Before the first round in Salt Lake City of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Rebecca Pedersen had no expectations.
It was the first singing competition she had ever entered, after all.
"It was just supposed to be a learning experience," the 21-year-old Brigham Young University student said. "It was, ‘Let’s get our toes wet a little bit.’"
Pedersen ended up making the biggest splash of her life Sunday after four rounds of the competition.
In New York City, she was named one of only six winners — out of 1.800 contestants — of the National Council Auditions for Metropolitan Opera, the most prestigious and acclaimed opera company in the United States, if not the world.
In addition, she became one of the youngest winners in the 60-year history of the competition.
The Sunday stage performance, in front of a full house at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House and backed by a full orchestra, was the culmination of the soprano’s journey that began on Jan. 5 at Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus. With 28 singers competing that day in The Metropolitan Opera National Council Utah District Auditions, Pedersen came out on top, and then competed in the Rocky Mountain Region Finals in Denver on Jan. 27. After again winning, in March she sang in a closed competition, accompanied by piano on the Met stage, for a place as a National Council Auditions Finalist. She, too, advanced.
The ten finalists performed at the Grand Finals Concert on Sunday,and six were chosen as winners. Pedersen’s winning performance of "Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux" from Jules Massenet’s 1885 opera "La Cid" earned her $15,000 and joined the National Council Auditions’ impressive roster of alumni, which includes Jessye Norman and Renée Fleming.
On average, nearly 100 National Council Audition alumni sing in Met performances every opera season.
Gayletha Nichols, executive director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, said she first became aware of Pedersen’s remarkable talent when both were at the Denver auditions. "She is, as we say in the opera business, the real deal," she said.
Nichols added that what is especially special about Pedersen is how talented she is while still young. "It’s insane that someone so early in their undergraduate [program won]," Nichols said.
Pedersen, who grew up all over the country but whose parents now live in Bountiful, said during the process and after being chosen as a winner she received offers from opera companies from all over the country to perform with them. While she is "considering" them, her immediate intention is to finish her degree in vocal performance at BYU, where she is now a sophomore. She is studying under Darrell Babidge and Jennifer Welch-Babidge, the latter whom was a National Council winner in 1997.
Pedersen needn’t worry about slowing down her career trajectory by going back to Provo to finish her education, Nichols said. More important than the prize money, she said, is the exposure that Pedersen received by being one of the winners of the competition, which was followed by every major opera company in the country, "Everyone knows her name," Nichols added.
Pedersen’s supporters included co-directors of the Utah District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Gunter Radinger and Julie McBeth, who first saw Pedersen sing on Jan. 5 in front of judges American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, Senior Director of Artistic Planning for L.A. Opera Joshua Winograde, and Director of Opera at UCLA and Artistic Director of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program Peter Kazaras.
"We have a strong following of opera lovers, and it’s particularly exciting for them," said McBeth, who is married to Utah Opera Artistic Director Christopher McBeth. Having a Utah winner "makes it all the more fun."
"We’re ecstatic," Radinger said. "We have some fine singers here."
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