type: Soprano
First time I heard opera: The first time I heard opera was my freshman year of college, by students performing opera arias. I was captivated by the power and beauty of the music and what the voice could produce. I was blown away.
Audition songs: “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from “La rondine” by Giacomo Puccini, “My Man’s Gone Now” from “Porgy and Bess” by George Gerswhin, “Caro nome” from “Rigoletto” by Giuseppe Verdi, “Depuis le jour” from “Louise” by Gustave Charpentier, and “Bester Jungling” from “Der Schauspieldirektor (Impresario)” by Mozart.
Why I picked them: These songs are very beautiful to me in every way. I love the different characters I can become. Plus, I love how the songs sit in my voice, allowing me to portray my best sound.
Favorite thing about opera: I love how so many different elements come together to make opera, whether it’s the beautiful music, the intriguing story line, the emotion, the languages or the costumes. It is just so amazing how it wouldn’t be opera if one of those things were left out.
Thoughts before the audition: I plan to go out there, give my best, leave my heart on the stage and, most importantly, have fun, and encourage everyone else to do the same.
If you go
WHAT: Metropolitan Opera auditions
WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23
WHERE: R. Wright Spears Center for the Arts at Columbia College, 1301 Columbia College Dr.