Two Chinese are winners in Met auditions

Updated: 2014-04-03 11:11

By Michael Barris in New York (China Daily USA)

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When Ao Li saw Manhattan's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts - the home of the Metropolitan Opera House - for the first time, he cried.

The opera house "is like a dream for me," recalled Li, a bass baritone from Dezhou, Shangdong province, who emerged as a winner in the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finals Concert. "The first time I saw the fountain, I was crying, because I watched a lot of productions on DVD and they all have the fountain (in the opening).

"I felt the dream came true and I was crying," the San Francisco resident said in an interview on New York classical music station WQXR. "The police came to me, and asked: 'Sir, you need help?' I was just too emotional."

Li was one of five young singers named winners in the final round of what is widely considered the nation's most prestigious vocal competition with his rendition of Leporello's Catalog Aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni and the title character's cavatina from Rachmaninoff's Aleko. A co-winner was another young Chinese artist, Yi Li, a 29-year-old tenor and fellow Shandong province native from Jinan, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. Yi Li performed De'miei bollenti spiriti from Verdi's La Traviata and Pourquoi me revellier from Massenet's Werther.

Each of the five winners, who performed two arias onstage at the Met for the first time with conductor Marco Armiliato and the Met's orchestra, received a $15,000 cash prize. The auditions, now in their 61st season, have boosted the careers of singers like Renee Fleming, Susan Graham and Deborah Voigt.

In an interview following a performance at WQXR, Yi Li said he started out as a clarinetist but switched to vocals for a greater challenge. "I felt it was so boring when I was sitting in the orchestra, I wanted more to be the center of the stage, in front of the conductor," he said.

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 US and Canada and are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Nine finalists performed in the final phase of competition. The other winners were Julie Adams, a 26-year-old soprano from Burbank, California; Patrick Guetti, a 26-year-old bass from Highland Park, New Jersey; and Amanda Woodbury, a 26-year-old soprano from Crestwood, Kentucky. The remaining finalists each received a cash prize of $5,000.

The audience for the final concert included artistic directors of leading opera companies, artist managers, established opera stars, important teachers and coaches, music critics, and other industry professionals.

Two Chinese are winners in Met auditions

Ao Li studied at Shandong University and was a member of the San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellowship program. He was a 2013 winner of Placido Domingo's Operalia World Opera Competition-Rocky Mountain Region.

Li said he began singing Western opera when his voice changed at age 12. "I loved singing, but it was all pop songs, Chinese pop songs," he said. "But after my voice changed I found my voice was getting lower and lower and I couldn't sing the songs I sang before. It was a little bit sad."

One day when he was 16, he caught an operatic performance on TV. "I thought, I can do this," he said. "This just fit for my voice."

Ao Li spent three years with the San Francisco Opera as an Adler fellow. Although his Italian pronunciation for opera is excellent, English has been a challenge for Li. "When I did an audition in New York in 2009, I only knew four sentences," he recalled. "My name is Ao Li. Very nice to meet you. What's your name? And where's the bathroom?"

Yi Li is a graduate of the Sichuan Conservatory of Music and in the first year of Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and was a member of San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program and Canada's International Vocal Arts Institute.

 Two Chinese are winners in Met auditions

Two Chinese opera singers are among five winners of the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. From left: tenor Yi Li, soprano Julie Adams, bass Patrick Guetti, soprano Amanda Woodbury and bass-baritone Ao Li. Rebecca Fay / Metropolitan Opera

(China Daily USA 04/03/2014 page2)