Melissa Wegner ’03 is the associate director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Hometown: Originally from Orchard Park, N.Y., now living in New York City
Occupation: Associate Director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions
What was your favorite class you ever took here at Crane? There are so many classes that had a huge impact on me. I loved my American music class with Dr. Gary Busch, as he is so comprehensive and passionate. Believe it or not, the study of American music in the classical tradition is not widely taught in other places. It changed my trajectory, as I went on in grad school to start an ensemble dedicated to American art song and opera. Without that class giving me the knowledge base, I don't think that would've happened.
Which Crane School of Music professors had the biggest impact on you? Dr. Carleen Graham has been a mentor to me from my time at Crane and into the present. Her classes were my foundation as a performer, her no-nonsense way of delivering feedback and having tough conversations is something I carry into my work now when I work with young singers. On a personal level, she has never stopped trying to learn and find creative solutions to improve herself and everything around her. I continue to learn from her and be inspired by her.
How did you first take an interest in opera? This was a layered process for me. I was drawn to opera as a student because it is very demanding to study and I love a challenge. I learned a lot about myself in the process, as it uses all of your resources as a human: physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual. Opera combines that with history, language, theory, art, dance and more, to create a beautiful, immersive art form like no other. However, I didn't fully fall in love with opera until I was working at New York City Opera. Being in rehearsals, getting to hear and see the rehearsal process and all of the forces that have to come together to make opera happen was what tipped me over the edge into a lifelong fan.
How did you end up becoming the associate director of the National Council Auditions? At Potsdam, I double majored in vocal performance and music business. I went to two grad programs for voice, but also continued my work on the business side of the industry as well. When I was out of school and freelancing, I loved being my own boss, but this position at the Met opened up and was a great blend of my business skills and vocal training. I knew jobs like this were few and far between, so I jumped at the opportunity. Now, I travel to many of our 42 Districts and 12 Regions around the U.S. and Canada, adjudicating the singers and meeting with our fantastic volunteers who run the auditions locally. I produce the Semi-Finals and Grand Finals at the Met. Some very notable Potsdam alums who have won our competition include Renée Fleming ’81, Stephanie Blythe ’93 and Margaret Lattimore ’91.
What are you looking for in up-and-coming singers? First of all, they need to have the technical ability to sing as well as they can for their age and experience level. Some singers are born with an exceptional gift; others have a solid instrument that they carefully build to become great. Either way, they need to have good language, style, musicianship, artistry, charisma on stage and passion for what they're doing. Believe it or not, we can usually tell in first 30 seconds of an audition if this is someone we want to hear more of or not.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house at the Met? The acoustics in the house are amazing, so there really isn't a bad seat in the house. I love the sound in the Family Circle and the perspective from the first row of the Grand Tier. Nothing makes you feel quite as special as a seat in a center Parterre Box.
Top five opera arias of all time? That's too tough. I love anything that's sung really well, is expressive, and honors the style and tradition it represents.
What was more nerve-wracking: Performing a world premiere at Carnegie Hall or competing on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”? I'll say “Millionaire.” I've had lots of training to sing in front of people, but being myself in a stressful TV setting was a brand-new experience!
What do you think it will take to inspire the next generation to love opera as much as you do? I think every singer coming out of school needs to have a personal mission statement for why they do this. We have to be the advocates for the art form, beyond the personal reasons of why someone might want to be a performer. We need opera evangelists at every level of the business to motivate people to give of their time, talents and dollars to support opera.
What charitable causes are close to your heart? I support FANA, the orphanage I was adopted from in Bogota, Colombia. I support the schools I graduated from, as I know I wouldn't be where I am without the education and experiences they gave me. Mentoring is very important to me, so I am invested in hiring and supporting interns, several of whom have been from Potsdam. And of course, I support the Met, our National Council Auditions and other cultural organizations.
What’s your favorite way to spend a lazy Sunday in New York City? I travel a lot for my job, so my lazy Sundays are a luxury when I get to have them. Coffee, reading the entire New York Times, taking a walk through Central Park or Harlem with my wife, meeting up with friends for dinner and some Netflix binge-watching to end the day sounds like heaven!
What is your top advice for Crane School of Music graduates? No matter where life takes you, please remember that you are a valued member of the creative community. You may not end up on stage or in front of the classroom as you expected, but please continue to stay involved as an audience member, volunteer, passionate fan or donor. All of us have a role to play to keep our arts communities thriving and able to inspire future generations.