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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Following Munsel’s footsteps

Fox plays host to Met Opera tryouts

By Jim Kershner  I  Staff writer

You might call it “American Idol – Aria Edition.”

On Sunday afternoon, Spokane will host one of 45 Metropolitan Opera District auditions, in which 16 aspiring opera singers attempt to trill their way to stardom.

Stardom? It could happen. For proof, look no further than Patrice Munsel, who is flying in from New York to be the guest host.

Munsel was a 17-year-old Lewis and Clark High School student in 1943 when she won the finals of the Metropolitan Opera auditions. She went on to become an international opera star, a Time and Life magazine cover girl and a staple on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.”

She remains, to this day, one of Spokane’s premier artistic exports.

These days, stardom is not exactly guaranteed. Yet even being a participant in the auditions can be a big boost to a budding opera career. The Met’s roster usually includes at least 100 singers who got their start in the auditions.

The district auditions, which are returning to Spokane after a five-year hiatus, are more than just a high-pressure event for the 16 singers. It’s also a fascinating spectator sport for those in the audience. June Johnson, one of the co-directors of the local event, hopes for a big, enthusiastic crowd at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

They’ll get to hear an entire afternoon of operatic music – and they may even get to hear a singer who may one day become as famous as Munsel.

Munsel will not sing at the event, but she will deliver a talk. Johnson said Munsel will be there to “lend her prestige.”

Here’s what the audience can expect on Sunday at the Fox:

An introduction via video screen by baritone Thomas Hampson: Spokane’s Hampson is another veteran of the local Met auditions who went on to international opera stardom.

A talk by Patrice Munsel: She’ll talk about the impact of the auditions on her life and she will also serve as host of the proceedings. After being a Met star for 15 years and a household name for decades, she now lives in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and is mostly retired from performing.

Performances by each of the 16 contestants: Most of the contestants come from the district of Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana (although contestants are free to enter in any of the districts). Each performer will sing at least one aria. If the judges need to hear more, they may request another aria or parts of an aria.

An opportunity to observe the judging process: The panel will consist of Jane Eaglen, a soprano who has appeared at the Met and who has been artist-in-residence at the University of Washington; Pamela South, a soprano who now teaches at Portland State University; and Peter Russell, former director of Opera Colorado in Denver.

The announcement of the winner: Or winners, plural – there could be as many as three. In addition, the judges have the discretion to give out “encouragement awards” for singers who show a great deal of promise.

Winners will advance to the regional auditions in Seattle in January and, then on to the finals in New York in the spring.

Johnson said that, if all goes according to plan, Spokane will host the district auditions every other year, alternating with Missoula.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at
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