Following this afternoon’s finals concert on the Metropolitan Opera stage—the culmination of a months-long process of competitions at the district, regional, and national level—a panel of judges has named six winners in the 2013 National Council Auditions, the prestigious competition’s 60th anniversary. Each winner will receive a $15,000 cash prize for their victory, but even more importantly, winning represents important exposure that can launch a career.
This year’s winners are: Michael Brandenburg, a 26-year-old tenor from Austin, IN; Brandon Cedel, a 25-year-old bass-baritone from Hershey, PA; Sydney Mancasola, a 25-year-old soprano from Redding, CA; Musa Ngqungwana, a 28-year-old bass-baritone from Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Rebecca Pedersen, a 21-year-old soprano from Bountiful, UT; and Thomas Richards, a 24-year-old bass-baritone from Burnsville, MN.
The winners were selected from ten finalists who performed arias on the Met stage with the MET Orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato. In addition to the cash prize, the winners (and non-winning finalists) performed in front of an audience that included artistic directors of leading opera companies, artist managers, established opera stars, important teachers and coaches, music critics, and others who can play an influential role in the careers of young singers. Many of the biggest stars in opera today received their first major recognition as National Council Winners, including Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, and Thomas Hampson.
The Grand Finals Concert was hosted by renowned soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, a 1995 National Council Auditions winner. During the judges’ deliberations, she sang the aria “Pace, pace, mio Dio,” from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino.
The Grand Finals Concert was recorded for broadcast at a later date on public radio stations across the United States. In addition, on Monday, March 11, at 7 p.m., this year’s newly selected winners will perform a concert of varied operatic repertory at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, New York City’s all-classical station. They will be joined by a Met star and former National Council winner, bass-baritone Eric Owens. The event will be broadcast live on WQXR and there will be a live video webcast on both www.wqxr.org and www.thegreenespace.org; for more information, please visit www.thegreenespace.org.
Nearly 1,500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 participated in this year’s auditions, which are held annually in 40 districts and 13 regions throughout the United States and Canada and are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Given the reach of the auditions, the number of applicants, and the long tradition associated with them, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are considered the most prestigious competition in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.
The remaining four finalists—Matthew Anchel, a 25-year-old bass from New York, NY; Tracy Cox, a 27-year-old soprano from Dallas, TX; Richard Ollarsaba, a 25-year-old bass-baritone from Tempe, AZ; and Efrain Solis, a 23-year-old baritone from Santa Ana, CA—were each awarded $5,000.
Past winners of the Met Auditions include many of today’s leading operatic artists such as Renée Fleming, Hei-Kyung Hong, Angela Meade, Susanna Phillips, Sondra Radvanovsky, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Stephanie Blythe, Dolora Zajick, Nathan Gunn, Lawrence Brownlee, Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey. During a typical opera season, over one hundred alumni of the Auditions are on the Met roster. In 2007, the National Council Audition process was captured in an acclaimed documentary, The Audition, which was shown on PBS and released on DVD.
On Monday, March 11, at 7 p.m., this year’s newly selected winners will perform a concert of varied operatic repertory at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, New York City’s all-classical station. They will be joined by a Met star and former National Council winner, bass-baritone Eric Owens. The event will be broadcast live on WQXR and there will be a live video webcast on both www.wqxr.org and www.thegreenespace.org; for more information, please visit www.thegreenespace.org.
Winners Biographical Notes
The following are brief biographical notes for the 2013 National Council Auditions winners.
Tenor Michael Brandenburg, a 26-year-old native of Austin, Indiana, studied voice with Joseph Levitt while pursuing an M.S. in Aquatic Biology at Ball State University. He recently made his debut as Prince Charming in Massenet’s Cendrillon with the Indiana University Opera Theater. He was a 2010 semi-finalist in the Bel Canto Foundation Competition in Chicago, and was an Indiana District winner in the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He is currently a Jacobs Fellow pursuing a Performer Diploma at the Jacobs School of Music. Brandenburg is a student of Timothy Noble. He represents to Central Region in the Met National Council Auditions.
Bass-Baritone Brandon Cedel, 25, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, has performed with the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Curtis Opera Theater, Opera Santa Barbara, Music Academy of the West, Opera Orchestra of New York, Castleton Festival, Royal Opera House Oman and the Chautauqua Institute. His repertoire includes Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Leporello in Don Giovanni, Mephistophélès in Faust, the Forester in The Cunning Little Vixen, Antony in Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, and Colline in Puccini’s La Bohème. Awards he has won include the 2012 George London Awards, the Sullivan Award, and the Sarah Tucker Grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation. He was also first place winner at the Giulio Gari Foundation Competition, Palm Beach Opera Competition, S. Livingston Mather Competition, and Sue Goetz Ross Memorial Competition. He was the 2011 Grand Prize Winner at the Gerda Lissner Vocal Competition. He has also received awards from the Liederkranz Competition, Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation, Loren L. Zachary Competition, Opera Index, Letters and Arts Foundation, and the Mario Lanza Competition. Future engagements include Opera Orchestra of New York, Wolf Trap Opera Company, Gotham Chamber Opera, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Glyndebourne Festival. He is currently a student of Marlena Malas and Mikael Eliasen at The Curtis Institute of Music where he will receive his Master’s degree this May. He represents the Middle Atlantic Region in the Met National Council Auditions.
