From 1979 until 1998, ten equal winners were chosen from the 25 regional winners to perform on a Winners’ Concert on the Metropolitan Opera stage with the Met Orchestra. In 1998 the format was slightly altered to include another round of competition. What was formerly the Winners’ Concert was changed to the Grand Finals Concert. Instead of the ten singers chosen as winners, they are now called finalists and up to five equal winners are chosen and announced on the stage after an intermission and the judges’ deliberations.
Today, approximately 5 winners each receive $15,000 in prize money, and those finalists who do not become winners receive $7,500 each. The remaining Semi-Finalists receive $1,500. The experience for all 25 of the singers is worth a great deal more than the cash prizes. Each of the regional winners who come to New York are eligible to return during the next three years and audition for the Met’s artistic staff for additional grant money of up to $5,000. In this way, the National Council has the opportunity to track the singers’ progress and continue to be of assistance in their career development.
Over 100 singers on the Metropolitan’s roster during any given season have auditioned for the National Council. While there are many routes to the stage of the Met, for North American singers the National Council Auditions create an introduction to the company that may have otherwise eluded them.
Former National Council Audition participants represent a choice sample of important artists appearing on the Met stage. For example Frederica von Stade and Paul Plishka were Auditions participants in the 1960s; Samuel Ramey, Wendy White, and Delores Ziegler in the 1970s; Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner, Hei-Kyung Hong, Denyce Graves, Thomas Hampson, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham and Veronica Villaroel in the 1980s; and Paul Groves, Emily Pulley, Stephanie Blythe, Sondra Radvanovsky, Gergory Turay, and Jennifer Welch-Babidge were all winners during the 1990′s. A who’s who of National Council participants from the 2000′s includes Lawrence Brownlee, Simon O’Neill, Karen Slack, Charles Taylor, Joseph Kaiser and Susanna Phillips.