Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Backstage at the Opera at the Movies

The Audition is a documentary about the Met National Council Auditions—absolutely required viewing for opera lovers.

Competing in the Met Auditions is the ultimate way for a singer to get noticed. Nadine Sierra, who stars as Tytania in the upcoming BLO production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, won the competition in 2009.  Her fellow finalist Anthony Roth Costanzo also recently graced the BLO stage as Ottone in Agrippina. (The two of them were featured in an article about the Met auditions, check it out.

In other words, this competition is It. A list of past winners of the Met auditions reads like a Who’s Who of opera. This documentary, made by Susan Froemke, follows the finalists of the 2007 auditions as they prepare for their final performance onstage at the Met. The pressure the singers are under is enough to radiate from your TV and make your hair stand on end. (And, O BLO Bunch-ers, some of the singers are no older than we are.) 

This documentary usually prompts comparisons to American Idol, or other talent-based reality shows, and it’s true that the format is similar—the contestants and their idiosyncrasies are introduced, and some potential sources of trouble are set up—for instance, tenor Alek Shrader’s choice to sing “Ah! mes amis,” an aria famous for nine high Cs, and Pavarotti’s signature piece. However, this choice does not bring trouble. Just glory. My only complaint is that the movie doesn’t show the whole aria. 

The film focuses on the three tenor finalists: Shrader, Michael Fabiano, a volatile and thrilling-voiced twenty-two year-old, and Ryan Smith, who is thirty and giving an operatic career a last shot. He interviews that if it doesn’t work out, he’ll finish his doctorate. Even at the height of the tension, there is no drama between the contestants—everyone is very professional, if intensely focused. It defies expectation to see a taut, engaging film about a group of young people who will do anything to win—not American Idol at all, but an opera competition. 

The contestants speak frankly about everything from the pressures on singers concerning age and weight, to the giddiness and terror of getting their one big shot on the Met stage, all of ten minutes long. However, by just making it to the finals, the contestants are singing in front of a pre-eminent group of opera directors and agents, and chances are they won’t go home empty-handed. 

The film itself is very well put together, and a fascinating look at what it’s like to be a young singer on the verge of a dazzling career in opera. For the rest of us, I’ll see you at A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

(The 2007 finalists. What are the odds that three out of five of the women are wearing identical shades of red?)
- Audrey Chait, Brown University

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