When Lisette Oropesa sang Susanna in the Met's Le Nozze di Figaro for the first time two seasons ago, she replaced another singer on short notice, had just turned 24 a few weeks before, and had only minor roles in Idomeneo and Suor Angelica on her Met resume. And yet, she was ready. As a 2005 winner of the Met's National Council Auditions and a participant in the company's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (she's since graduated), Oropesa had received extraordinary musical and theatrical training at the Met. This month she returns to the role of Susanna already a young star, with a Live in HD movie-theater transmission and a run in Wagner's Ring under her belt.
"You get unbelievable training," Oropesa says of working at the Met as a young artist. "The thing about the Lindemann program is that every member of the Met staff is so good at what they do. It's specifically targeted to helping you become the best performer you can be, and the things you learn, you keep with you forever."
Indeed, it's a great time to be a young singer at the Met. The company just released a DVD of The Audition, director Susan Froemke's acclaimed documentary about the National Council Auditions and its star-making machinery (Ren_e Fleming, Susan Graham, Ben Heppner, and Deborah Voigt are just a few winners who have gone on to operatic superstardom). This season also marks the 30th anniversary of the Met's young artists program, founded by Music Director James Levine and generously supported since 1997 by Frayda and George Lindemann. The program recently joined forces with the vocal arts department at Juilliard.
"It is essential for us to be constantly on the lookout for talented young artists," Levine says. "And when we find them, we have to nurture them. One of the things I'm most proud of is the Met's commitment to developing future generations of extraordinary singers." Training these young artists involves music coaching, language classes, acting lessons, even strength-training and meditation.
Filmmaker Froemke got an up-close look at this process when she filmed the National Council Auditions finalists as they prepared for the Grand Finals Concert in 2007. Her film, The Audition, was seen in movie theaters last April and is now available on DVD in the Met Opera Shop. "I was continually amazed at how hard it is to become a professional opera singer," she says. "It requires years of study. It's a huge investment. I've heard that it's more expensive than medical school, and with less of a chance of success."
That's why the Lindemann program provides such an extraordinary opportunity. Each year about a dozen singers participate. Oropesa was offered a slot in the program after she won the Auditions. "I called my college vocal teacher and I said, I got an invitation to the Lindemann program," she recalls. "He said, 'Take it!' And I said, "What about grad school?' He said, 'This is grad school! It's the best grad school in the world!'"
Oropesa is grateful for the support of legions of Met artists, from stage directors to language coaches to music teachers, and others. But she singles out Levine as the most inspiring mentor throughout her artistic maturation. "His whole thing is getting singers to break out of their shells," Oropesa says of the maestro. "He can listen to you one time, one aria, and know if you're sick, or if you need to talk to your voice teacher about something, or if your voice has changed in some way. He remembers everything you've ever done for him. He's like a psychologist and a father and a voice teacher all at the same time."
The Audition DVD is now available in the Met Opera Shop. Le Nozze di Figaro returned to the repertory on November 23. The Met will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program with an "On Stage at the Met" dinner on March 21, 2010.