By Chris Chipello
Schulich School of Music student Philippe Sly was one of five promising young opera singers selected as winners of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2011 National Council Auditions in New York on March 13.
Sly, a bass-baritone familiar to Opera-McGill-goers for his roles in Puccini’s La Bohème and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, was one of nearly 1500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 who participated in this year’s Met Auditions through a series of district and regional competitions. The Auditions are considered the most prestigious in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.
For the Grand Finals Concert at the Met, Sly performed an aria from Handel’s Rinaldo as well as Wolfram’s Song to the Evening Star from Wagner’s Tannhauser. The finalists were coached throughout the previous week by Metropolitan Opera staff members – “an amazing experience,” Sly said in an interview after returning to Montreal. They worked closely with Met Orchestra conductor Patrick Summers, who helped choose the pieces for the concert.
Performing on the Met stage in a packed hall was “not as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be,” Sly said. “When you’re in the thick of it and you’re doing it, it just felt right.” It was only afterward, when we woke up the next day with no voice, that he realized that “I’d probably had so much nervous energy…I must have been living on adrenaline or something. Anyway, I’m glad I came through” in the concert.
Among the select audience of people at his semifinals performance at the Met a week before the Grand Finals were Schulich professors Sanford Sylvan – Sly’s current voice teacher – and Michael McMahon. “It meant a lot to me that both of them were there,” Sly said. “These were the two most influential people during my time here.” Opera Studies director Patrick Hansen “has also been very helpful and inspirational.”
The 22-year-old Sly is the sixth McGillian to make it to the winners’ circle of the Met competition; the others include current Schulich voice teachers Joanne Kolomyjec (1983) and Aline Kutan (1995).
Sly joined a boys choir in Ottawa when he was seven years old, and at the age of eight began studying with a private voice teacher, Sylvie Chapdelaine, who had recently graduated from McGill.
His family comes from La Tuque, Que., where Sly returns regularly. “We have a house, and we just bought another house and my mom wants to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast,” Sly said. “She actually bought a rectory and she intends to buy the church next to it. I want to eventually have a chamber-music festival up there. So I’ve got my venue, I’ve got everything going – I just have to be famous,” he added with a laugh.
His success in the Met Auditions could mark a big step in that direction. Each of the winners this year receives a cash prize of $15,000 and, more importantly, the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of past winners such as Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner and Deborah Voigt. During a typical opera season, more than 100 alumni of the Auditions are on the Met roster.