Opera singer Vanessa Vasquez, who earned a bachelor of music in vocal performance from the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music in 2012, was named a national winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on March 19. As part of the competition, Vasquez had the opportunity to perform two arias on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House while accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. That night, she was named one of six winners and awarded $15,000.
Considered one of the most elite vocal competitions in the opera world, the National Council Auditions take place in 42 districts and 12 regions throughout the United States and Canada.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance and prestige of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for a young singer,” said Renée Fleming, the world-renowned soprano who hosted this year’s finals concert. “A win in this competition offers a major boost to a singer beginning a career, and puts the entire opera world on notice.”
For Vasquez, the time surrounding the auditions and the finals concert was “the most amazing and unforgettable week and a half of my life thus far.”
“It is surreal to be actually experiencing the reality of a dream you had pictured and wanted for so long,” she said. “It’s magical!”
Though she has since pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, Vasquez says it was during her time at Catholic University that she “fell in love with opera.” The exact moment was during her freshman year, as Vasquez watched from the stage wings while a classmate performed the final act of La Boheme.
“As the tears fell down my face I realized that this is the music I wanted to sing for the rest of my life,” she said.
Arianna Zukerman was Vasquez’s vocal instructor at Catholic University from 2008 to 2012. She believes Vasquez’s win is a result of her willingness to work hard in her musical pursuits.
“Vanessa understood that hard work is the name of the game and that talent without work is nothing,” she said. “I think she started to understand the breadth and depth of what that meant during her time here, and that she continued on that trajectory. Somewhere in her time at Catholic, a fire got lit, she was aiming for the brass ring, and she got it. It’s so thrilling.”
Music school professor emerita Elaine Walter taught Vasquez in an opera scenes class and said she could only describe the young talent with one word: “magnificent.”
“Her maturity as a signer was quite obvious,” Walter said. “I could tell she was destined for greatness.”
Similarly, music school Dean Grayson Wagstaff remembers Vasquez as an “example of Catholic University’s ideal to be a great person and a great musician.” He noted that she is one of several Catholic University alumni who have won the National Council Auditions. Just two years ago, one of the winners was Patrick Guetti, who earned his B.M. in 2009 and his M.M. in 2011.
“The faculty of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music have worked with many gifted students in its 50-plus years as a school of music,” he said. “However, Vanessa Vasquez demonstrated early on as an undergraduate student that she was blessed with enormous musical talent and a gift for acting … I know that all of the students, faculty, and alumni congratulate Vanessa on this extraordinary achievement as a 2017 national winner in the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions.”
Sharon Christman, the opera advisor and head of the Voice Division, said that the success of Vasquez and students like her is a testament to the music school’s emphasis on technical training for vocalists, as well as its open studio policy, which allows students to learn from several different teachers throughout their studies.
“Vanessa is a compilation of many different styles and techniques that she learned from many people,” said Christman. “We want all of our students to have that kind of direction and then we let them go, we let them fly. If you love performing and you want to be on stage, we’ll help you get there.”
In addition to this win, Vasquez earned top prizes in 2016 from the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition, the Giulio Gari Foundation International Vocal Competition, and the Loren L. Zachary Society National Vocal Competition. Still, she says she will treasure the memory of performing at the Metropolitan Opera House for the rest of her life. She was especially pleased to have her parents and brother there to watch.
“It isn’t easy to become a singer worthy of a stage like the Metropolitan Opera, it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice,” she said. “But then I think about the sacrifices my grandparents and parents made to immigrate to this country from Colombia and Cuba. They left everything behind and came here with nothing in the hopes that I would have the opportunities to achieve anything I dreamed for. This win is for them.”