Hitting the high notes
Houston Grand Opera singers take top honors in national competition
Two members of the Houston Grand Opera Studio took top honors at the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Rachel Willis-Sørensen, a 25-year-old soprano from Washington state, and Nathaniel Peake, a 28-year-old tenor from Humble, wowed the judges in the prestigious competition held on the stage of the famed Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Both first-year HGO Studio artists, they were among five winners selected from nine finalists. Nearly 1,500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 took part in the competition.
The New York Times praised both performances. "Though he sang a little cautiously, Mr. Peake has the tenor goods, and he brought a warm, ringing and expressive voice to arias from Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Meyerbeer’s “Africaine,” " Anthony Tommasini wrote.
Tommasini was also taken with Peake's hometown, noting that the tenor "came from from a town in Texas with a seemingly un-Texan name, Humble."
About Willis-Sørensen's performance, he wrote, "While very gifted, she may have a period of self-examination ahead of her. With her gleaming voice, capped with big top notes, she was impressive in “Elsa’s Dream” from Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and “Come scoglio” from Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte.” Straddling the Wagner-Mozart vocal divide is not easy, and Ms. Willis-Sorensen may have decisions to make."
Willis-Sørensen and Peake are in good company. Previous winners include Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Samuel Ramey and Deborah Voigt. Each winner receives a cash prize of $15,000 and, perhaps more importantly, attention from agents and opera companies. The competition concert will be broadcast on NPR at a later date.
The evening also featured a performance of arias by Frederica von Stade, She will give her operatic farewell performance in the Houston Grand Opera production of Dead Man Walking next year.