René Barbera (tenor, 23)
"Ah! mes amis" (Fille du Regiment)
"Una furtiva lagrima" (Elisir)
Carolina Castells (soprano, 25)
"Oh quante volte" (Capuleti)
"Klänge der Heimat" (Fledermaus)
Christopher Magiera (baritone, 24)
"Hai già vinta la causa?" (Figaro)
"E allor perchè" (Pagliacci)
Jennifer Johnson (mezzo, 23)
"Must the winter come so soon?" (Vanessa)
"Parto, parto" (Clemenza)
Edward Parks (baritone, 24)
"L'orage s'est calmé" (Pearl Fishers)
Pierrot's Tanzlied (Tote Stadt)
Simone Osborne (soprano, 21)
Mařenka's aria (Bartered Bride)
"No word from Tom" (Rake's Progress)
Dominic Armstrong (tenor, 28)
"Ah, la paterna mano" (Macbeth)
"Kuda, kuda" (Onegin)
Stephen A. Ray (baritone, 23)
"Come Paride vezzoso" (Elisir)
"A woman is a sometime thing" (Porgy & Bess)
Daveda Karanas (mezzo, 28?*)
"O prêtres de Baal" (Prophete)
"When I am laid in earth" (Dido & Aeneas)
[* The program listed her as 23, but that seems implausible as she graduated from college and was a Met Council Regional Finalist five years ago, in 2003. I have read that she is 28, though this too may be incorrect.]
Barbera, Johnson, Parks, Osborne, and Karanas were named as winners. The only obvious stand-out, to my ears, was Parks. Everyone else, winners and non-winners alike, had their ups and downs, and one could have made a case for selecting -- or not selecting -- almost any of them.
René Barbera, for example, cleanly and uncomplicatedly produced a nice, pingy tenor sound (though I found the actual timbre undistinguished, it's the sort of thing that can do much in this house). But the Cs in the Fille were, though pleasant, hardly effortless, and he seemed to have not much at all to say in the Elisir.
Carolina Castells started most promisingly with a rapt and musical account of Giulietta's cavatina: well-breathed and well-shaped in Bellini's style, it was the first memorable account of this well-trod piece I can recall in this sort of event. But the Czardas showed her off very poorly, her voice lacking the force and beauty-at-declamatory-volume to make a good impact over Strauss' orchestra. I'm not sure whether dancing around on stage in this second piece helped or hurt.
Like pretty much every other young baritone I can remember, Christopher Magiera failed to make much of the Count's aria, sounding here both vocally and emotionally too small. But the Pagliacci selection was much better, and showed a bit of Italian style.
Jennifer Johnson's warm mezzo was, similarly, not much of a presence in the Barber piece, though the basic sound did appeal. Sesto's aria, however, was fantastic, perhaps the biggest success of the afternoon: precisely felt, shaped, and sung to Met clarinetist Jessica Phillips' accompaniment.
Edward Parks had the best sound of the afternoon -- one not unlike the young Thomas Hampson's. He also showed fine stage and dramatic presence, not by huge gesture but in a natural comfort and rapport with the crowd. An obvious winner, and one to watch.
The only winner who surprised me by the judges' selection was Simone Osborne. Nothing against her exactly -- she has the pieces of a remarkable voice -- but they remain pieces, impressive and unimpressive sounds abutting each other. Similarly, while many of the phrases in her two selections were turned well, she seemed content to sing one after the other, with no musical or dramatic line connecting the whole. At 21, she has the time and raw materials to excel, but isn't there yet.
Although the older tenor and (perhaps) oldest singer in the competition, Dominic Armstrong sounded more the work in progress. He looks like a big, powerful guy and has a virile, baby-dramatic instrument but from the odd vibrato he seems to be pressuring it, particularly in his technically variable top. That said, he showed real lyricism in the Tchaikovsky.
Stephen A. Ray's sound seemed short on overtones and sort of died in the house, though one could hear a nice growl on the bottom. He seems comfortable on stage, if a little hammy.
Daveda Karanas offered the only real unusual selection of the afternoon -- the long and involved Meyerbeer showpiece. She did well technically, showing an appealing medium-weight voice of impressive range, general flexibility, and reserve power. Her fast fioritura wasn't the most precise and her trills were basically faked, but that's nitpicking. Dramatically she's more likely to hold attention by her sonic command, a la Olga Borodina.
On the whole, it was a promising but relatively unexciting year -- no one was bad, but none (perhaps save Park) would have stood out in, say, last year's lineup of finalists.
Incidentally, it seems one of last year's non-winners, tenor Matthew Plenk, is now in the Met's Lindemann Program. Just making it this far seems to do much.
UPDATE (7PM): Maury has some thoughts. Also, I forgot to note conductor Stephen Lord's consistently sensitive and warmly-phrased accompaniments. Is this his first appearance at the Met?
UPDATE (2/26): The Met's press release confirms that Karanas is 28.