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); andVanessa 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.
SOPRANO (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
A recipient of a 2016 George London Award, Kirsten MacKinnon graduated as an Alfred Greenberg Memorial Fellow from the Curtis Institute of Music last year. She performed regularly with the Curtis Opera Theatre in such roles as Elettra in Idomeneo, Micaëla in Carmen, Mimì in La Bohème, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, and the title role in Iolanta, among others. She recently appeared as the Countess in Capriccio with Opera Philadelphia, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte with the Canadian Opera Company. Upcoming performances include Micaëla with Opera Philadelphia, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte with the Glydebourne Festival, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro with Garsington Opera, and Inès in L’Africaine with Oper Frankfurtlater this year. Middle Atlantic Region.
MEZZO-SOPRANO (Marshfield, Massachusetts)
Recipient of numerous awards including a 2016 Sara Tucker Study Grant, Samantha Hankey is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Juilliard School as a recipient of a Kovner Fellowship. This season at Juilliard, she will sing the title role in Handel’s Agrippina and Varvara in Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová. She has recently appeared as Diana in Cavalli’s La Calisto and Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, at Juilliard, as well as Dorabella in Così fan tutte and Mercédès in Carmen at the Aspen Music Festival. Later this season, she will perform as a winner at Juilliard’s Vocal Arts Honors Recital and sing the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola as an artist with San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. She has also participated in live-stream and documentary master classes with Renée Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Thomas Hampson, and Fabio Luisi. Eastern Region.
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen
COUNTERTENOR (Brooklyn, New York)
A 2016 participant in San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen recently won first prize in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition and was a finalist in the George London Foundation Competition. He made his European professional operatic debut at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien as Timante in Gluck’s Demofonte with Il Complesso Barocco and has sung Nerone in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Raphael in Jonathan Dove’s Tobias and the Angel, and Cefalo in Cavalli’s Gli Amori di Apollo e Dafne. In 2015, he received a bachelor’s degree in History from Princeton University, and this summer, he will join Wolf Trap Opera as a Studio Artist for Philip Glass and Robert Moran’s The Juniper Tree. Later this year, he will join the Houston Grand Opera Studio as the first countertenor in the program’s history, singing Nireno in Giulio Cesare and a Maid in Elektra. Eastern Region.
TENOR (Clarkesville, Georgia)
Richard Smagur studies with Carlos Montane in pursuit of a master’s degree at Indiana University, where he was awarded the 2015–16 Georgina Joshi Graduate Fellowship. At IU, he has sung the title role of Peter Grimes, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Don José in Carmen,Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and Ralph Rackstraw in H.M.S. Pinafore. In spring 2017, he sang Elijah with the Tucson Desert Song Festival. He has also covered des Grieux in Manon at Des Moines Metro Opera and participated in the Ravinia Steans Music Institute as a vocal fellow. He has sung Tamino at the OK Mozart Festival and will be an apprentice artist at Santa Fe Opera this summer, singing the role of Tsarevich Gvidon in Rimsky Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel. Central Region.
Kyle van Schoonhoven
TENOR (Lockport, New York)
Kyle van Schoonhoven is currently an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera and will make his debut with the company as the Young Servant in Elektra later this fall. He will also cover leading roles, including Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Aegisth in Elektra, Froh in Das Rheingold, and Siegmund in Die Walküre. He participated in San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program last summer and received the Nicolai Gedda Memorial Award from the George London Foundation in 2016. His repertory includes Don José in Carmen, Alfredo in La Traviata, Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, Hoffmann in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oronte in Alcina, and Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, among others. In addition to participating in numerous young artist programs, he holds a master’s degree from Westminster Choir College and a bachelor’s degree from the Fredonia School of Music. Central Region.
SOPRANO (Scottsdale, Arizona)
In 2016, Vanessa Vasquez received top prizes from numerous vocal competitions including the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition and the Giulio Gari Foundation International Vocal Competition, among others. She is currently in her third year as a resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA), where she has sung Gilda in Rigoletto, Mimì in La Bohème, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and Giorgetta in Il Tabarro. Later this season, she will make her professional debut as Liù in Turandot with Des Moines Metro Opera. She has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and sung Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Opera UCLA, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro with Oberlin in Italy, and Desdemona in Otello with the Astoria Music Festival. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University of America and a master’s degree from UCLA. Middle Atlantic Region.