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Metropolitan Opera hosting auditions at Spivey Hall

Thirteen rising opera stars will perform in Morrow this weekend, for a chance to sing on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the Southeast region will take place at Clayton State University's Spivey Hall on Sunday, at 2 p.m.

According to Sam Dixon, executive and artistic director of Spivey Hall, the venue has hosted the auditions for several years. Talented vocalists from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina will perform before judges, as well as the general public. The public will be able to view the performances for $35, he said.

"There are very talented vocalists from four states who have been selected to participate in the Southeast regional audition," Dixon said. "There have been great stars to have been born out of this process, not only stars of the Met Opera, but of the international opera world. After the auditions, the judges go back into a room and decide who the winner is going to be. Sometimes, it takes 20 minutes, sometimes it takes two hours, but most people wait for them to announce the winner. It is very exciting."

Auditioning this year will be: mezzo-soprano Candra Savage, 26, soprano Lori Celeste Hicks, 26, and soprano Taylor Johnson, 23, of South Carolina; soprano Laurelle Gowing, 28, counter-tenor Clarke Harris, 28, and baritone Mark Diamond, 22, of Georgia; soprano Heather Phillips, 25, soprano Vanessa Julia Isiguen, 26, mezzo-soprano Cynthia Hanna, 27, and baritone Joshua Conyers, 21, of North Carolina; and tenor Samuel Levine, 25, bass Max Wier, 27, and soprano Leah Crocetto, 30, of Florida.

According to Margaret Talmadge, Southeast regional chairperson of The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, judges from The Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera will be present at Sunday's audition. Singers will sing their choice of an aria from a pre-selected list of pieces by composers such as Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and Wagner, and will sing another aria assigned on the spot by judges.

All the contestants are required to be between the ages of 20 and 30 years old, she said.

"There are 15 regions [in the country] and they audition over 1,000 singers every year," Talmadge said. "Just within our region, we have heard over 100 young contestants. This is a big thing for them. We try to get judges from different parts of the country. Just being there will open up a lot of other doors to smaller opera companies and other young artists programs they can participate in."

From the 13 Southeast auditioners, Talmadge said, a select few will travel to New York to compete in the semi-finals. From there, 10 finalists will be chosen to audition at The Metropolitan Opera with a live orchestra. Up to five winners will receive $15,000 and the acclaim needed to earn a spot on the opera's permanent roster.

On Sunday, the first-place award will be named in honor tenor, Ryan Smith, a former Morehouse College student and Atlanta native who won the 2007 Southeast regional audition and went on to win in the grand finale competition in New York. As a first-year member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Smith died prematurely in November of 2008 from lymphoma, according to Talmadge.

"They will more than likely see a future member of The Metropolitan Opera," on Sunday, Talmadge said.

"It's like a star can be born here," Dixon said. "The superior acoustics of Spivey Hall are uniquely suited to the voice. When the young singers get up there, they sound like a million bucks to themselves and to everyone else, and that encourages them to do their best."

For ticket information, call the Spivey Hall box office at (678) 466-4200.