From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Buffalo

by Megan Meister

I was in Buffalo, New York over the weekend to judge the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Great Lakes Region finals, and although everyone thought I was crazy to accept an invitation to go to upstate New York in January, it was actually warmer there on Sunday afternoon than when I got back to Dallas last night.

I was joined on the jury by Deborah Birnbaum, a well known and highly regarded voice coach in New York and Gayletha Nichols, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, who organizes these extraordinary events around the country every year. We only had nine singers, representing the best singers sent on from three districts (Four City, Michigan and Pittsburgh districts) as opposed to the nearly fifty singers who a separate jury had heard the day before in the Four City District auditions the day before.)

These were nine extraordinarily talented young singers, and selecting one to go to New York in March to sing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House for semi-finals wasn’t easy.

I couldn’t be more delighted, however, that the winner (representing Pittsburgh, where he has been in the Pittsburgh Opera Young Artists program for the last two seasons) was none other than tenor Juan José de Leon.

Juan received his undergraduate degree at the University of North Texas and his masters from Southern Methodist University, and was a winner of the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition in 2010, and made his Dallas Opera debut in 2011 in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. I didn’t even have to exert any undue influence over my colleagues on the jury! In fact, I remained quiet until after they had spoken about how well Juan had sung to remind them of his Texas roots. Juan has continued to develop and grow as an artist, and we all can be very proud of the vocal progress he has made. I think he has an excellent chance to go on to be one of the winners in New York, and I know that all of his friends in Dallas wish him the best in the next round of this prestigious competition.

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