When Yelena Dyachek stepped onto the Metropolitan Opera stage Sunday afternoon, the first thing she noticed was how huge the theater was. Concern set in. Could she fill the hall with her big soprano voice?
The 24-year-old, who hails from Elverta, proved worthy of the challenge. She belted out two arias that won her one of nine coveted finalist spots in the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions – the culmination of a long process that began last fall with a pool of 1,500 singers auditioning in 42 districts and 13 regions throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“Even though I knew my voice could fill the hall, I was not hearing my voice in the same way,” Dyachek said Monday by telephone from New York. “I was tempted to start pushing my voice.”
Luckily, the Oak Ridge High School graduate had been warned about the illusion of her voice seeming to die in the hall. She held back.
“I was trying hard not to listen to myself. I was trying to be in the moment,” Dyachek said. “Because as soon as you get distracted, that’s when things start going sideways, vocally.”
Five judges in the orchestra section and 100 opera professionals in the first tier listened to Dyachek sing “Como scoglio” from Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte” and an aria from Verdi’s opera “I vespri siciliani.”
As the audition process wore on, the importance of the moment started to sink in, Dyachek said. This wasn’t just the first time Dyachek had appeared on the Met stage. It was the first time she had ever been to New York.
“It did start to get more intimidating the further I got because of the feeling of being on that stage, and the gravity of the situation,” said Dyachek, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine at age 9.
The hardest part of the afternoon: waiting. Dyachek was the last performer of 23 to audition on Sunday. Winning a top spot was a “surreal” moment, she said.
It means Dyachek will sing at the Grand Finals Concert on March 13 at the Met. The five top singers will win $15,000 each, and the remainder will win $5,000 each. They’ll also win priceless exposure, with the council auditions considered a showcase for up-and-coming opera talent.
Past winners have included noted sopranos Jessye Norman and Renee Fleming and baritones Thomas Hampson and Ben Heppner.
Momentum is already building in Dyachek’s career. She recently earned her master’s degree in musical performance from the University of Southern California’s Flora L. Thornton School of Music. In two months, she’ll begin rehearsals as a member of the prestigious Merola Opera program’s production of “Cosi fan tutte” in San Francisco.
Singing at the Met had long been a dream when she was an undergraduate music student at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
“I told myself I would make it to the Met by the time I turned 23 years old,” Dyachek said.
She missed her goal by just one year.