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2015 National Council Winners: (from l to r) Reginald Smith, Jr., Virginie Verrez, Joseph Dennis, Marina Costa-Jackson, Nicholas Brownlee [Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
22 Mar 2015

Winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Announced

Five Young Singers Named Winners of the 2015 Met National Council Auditions, America’s Most Prestigious Vocal Competition

Winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Announced

Above: 2015 National Council Winners: (from l to r) Reginald Smith, Jr., Virginie Verrez, Joseph Dennis, Marina Costa-Jackson, Nicholas Brownlee

Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera


New York, NY (March 22, 2015) — After a months-long series of competitions at the district, regional, and national levels, five young singers have been named 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 Nicholas Brownlee, bass-baritone (Western Region: Mobile, Alabama); Marina Costa-Jackson, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Salt Lake City, Utah); Joseph Dennis, tenor (Eastern Region: McKinney, Texas); Reginald Smith, Jr., baritone (Southeast Region: Atlanta, Georgia); and Virginie Verrez, mezzo-soprano (Eastern Region: Brive La Gaillarde, France, currently living in New York, New York).

Earlier this afternoon, nine finalists performed on the Met stage in the final phase of the competition. Each sang two arias with the Met orchestra, led by the company’s Principal Conductor, Fabio Luisi. 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 62nd year, were the public’s first introduction to many of today’s best-known stars, including Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Eric Owens, Sondra Radvanovsky, Frederica von Stade, and Deborah Voigt. Recent winners who have gone on to embark on major operatic careers include Paul Appleby, Jamie Barton, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Michael Fabiano, Lisette Oropesa, Susanna Phillips, Alek Shrader, and Amber Wagner. 126 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 was hosted by current Met star Angela Meade, who first came to prominence in 2007 as a winner of the National Council Auditions. Meade sang “Ebben?…Ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s La Wally and “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma while the judges deliberated. The concert was recorded for broadcast at a later date on public radio stations across the United States.

The remaining four finalistsJared Bybee, baritone (Middle Atlantic Region: Modesto, California); Allegra De Vita, mezzo-soprano (New England Region: Trumbull, Connecticut); Kathryn Henry, soprano (Upper Midwest Region: Sheboygan, Wisconsin); and Deniz Uzun, mezzo-soprano (Central Region: Mannheim, Germany, currently living in Bloomington, Indiana)—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.

The Winners

Nicholas Brownlee
Bass-Baritone (Mobile, Alabama)
Age 25

In the 2015-16 season, Nicholas Brownlee will be returning for his second year as a Domingo Colburn Stein Young Artist at Los Angeles Opera, where he will be heard as Colline in La Bohème, the Speaker in Die Zauberflöte, the Bonze in Madama Butterfly, and the Gardener in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. Next season also includes his Atlanta Opera debut as Colline. He will also be returning for his second season at Santa Fe Opera this summer as the First Soldier in Salome. This season he made debuts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as the bass soloist in the Beethoven Choral Fantasy, as well as London’s Barbican Centre in performances of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland, co-produced with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is a First Place winner of the Palm Springs Opera Guild Competition as well as a national semi-finalist in the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Western Region.

Marina Costa-Jackson
Soprano (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Age 27

Marina Costa-Jackson is a third-year resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, where she is heard this season as Mimì inLa Bohème and as Marguerite in Faust. In Philadelphia, she has also sung Lisa in The Queen of Spades and Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera. She appeared at Madison Square Garden last year with Andrea Bocelli and has recently returned from a concert tour in Russia with Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s “Dmitri and Friends”. She received first prize in the Giulio Gari Foundation, was a second place winner with the Marcello Giordani Foundation, a finalist in the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition, and an award winner with the Opera Index, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, Mario Lanza Institute, Sergio Franchi Music Foundation, and George London Foundation. She will make her professional debut next season with Michigan Opera Theater as Musetta in La Bohème. Middle Atlantic Region.

Joseph Dennis
Tenor (McKinney, Texas)
Age 30

In 2013 Joseph Dennis appeared with the Santa Fe Opera as Giuseppe in La Traviata and last summer returned to that company for the title role in the American premiere of Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. This season he sings Števa in Jen˚ufa with Des Moines Metro Opera. He has also appeared with the Palm Beach Opera as Malcolm in Macbeth and in productions of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Les Contes d’Hoffmann. He pursued theater studies at Collin College and vocal performance at Stephen F. Austin State University, where his roles include Elder Gleaton in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Kaspar in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, Alfred inDie Fledermaus, and Gastone in La Traviata. At the University of Oklahoma he sang Pylades in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride and Fenton in Falstaff. This fall he joins the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera. Eastern Region.

Reginald Smith, Jr.
Baritone (Atlanta, Georgia)
Age 26

Reginald Smith, Jr. is a studio artist with the Houston Grand Opera and his operatic repertoire includes the title role of Falstaff, Germont inLa Traviata, Marullo in Rigoletto, the Speaker in Die Zauberflöte, Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus, and Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro. On the concert stage he has appeared with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Lexington Philharmonic, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, Johnson City Symphony, the Evansville Symphony Orchestra, and the Cincinnati Pops. He has been a reward recipient in the George London Foundation Competition, Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, and received first place in the Orpheus Vocal Competition and National Opera Society Competition. This summer he joins the Wolf Trap Opera as a Filene Young Artist where he will sing Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro. Southeast Region.

Virginie Verrez
Mezzo-soprano (Brive La Gallarde, France)
Age 26

Virginie Verrez received her bachelor of music degree from the Juilliard School where she is continuing her music studies on a Kovner Fellowship. Last month at Juilliard she sang Clytemnestre in Gluck’s Iphigenie en Aulide as part of the Met+Juilliard program. She has previously sung Beatrice in Wolf-Ferrari’s Donne Curiose, Zenobia in Handel’s Radamisto, and Junon in Charpentier’s Acteon at Juilliard, and additional performances include Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana with Avignon Opera and Mercédès in Carmen with Wolf Trap Opera. In 2014 she was a soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Philadelphia Orchestra and made her Carnegie Hall debut in Bruckner’s Te Deum. She is a prize winner of the Opera Index Competition, McCammon Competition, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, and Gerda Lissner Foundation. This fall she will become a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Eastern Region.

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