Two Houston picks win Met national auditions

Two Houston picks win Met national auditions


norman lebrecht

March 20, 2017

Two of the singers selected* by Houston Grand Opera for their studio program were among six winners last night of the Met national auditions, considered the most prestigious career boost in US opera.

Here are the Met winners:

Samantha Hankey, 24, mezzo-soprano (Marshfield, MA)

Kirsten MacKinnon, 26, soprano (Vancouver, BC, Canada)

*Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, 23, countertenor (Brooklyn, NY)


*Richard Smagur, 26, tenor (Clarkesville, GA)

Kyle van Schoonhoven, 28, tenor (Lockport, NY)

Vanessa Vasquez, 26, soprano (Scottsdale, AZ)




  • John Kelly says:

    A terrific afternoon. And the best possible response to those on SD who have whined in the past about the Met not doing enough/anything to develop talent. Talent aplenty yesterday. I was especially impressed with Kyle van Scoonhoven who sang the mad scene from Gimes and followed it up with a lovely bit from Rienzi, displaying a genuine heldentenor sound, albeit not enormous. Vanessa Vasquez sang Un Bel Di in the first half and was much better with her second excerpt from Traviata. I had only just heard Yoncheva sing this in the same house and Ms. Vasquez was certainly no slouch by comparison………………..very well done!
    A stunning contribution from countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen topped the charts for me. Very communicative singer with an Alfred Deller sound and great vocal projection, combined with some impressive acting to make his two contributions memorable. He was the singer of the afternoon for me…………………except for Michael Fabiano who gave us a bit of Luisa Miller while the judges were “judging.” My God he is fabulous.

  • Rosemarie Pilkington says:

    Totally agree with John Kelly’s assessment. Wonderful singing! Can’t wait to hear these young people again when it’s broadcast on pbs.

  • william osborne says:

    What will become of this talent in the country that ranks 36th in the world for opera performances per capita – behind almost every developed county?

    On the other hand, we can look at the positive side. We almost beat out Oman which is 33rd, Serbia at 31st, and Macedonia at 34. Maybe we can surpass them next year.

    And to be even more positive, we squeaked by Moldova at 38th, Azerbaijan at 40, and Chile at 43. Along with Trump’s elimination of the NEA, there can be no doubt that we are the greatest country in the world.

    Just ask the opera folks, who seldom if ever breathe a word about these numbers, like Houston where these two singer come from. Houston, the fourth largest city in the USA and immeasurably rich, is now up to 75th in the world among cities for opera performances per year. True Lone Star State greatness where everything is bigger and better….

    • John Kelly says:

      Probably not even 36th in educational attainment ………of course you are right. The politically conservative will argue that if its so bad in the US why does everyone want to immigrate………well it isn’t for the Arts I will say that, though isolated outposts of excellence definitely exist. New York is one……

      • william osborneq says:

        For decades countless American classical musicians have immigrated to Europe, Asia, and Latin America to find work since there is so little in the USA. Before the Internet came along, there was even a newspaper type monthly whose principle purpose was to advertise foreign positions.

        The group mostly likely to immigrate are opera singers.

        It is basically a truism that an American opera singer cannot build a career unless they leave the country. Most go to Germany where there are 83 full time opera houses compared to about 6 genuinely functional houses in the States. The singers who go to Germany obtain visas that do not allow them to work, so they often live in pitiful poverty while trying to get an agent to take them on.

        BTW, NYC isn’t the only place where there is excellence. The USA trains very good opera singers, so even the small time operations in the heartland that work with pickup casts and orchestras and use rental facilities can do excellent presentations, at least from a vocal point of view, even if the staging is overly simple and the orchestra far too small and inexperienced.

        Indiana University, Juilliard, Curtis, etc, put on productions that are equal to A-level German houses in every respect. These school pumps out singers by the dozens, and yet there are almost no jobs that can genuinely support them.

        So when was the last time you heard about an IU School of Music prof speak in a serious and sustained manner about the dismal situation of arts funding in the USA? There is a dismal spectacle of profs getting fat pay checks, and remaining silent, while music students are left with massive debt in a society that won’t support them. To speak plainly, these profs are a bunch of cowards.

        • ducadiposa says:

          Hello William – haven’t had your perspective on these issues for a while, so welcome back! I think it’s especially apropos as we celebrate these extremely accomplished artists…as well as all of the others who didn’t make the final cut but had to contend with intense competition even to get to the semi-finals. For too long I have witnessed artists like these who win big competitions, or make it through intense years of training in elite young artists programs achieve all of this…and then languish as far as steady employment goes. As you indicate, for many of them, moving to Germany/Austria/Switzerland is the way to go. Competition for the ‘fest’ contracts in these nations is no less intense mind you unless anyone should think they just walk into these jobs, but at least if they can get them, they are offered steady, decently-paid employment as singers and within a company setting, can learn their art by repeated exposure on the main stage in both leading and secondary roles. Where are these opportunities offered in North America on an ongoing basis [yes, YAPs offer this, but it’s very limited time-wise and is not the same kind of thing]? However, not ever singer wants to completely uproot their lives and move to a different country and contend with a different culture…for them, the path seems to be hopeful contracts once or twice a year at various companies…maybe some decently paid concert work…but it’s all a bit piecemeal. Having spent some time in Budapest and Prague as of late, I’ve had the privilege of seeing how that system works – no, you may not hear singing on the highest ‘international’ level every performance [whatever that means – I use the term very loosely] but you get to hear some great artists in interesting productions. Companies in these cities can offer younger artists the opportunity to grow their repertoire; familiarity with the public etc. in ways not possible in N.A. I’m sure the system is far from perfect, and their fees are probably less than what an artist might make at a regional house in the U.S.A. – but in compensation, they receive long-term, steady employment in their metier and that must mean an awful lot!