WCC grads sing their way to Met finals

By Steph Mostaccio

Two Westminster Choir College (WCC) alumnae made it to the finals in what Laura Brooks Rice, professor in WCC’s Piano and Voice Department, called the pinnacle of U.S. competitions — the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Kiera Duffy, who earned a bachelor’s degree from WCC in 2001 and a master’s degree in 2003, and Disella Làrusdóttir, who earned a master’s degree from WCC in 2005, spent Sunday, April 1, singing in the Grand Finals Concert at the Met in New York. They competed against nine other

“For me and for everybody who was in the finals, it was like Disney World for singers,” said Duffy. “It’s just an absolutely extraordinary experience and one I will never forget. It’s what you dream of.”

This audition was the final round in a series of competitions that included four levels: district, regional, semi-final and final. The contest began with about 1,500 singers auditioning in 45 districts in the United States and Canada. Winners from this level then participated in the 15 regional competitions, and regional winners went on to the semi-finals, which took place at the Met on March 25. The 11 singers who competed in the Grand Finals concert were narrowed down to six

Neither Duffy nor Làrusdóttir was one of those six winners. However, Làrusdóttir received the $5,000 Metropolitan Opera Award and Duffy received the $5,000 Judith Raskin Award.

Duffy said she was disappointed that she did not win at the Grand Finals Concert, but this feeling did not last very long.

“In the moment, of course you want your name to be called,” she said. “But it was a quickly waning emotion. I was just really thrilled to have had that experience.”

Duffy added that she was content with her performance at the Grand Finals Concert.

“I felt I sang with my heart, I was true to who I am, and that was the most I could have hoped for.”

According to Melanie Rosa Schowalter, associate director of the National Council Auditions, all the participants — not just the six winners — benefited from the competition. She noted that cash prizes were awarded at each level, which could go toward voice lessons, more training or coaches. She also pointed out that those who go through the process would gain exposure to a future audience, increasing the chance of being hired by opera professionals.

“The exposure and the financial assistance are both big pluses,” said Schowalter.

According to Rice, the audition process is very demanding, she said.

“Each level is more challenging because the level of the talent pool begins to get smaller and smaller and more talented as the auditions
progress,” said Rice.

The singers also need to choose five opera arias, or accompanied solos, of
contrasting styles and languages to present in all the levels except the finals. Duffy said choosing arias is one of the most difficult parts of the competition.

“You’ve got to find a way in just five arias to distinguish yourself from the pack,” she said.

Duffy, who has never made it past the regionals in her four previous attempts in the competition, took a risk this year with her aria choices. The singer performed an aria from the opera LuLu, which she described as very modern and not very aesthetically pleasing.

“When I put that on my list, I knew I was taking a risk because people either love it or they hate it,” she said. “Luckily for me, it paid off.”

Although the audition process was challenging, Duffy said she barely got nervous during her performances.

“It’s this absolute amazing feeling,” she said. “It was just too awesome to feel nervous.”

Rice, who has been Duffy’s voice teacher for 10 years and Làrusdóttir’s since 2001, is proud of her students.

“They represent that student who really takes advantage of everything that is offered at Westminster and makes that information work for them,” said Rice.

The Grand Finals Concert will be broadcast nationally
later in the season and a documentary will also be aired in movie theaters on April 28. Làrusdóttir has also been
featured in a video about the competition on The New York Times Web site, as well as in a story in the April 1 edition of The New York Times.

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