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Jan. 15, 2014/For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Lauren Whitaker, 336-734-2891, whitakerl@uncsa.edu



WINSTON-SALEM – Music students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts swept the North Carolina District Auditions of the Metropolitan Opera National Council, winning all three of the equal first place awards. The auditions were held Jan. 11 at Queens College in Charlotte, with 31 competitors.

Kate Farrar and Jonathan Johnson are graduate students and fellows of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at UNCSA, and Daren Jackson is a college senior. They will compete in the Southeast Regional Finals on Feb. 16 at Clayton State University in Atlanta, Ga., with winners from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The Metropolitan Opera Council annually sponsors nationwide auditions to discover exceptional young talent; to provide a venue for young opera singers to be heard by a representative of the Metropolitan Opera and to assist those with the greatest potential in their development; and to search for new talent for the Metropolitan Opera and its young artist development program.

From left, Jonathan Johnson, Kate Farrar and Daren Jackson are equal first-place winners of the North Carolina District Auditions of the Metropolitan Opera National Council

Farrar, Johnson and Jackson add their names to a long list of district winners from UNCSA, including some who have advanced to win the national competition. Music Dean Wade Weast said students enter UNCSA with exceptional talent. “We provide them with rigorous training by an extraordinary faculty,” he said. “It is no accident that our students compete successfully around the Southeast and nationally.”

The Fletcher Opera Institute, established at UNCSA in 2001 by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation of Raleigh, has a record of recent success at the district auditions, beginning in 2008 with René Barbera’s win. In 2009, Jodi Burns and Marvin Kehler won the district auditions. Joshua Conyers won in 2010, and Richard Ollarsaba won in both 2011 and 2013.

Winners from the regional competitions will advance to National Semi-Final Auditions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in March. Approximately 10 of the 13 semi-finalists will become national finalists and will compete in a public concert accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and broadcast nationwide on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Network. 

Last year, Ollarsaba competed in the national finals. Five singers from UNCSA have won the Met’s national competition, including Barbera in 2008, Jennifer Welch-Babidge in 1997, Derrick Lawrence in 1991, and Tichina Vaughn in 1989.

“Our opera program at UNCSA is among the nation’s finest,” Weast said. “Our alumni perform on the world’s most prestigious opera stages, and that enables us to recruit and retain world-class faculty and students.”

Mezzo-soprano Kate Farrar is from Hillsborough. A student of Marion Pratnicki, she is completing her Master of Music degree. Farrar won the Marjorie McDorman Award, singing the “Composer's Aria” from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos and “This Journey” from Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking.  She will return this summer to Chautauqua Opera as an apprentice artist. 

Tenor Jonathan Johnson won the Sarah Belk Gambrell Award.  From Macon, Ga., he is a student of Marilyn Taylor. He received his M.M. from UNCSA in 2013 and is completing a Professional Artist Certificate as a Fletcher Opera fellow. He sang “De' miei bollenti spiriti” from Verdi's La traviata and “O wie ängstlich” from Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio.  In April, he will join the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Bass Daren Jackson, from Wilmington, won the Florence C. Poyner Award.  A student of Glenn Siebert, he sang “Vous, qui faites l'endormie” from Gounod's Faust and “O Isis und Osiris” from Mozart's The Magic Flute.    

About the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute

Named for businessman and arts advocate Alfred Johnston Fletcher (1887-1979), the A.J.Fletcher Foundation has supported the growth of opera in America for more than 50 years, first through the creation of the Grassroots Opera Company in 1948 and subsequently through the productions and educational outreach of the National Opera Company. To strengthen and perpetuate Fletcher’s vision for opera, the Foundation established an Opera Institute at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2001, merging its National Opera Company with the UNCSA School of Music’s graduate opera program in collaboration with the School of Design and Production. A vehicle for advancing the career potential of exceptional young singers, the Fletcher Institute offers performance-based training at the graduate and post-graduate levels to several institute fellows each year. Its first graduates received Master of Music degrees and Professional Artist Certificates in 2002.



As America’s first state-supported arts school, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.