Knoxville, TN – Most people are familiar with the popular TV shows The Voice and American Idol, where talented singers compete in front of judges and a live audience in hopes of capturing the prize of stardom. A similar competition has been taking place in the opera world since 1954. The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions take place each year in 42 Districts and 12 Regions throughout the US and Canada and are considered the most prestigious competition for singers seeking to launch an operatic career. On Saturday, January 7, 2017 the Knoxville Opera Guild is hosting the Middle/East Tennessee District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and you are invited to hear some of the best young operatic voices hoping to advance to finals on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The auditions will begin at 10:00 AM in the Powell Recital Hall of the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center at the University of Tennessee. There is no cost for admission.

The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions were designed to discover promising young opera singers and assist in the development of their careers. It is a competition in which approximately 1,800 singers compete first in district, region and then semi-final rounds as they are gradually eliminated to six finalists, each claiming $15,000 in prize money and a chance to capture the attention of the opera world. Past National Council winners include many of the world’s greatest opera singers, such as Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman, Teresa Stratas, Shirley Verrett, and Frederica von Stade, as well as some of opera’s best-known contemporary stars. Current Met singers who were winners in the National Council Auditions include sopranos Renée Fleming, Angela Meade, Susanna Phillips, and Patricia Racette; mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Blythe, Susan Graham, and Dolora Zajick; and baritones Thomas Hampson, and Eric Owens. On average, nearly one hundred National Council Audition alumni sing in Met performances every opera season. Knoxville has seen its share of winners; Cheryl Studer in 1978, Delores Ziegler in 1979 and Roy Smith in 1990 took to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and walked away with the coveted prize.

There are three judges at every level of the competition chosen from a selected list of professionals in the business. This year’s judges in Knoxville are Nathan DePoint, Mark Gibson, and Melissa Wegner.

Nathan DePoint is the first Director of Artistic Administration of Fort Worth Opera. Now in his ninth season with the company, Nathan Depoint oversees much of the artistic product for Fort Worth Opera, including the development of new works. His responsibilities include casting and season planning, artistic and creative team management, commissions and partnerships, Curator of the Frontiers initiative, symphony and chorus management, and artistic budgeting. FWOpera commissions under his watch include A Wrinkle in Time (Larsen) and JFK (Little/Vavrek), Voir Dire (Peterson/Zencka). Mr. DePoint was recognized as one of the inaugural members of Opera America’s Leadership Intensive Program in 2012, a program designed to discover and cultivate America’s next generation of opera leaders. Previously, Nathan was a professional opera singer, portraying over twenty different operatic characters during his time on stage, singing both domestically and internationally. He earned his BA in Music with an emphasis in Vocal Performance in 2002 from John Brown University and his MM in Opera Performance from Wichita State University.

Mark Gibson, Director of Orchestral Studies at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), University of Cincinnati, enjoys a career that spans three continents, guest conducting and teaching from Munich to Manila. While Director of Orchestral Studies at CCM, he also serves as Principal Guest Conductor of the Sichuan Conservatory Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor and consultant with the China National Opera. He also holds conducting posts with the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing and the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, München.

Prior to his arrival in Cincinnati, Gibson served as principal conductor of the Alabama Symphony, visiting director of orchestral studies at the Eastman School of Music and music director of the New York City Opera National Company, Ash Lawn-Highland Summer Festival and Opera de Mahon (Menorca). He has also served as artistic director of the Opera Theatre and Music Festival of Lucca in Italy and Director of the opera conducting course at CCM Spoleto.

Gibson’s previous engagements include the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Omaha Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, New York City Opera, Dallas Opera, Opera Pacific, New Orleans Opera, Cleveland Opera, Chautauqua Opera, and Spoleto U.S.A. His international credits include Central Opera of Beijing; orchestras in Beijing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shenzhen and Qingdao, China; the Opera de Valencia; Opera de Malaga; and Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. A frequent guest lecturer on conducting, he leads master classes and concerts at many conservatories around the world, including the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich, Seoul National University, National Taiwan Normal University, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and the Escola Superior de Musica de Catalunya in Barcelona.

Recent engagements include Cendrillon at CCM and West Side Story and Holiday opera gala concerts with the China National Opera in Beijing. In February he debuts with the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra in a Valentine’s Day concert.

This past fall, he produced and led the most comprehensive festival of Polish classical music ever in the United States at CCM, including performances of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra and the 3rd Symphony of Karol Szymanowski with the CCM Philharmonic. Also active as a writer, his book on conducting and the conducting career, “The Beat Stops Here”, was published in January, 2017 by Oxford University Press.

In summer 2017, Gibson will again serve as artistic of director of CCM’s Opera Bootcamp, featuring performances of works of Mozart, Puccini and Poulenc.

Melissa Wegner is the Associate Director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and a faculty member at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute Program for Singers. Ms. Wegner has been a frequent guest at conservatories, universities and summer festivals speaking on the topics of auditioning, finance, and careers in the arts. In addition to the District and Region auditions of the Met’s National Council Auditions, she has also adjudicated the SAI Vocal Competition, the McCammon Voice Competition, and the Belvedere Competition. As a soprano, Ms. Wegner has performed opera, concerts and recitals in the United States and Europe. She joined New York City Opera as a Supertitles Associate and continues this work on a freelance basis with organizations including BAM, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Opera Orchestra of New York. Ms. Wegner is a member of Families of FANA WNY, which fundraises to support the orphanage in Colombia from which she was adopted. She is a Trustee of the Foundation Board of SUNY Potsdam, and founding member of the Alumni Board of Bard Conservatory’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program. Ms. Wegner holds degrees from Bard College, The Manhattan School of Music, and The Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam.

The Metropolitan National Council Auditions require five operatic arias in two or more languages of varying styles that best represent the singer’s current stage of vocal development. In addition to selecting the district finalists, the judges meet individually with each singer after the audition coaching them on language, style, and musicianship essential for future successful operatic auditions.

Singers auditioning in Knoxville will be coming from near and far. “We have applicants from Berlin, Indiana, Georgia and New York,” said Phyllis Driver, district co-director. The winners of Knoxville’s auditions will compete in the southeast region finals on Sunday, February 12, 2017 at Spivey Hall at Clayton State University in Atlanta, GA. The National Semi-Finals and Grand Finals Concert will take place in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House on the following dates: National Semi-Finals – Sunday, March 12, 2017; National Grand Finals Concert – Sunday, March 19, 2017.