THE AUDITION: Opera Idols

TV rocks, but would you believe I’m also an opera lover? I recently attended the Met’s glorious new production of Carmen with the stunning Elina Garanca and the fabulous Roberto Alagna (I love him!). Simply being an audience member at the Met is an experience, so singing on the stage? I have no words.

After enough Idol, I switched gears (to an extent) and tuned into Great Performances at the Met’s showing of Susan Froemke’s documentary The Audition. This 2007 film follows the 22 singers who make it to the semi-finals round of The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Of these artists, 10 or 11 will become finalists and 5 or 6 each win a $15,000 prize. Nothing to sneeze at, but the bigger reward is identification as a singer to watch in the opera world. Twenty-two rapidly became eleven, and the bulk of the piece focuses on these singers as they choose arias, rehearse with the Met orchestra, and finally step onstage to sing for their futures before a Met audience (that’s a hell of a prize in and of itself!).

Not to sound elitist, but there really is no comparison between these young people who study and sacrifice for years to reach such a platform and someone who auditions for Idol to fill a void left in the wake of their parents’ separation. Of the eleven, two stood out. Tenor Michael Fabiano, now featured in a major role in the Domingo conducted Met production of Verdi’s Stiffelio , was, as his voice teacher noted in the opening scene, “a serious young man.”  A diet of reality TV led me to believe that Froemke was setting him up as the driven competitor who is undone by his inability to make friends and play nice (lame example, but think ANTM’s Season 7 runner-up Melrose; she kept her eyes on the prize but did not get the crown because she was a bitch). At one point, Fabiano let loose with a monologue about his belief that while people might smile and nod, they’re out for themselves and only want to come out the winner. But Fabiano backed this bravado up with a perfect voice, and he was justly rewarded at the end of the contest (although to milk the situation as long as possible, his name was called last). Is Fabiano the type of guy you’d want to hang out with on a Friday night? Maybe not. But who wouldn’t respect someone who gives it all he’s got, maybe at the cost of a type of happiness, in the name of art?

Another memorable competitor was Ryan Smith, in many ways the antithesis of Fabiano. Smith, more of an easygoing sort, openly supports his fellow contestants and opens up about credit card debt and bankruptcy, hard times that gave him perspective moving forward. Smith also arrives in the winner’s circle, and a  note at the end of the film has him singing at the Met and making an impression in a featured role. Then the shock. The film is dedicated to his memory. Holy shit. A Google search later, I learned that Smith passed away in 2008 of lymphoma at the tender age of 31. Now that’s tragic; he could have been a star. But then again, the last year of his life saw him atop a mountain that many will never get a chance to climb. His dreams were coming true, and maybe that’s the way to go out. Like Mimi in La Boheme (and Smith sang a mean “Che Gelida Manina” during the film), he died surrounded by the promise of what could be. That it never was is besides the point. Met general manager Peter Gelb states that this audition is the first step, but ascending the others is not guaranteed. Still, that first step is sweet, and it’s a beautiful place to stop climbing.

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