Lyric coloratura Sydney Mancasola, 25, is originally from Redding, California and is currently a resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the summer of 2012, Sydney was an apprentice at Santa Fe Opera, where she covered the role of Zdenka in Arabella, and received the Judith Raskin Memorial Award for Singers. At AVA, Ms. Mancasola has sung Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande, and Antonia and Stella in Les contes d’Hoffmann. Other roles include Adele in Die Fledermaus with the Brevard Music Center; Cunégonde in Candide, Servilia in La clemenza di Tito, and Despina in Così fan tutte with Oberlin Opera Theater; and covering the role of Marie in La Fille du Régiment with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. In spring of 2013, Ms. Mancasola will join the Fort Worth Opera in the role of Young Alyce in Glory Denied by contemporary American composer Tom Cipullo. After training as a classical violinist for 16 years in her home state of Califonia, Sydney began her vocal studies, earning a B.M. in Vocal Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 2011, where she was a recipient of the Margot Bos Standler Scholarship. Ms. Mancasola is also an alumna of the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ Gerdine Young Artist Program, Brevard Music Center’s Janiec Opera Company, and the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program. On the concert stage, Ms. Mancasola has performed Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer, Strauss’ Brentano Lieder, and recently appeared in the 2012 international music festival Calí de Camara in Colombia, South America singing Schubert’s Mass in G, and Mozart’s Exultate, Jubilate.
South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana is a third year resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia where, this season, he performs Sancho Pança in Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Samuel in Un Ballo in Maschera. His roles at AVA have included Prince Gremin and Zaretsky in Eugene Onegin, Dr. Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Dulcamara in L’elisir d’amore, Golaud (Cover) in Pelléas et Mélisande, the title role in Oberto, the four villains Lindorf, Copéllius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Leporello and Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Count Waldner in Arabella and Talpa in Il tabarro. Mr. Ngqungwana has also performed L’hotelier in Manon with Arts Cape Opera House, Ping in Turandot with Teatro Filarmonico (Verona), Priest in Cunning Little Vixen with ArtsCape Theater, the Governor’s Servant in Garwood’s Scarlett Letter with the Merriam Theater, and Lorenzo in i capuleti ed i montecchi and Zuniga in Carmen with the Crested Butte Music Festival. His concert performances include the bass solo in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147, Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass, Brahms’ Requiem, Beethoven’s Christ on The Mount of Olives, Haydn’s Die Schöpfung, Peter Van Dijk’s Windy City, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and recently Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. He is the recipient of the Apollo Music Trust (2013), the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (2011), and winner of the WBHO/Jan Kaminski Award (2010). He was awarded the prize of “Die Zeit” at the 29th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Competition in Vienna, Austria, winner for the role of Ping at the International Turandot Competition organized by the International Institute for Opera and Poetry in 2009, and winner of the Schock Prize for Singing at the Baxter Theater in Cape Town in 2007. Mr. Ngqungwana has a B.M. Honors in Performance (Magna Cum Laude) and a Performer’s Diploma in Opera from the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town.
Soprano Rebecca Pedersen, 21, resides in Bountiful, Utah with her parents and ten siblings. Rebecca is a sophomore at Brigham Young University and studies with Darrell and Jennifer Welch-Babidge. She is also mentored by world-renowned mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, and is a resident artist at the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices. Recent solo engagements have included concerts with the Utah Symphony, conducted by Thierry Fischer. Ms. Pedersen was the winner of the prestigious Utah Salute to Youth competition in both 2010 and 2012. As a freshman, Rebecca won both the BYU Singer of the Year Award, and the Concerto Competition, soloing with the BYU Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Pedersen also maintains a close working relationship with the Utah Lyric Opera Company, where she was cast in their recent productions of La Traviata and La Bohème. Roles include Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) at BYU, and Genevieve (Suor Angelica) with Utah/Idaho Performing Arts Company.
Bass-baritone Thomas Richards, 24, is a native of Burnsville, Minnesota and a current Artist Diploma student at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, where he studies opera with voice teacher William McGraw. He is a 2010 graduate of The George Washington University in the District of Columbia where he double majored in political science and music. He is a 2012 graduate of the CCM Master of Music program in voice. Recently Thomas has performed the role of Dr. Bartolo in CCM Opera’s 2011 production of Le Nozze di Figaro, Leporello in CCM Opera’s 2012 production of Don Giovanni, Father Truelove in CCM Opera’s 2012 production of The Rake’s Progress, Frank Maurrant in CCM Opera’s 2012 production of Street Scene, and Colline in La Bohème at the 2012 Central City Opera Festival in Central City, Colorado. Recent awards include first prize in the 2013 Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition. This summer Thomas will again perform as Dr. Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro in a production with the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco, California.