The singers sang two arias at a time on the Act I set of Traviata, in this order:
Keira Duffy, soprano (27)
"Tornami a vegheggiar" (Alcina)
"Caro nome" (Rigoletto)
Matthew Plenk, tenor (24)
"Quanto e bella" (Elisir)
"Here I stand" (Rake's Progress)
Amber L. Wagner, soprano (26)
"Do not utter a word, Anatol" (Vanessa)
"Dich, teure Halle" (Tannhäuser)
Nicholas Pallesen, baritone (28)
"Avant de quitter ces lieux" (Faust)
Largo al factotum (Barber)
Jamie Barton, mezzo (25)
"Priva son d'ogni conforto" (Giulio Cesare)
"Hurr hopp hopp hopp" (Hänsel und Gretel)
Michael Fabiano, tenor (22)
"Torna ai felici di" (Le Villi)
"Kuda, kuda" (Onegin)
Disella Larusdottir, soprano (30)
"Oh! quando volte" (Capuleti)
"Chacun le sait" (Fille du Regiment)
Ryan Smith, tenor (30)
"E la solita storia" (L'Arlesiana)
"Che gelida manina" (Boheme)
Ryan McKinny, baritone (26)
"O du mein holder Abendstern" (Tannhäuser)
"E sogno? o realta?" (Falstaff)
Angela Meade, soprano (29)
"Ach, ich liebte" (Abduction)
"Casta Diva" and cabaletta (Norma)
Alek Shrader, tenor (25)
"Il mio tesoro" (Don Giovanni)
"Ah! mes amis" (Fille du Regiment)
Wagner, Barton, Fabiano, Smith, Meade and Shrader were picked as winners.
Keira Duffy apparently sang from Lulu at the semifinals, but today picked a more traditional pair of arias. The Alcina piece was well-articulated but showed the weakness of her voice below the top. Gilda suited her better, her high notes quite strong and well-integrated though somewhat shout-y at times.
Plenk, the only tenor finalist not to win today, had an instrument at least as appealing as knocked-em-dead Fabiano, with whom he shares a certain sonic coloring. He didn't, however, do anything memorable with it.
In fact the finalists more or less across-the-board offered professional-quality vocal sound. But only the well-named Amber Wagner could become a star on voice alone. Hers is a dark, electric, tangibly broad sound that gave me goosebumps from the first bar. That she also seems to be an enthusiastic and energetic interpreter (particularly of the Vanessa bit, which she's actually sung in full) is just icing. The only quibble I have is that the top doesn't seem as consistently solid as the rest of her voice; it was under control today, but I hope it's an actual strength in the future.
Nicholas Pallesen sang his selections well, and gave quite a lively physical show as Figaro besides. There were some slight technical issues, and he seemed to lag behind the beat from time to time (probably the fault of short rehearsal time), but I wouldn't have been too surprised if he'd been picked as a winner.
Jamie Barton's win, on the other hand, was a surprise. She moved around the stage comfortably, but the voice sounded recessed and made very little impression.
Fabiano, at the ripe old age of 22, is a thoroughly communicative singer in the Italian style. Phrasing, emotional commitment and connection, solid technique -- he has "star" written all over him despite a somewhat ordinary quality to his high notes. (Then again: Domingo, Villazon...)
Larusdottir, who has a starring role in Anne Midgette's Times article, provided an interesting contrast to Keira Duffy. Where Duffy was weak below the top, the Icelander had a lovely bell-like peal in the middle of her voice but petered out unimpressively on high. She was charming enough and is a late starter, but the voice (particularly without an evidenced trill) doesn't seem well set up to sing high coloratura roles. Still, much of the sound was impressive.
Ryan Smith is a work in progress. The L'Arlesiana aria showed off his powerful instrument well, but he nearly came apart in the Puccini, eventually picking his way through without much grace or legato. The Met staff loves this sort of big-voiced project, though, so we may see him in the Lindemann program sooner rather than later.
The other Ryan -- McKinny -- is a Cardiff Singer of the World finalist, but didn't distinguish himself from the pack here. In fact I thought his sound, though pleasant, a bit unnatural.
Angela Meade did better with "Casta Diva" than its cabaletta or the Abduction aria, both of which highlighted the lack of integration of her sometimes-squeally highest notes. Still she has a nice basic sound, good breath, and a trill. As with Larusdottir, I'm not sure what she's going to sing: her voice (for now, at least) lacks the impact of a real dramatic coloratura, and lyric sopranos of her body type are at a big disadvantage these days.
Finally, Alek Shrader did well in the lyric aspects of Ottavio's aria. "Ah! mes amis" was OK -- all those Cs were narrow, though dead on solid, and the style less impressive than in the Mozart. A deserving winner who may amount to much, but I'm afraid I don't share Maury's big enthusiasm.
All in all, a very impressive year. I only wish I'd heard some semifinalists as well.
I hate to be the jerk who comes out and says it, but Jamie Barton's out-of-left-field win today (after Katherine Jolly's win last year) should push the Met to ensure that no finals judge is affiliated with a company with which any finalist has strong connection. Is there some other explanation for the result than home cooking by judge Diane Zola (of HGO) for HGO-YAPper-to-be Barton? I absolutely hope so. Maybe she showed a lot more in the semis and rehearsal, or the judges were sitting really close (which, incidentally, is another bad idea), or something else. But frankly, we shouldn't even have to wonder about this. The fact that people even discuss the possibility (and they are, without my help) is bad news for the Met, especially as they're trying to leverage the competition into positive PR. Get some foreigners if necessary!
To end on a slightly happier note, where the heck is Twyla Robinson? I can't forget how she brought down the house with "To This We've Come" five years back. Now she has fancy management and a huge concert career but no opera here, and only a little across the plaza. This has to change: perhaps her SFO summer engagements will get the ball rolling.
UPDATE (4/2): Another judge, Brian Dickie of Chicago Opera Theater, blogged his experience of the event.
UPDATE 2 (3/8/09): Please see the followup post on Ryan Smith.
UPDATE 3 (4/28/09): A post on the documentary of this event is here.