Simpson alumni move forward in competition

by Tyler Crandell

Five recent Simpson graduates have moved on from districts to regionals in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

This event can be compared to American Idol, but for the opera. There are 14 regions in which singers audition and within those regions, there are a total of 42 districts.

Kimberley Roberts, assistant professor of music, was the vocal coach for four of the five singers.

“The judges are opera professionals and they are the highest echelon of opera in America,” Roberts said. “To have Simpson recognized in different districts by different opera professionals is just huge and a great honor for us. It sends the message that opera at Simpson is still alive and going strong.”

Two of the five graduates are Abby Rethwisch, ’11, and Shannon Prickett, ’09. They won two of the three spots in the district audition held in Ames on Jan. 9. They will compete at the regional held in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

On that same day in Kansas City, Chris Carr, ’10, won a spot in his district to move on to his regional audition in Tulsa, Okla.

Thomas Gunther, ’06, is the fourth Simpson grad who made it through districts. He competed in Kentucky and is now onto the regional audition in Memphis, Tenn.

Sarah Larsen, ’07, is the fifth singer. Her voice coach was Assistant Professor of Music, Bruce Brown who is the stage director for the opera. Larsen has already finished her auditions in the Southwest region. She won the San Antonio Districts and received 2nd in the regionals.

“If we were talking football, these singers would have what it takes to make it to the NFL,” Brown said.

Roberts acknowledges Simpson’s noteworthy year at the Met.

“As you can see, it has been a successful year for Simpson at the Met,” Roberts said. “These auditions are something every serious singer attempts. Normally they attempt it while they are in graduate school or, nowadays, after graduate school.”

Brown sees these graduates making careers out of their talents.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if these singers made it in the career,” Brown said. “These singers really fit the mold of those rare birds that come along every few years. They have that special thing.”

The age limit for the auditions is 30. Two of the grads in the event are in their early twenties which makes this an even more impressive feat.

 “The success of the voice and opera programs at Simpson College rests on the daily work done by applied voice teachers in their studios,” said Bernard McDonald, assistant professor of music and director of opera.

 “It is work that largely goes unseen,” McDonald said. “But the results can be very clearly heard.”

The four singers left to audition at regionals will compete to win a trip to New York where they will compete in the national semi-finals. About 10 singers will then be chosen for the finals the next Sunday in a concert open to the public. This is called the Grand Finals Concert in which the singers will be accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Five winners will be chosen after the finals and each will receive a reward of $15,000. The other singers who were not one of the five chosen receive $5,000 and the singers who made it to the semi-finals will receive $1,500.

If any of the four make it to the finals, they will have made a huge impression in the opera world.

“Everyone who is anyone in opera will have heard them at that point,” Roberts said.

The auditions continue for the four remaining graduates, as they attempt to make it to New York for the finals.