Houston is one of 41 districts in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico that hosts the first round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition.
Winners advance to regional rounds, then semi-finals and finals in New York.
"There are typically a thousand singers around North America that compete every year, so from one thousand, five or six will be the top winners," said Rhonda Sweeney, the Houston District Director.
"There's no lack of local talent here in the opera world,” she said, pointing out that Houston has produced two national semi-finalists and two finalists in recent years. It’s also an important opera training ground, with major music schools, opera companies like Houston Grand Opera and Opera in the Heights, and an active choral scene.
Winners receive cash prizes, performance feedback, and potential career advancement.
"The added value is that often times the judges have hiring capability, if they run either young artists programs or smaller regional opera companies,” Sweeney said. “And these judges have an opportunity to hire these singers or at least make a mental note that, ‘Yes, I've heard this singer, and he or she would be perfect for a particular opera down the road.'"
The Houston District expects anywhere from 27 to 40 singers to audition this year. Applicants are between the ages of 20 and 30 and do not have to live in Houston. They prepare five arias from which they will be expected to sing two.
"It's a wonderful competition. It has all the features of America's Got Talent or The Voice. The excitement and enthusiasm of these young singers – it's just really unparalleled," she said.
The public can attend the auditions free of charge, and a full house can help the singers perform better, according to Sweeney.
"The acoustics are different when you have ... a full house. The expressions on the faces of the people in the audience, they really are pulling for you ... they're listening for that wonderful vocal quality, they're listening for the conveyance of the emotion [and the story] that the aria is trying to tell, and they want to be won over,” she said. “I think all of that helps a singer perform better."
The Houston District auditions take place Saturday, January 5, 2019 at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, Alice Pratt Brown Hall.
Listen to the complete interview with Rhonda Sweeney below: