Metropolitan Opera 2022-23 Review: Eric and Dominque Laffont Grand Finals Concert

By Chris Ruel

The 2023 Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Grand Finals Concert (Previously National Council Auditions) saw mezzo-sopranos dominate. Typically, it’s all about sopranos and tenors, but to see and hear two extraordinary musicians in the lower female register blow the audience away was thrilling. It showed that low notes can be just as exciting as ones that soar to the sky.

The entire afternoon, the young vocalists tended towards music with low tessitura. There were a few As coming out of the tenor voices, but no one went for the high Cs. Likewise, the sopranos. If you came looking for their typical pyrotechnics, you were out of luck. Instead, the finalists stuck to their middle and low ranges, which can prove difficult, projection-wise, in the cavernous Met auditorium. But the winners had little to no difficulty filling the space or cutting through the Met Opera Orchestra, helmed by Michele Gamba on the podium.

Attending the Finals is great fun, with family and colleagues rooting for their singer and expressing their views with shouts, hoots, and clapping. On the way out, one father of a singer said, “It’s amazing where your kids take you.”

Latonia Moore was a fantastic and sparkly host–literally. She is currently appearing at the Met as Emile Griffith’s (Ryan Speedo Green) mother in Cristofer and Blanchard’s “Champion.” And speaking of Ryan Speedo Green, he made a surprise appearance to honor Camille LaBarre for her 30 years of volunteer service at the Met.

Moore not only hosted but sang Tatiana’s Letter Scene for “Eugene Onegin” as the judges made their decisions. Definitely a highlight of the afternoon.

Judges of the Competition included Melissa Wegner – Metropolitan Opera, Executive Director of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and Laffont Competition; Julien Benhamou – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Director of Artistic Administration and Casting Consultant at the Met; Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, Founder and Artistic Director of the Denyce Graves Foundation; Michael Heaston – Metropolitan Opera, Metropolitan Opera Assistant General Manager, Artistic; Myra Huang, Metropolitan Opera, Head of Music, Lindemann Young Artist Development Program; and, Thomas Lausmann – Metropolitan Opera, Director of Music Administration.



The 2023 Laffont Competition was a great day for mezzos. Sarah Saturnino and Natalie Lewis delivered captivating performances that left the crowd spellbound. That’s not hyperbole.

Saturnino performed two pieces, one from Act two of Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Delilah” – ‘Samson, recherechant ma présence … Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse,’ and the other from Acts three/four of “Don Carlo” – ‘Ah! Più non vedrò la Regina…O don fatale.’ The latter was the piece that clinched it for this reviewer. The aria drops to a C, followed by a B flat. Saturnino’s highly expressive, full-bodied, and dramatic voice was rich and captivating. Her powerful stage presence, full of character and readiness, traversed the stage with grace.

Saturnino proceeded slowly and steadily, attending to every detail with care. Her performance was unhurried, even when more exposed with little orchestral support. Her jaw-dropping performance of the Saint-Saens aria was intense, dropping into the depths of her voice and excelling on either end of her range. Her top notes were solid fortresses of sound, ringing and unwavering. With a voice like hers, Saturnino is a utility player–capable of almost anything and executing everything to perfection.

Her dazzling performance was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, who wouldn’t let her leave the stage.

Saturnino hails from Grass Valley, California, roughly 150 miles from San Francisco. She’s in her first season in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colbert-Stein Young Artist Program. Roles she has sung include Lucretia in “The Rape of Lucretia, Meg Page in “Falstaff,” and Carmen in “The Tragedy of Carmen.” She was the Western Region finalist.

Severna Park, Maryland’s Natalie Lewis, a 24-year-old mezzo, wowed the judges and audience. Lewis went for Baroque with ‘Awake, Saturnia, from thy lethargy… Hence, Iris, hence away,” from Handel’s “Semele”

Lewis’ passionate delivery and rich, warm lower register captivated the audience. Her striking dramatism commanded the music. Her lower register wasn’t as cavernous as Saturnino’s, but it was mighty impressive and showcased what she could do in her voice’s basement.

Lewis, the Eastern Region finalist, executed every note with crystal clarity, even the more challenging melismas and ornamentation, without slipping into muddiness. Though Gamba kept the orchestra reeled in, Lewis’ performance was so compelling that it could have soared above any coming from the pit.

In the second part of the competition, Lewis showcased her range of repertoire with a selection from Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur,” ‘Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura,’ and delivered another standout performance. Though she didn’t move around much on stage and stayed mostly in place with small gestures, her arresting outing left a lasting impression.

Lewis’ repertoire includes recent roles as Third Lady in “Die Zauberflöte,” Marcellina in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” and Mistress Quickly in “Falstaff.” Her young artist resume includes the Aspen Music Festival and Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artists Vocal Academy. She placed first in HGO’s 2023 Concert of Arias, and her performances at the Laffont Competition cemented her as a rising star in the opera world.

Gamba kept the Orchestra restrained, but even if he kicked the volume up a notch, there’s no doubt she could cut it like warm butter.


Hailing from Orlando, Florida, 27-year-old Teresa Perrotta, the Great Lakes Region finalist, had splendid moments, singing ‘Dis-moi que je suis belle’ from Massenet’s “Thaïs.”

With a commanding presence, she showcased impressive vocal prowess throughout her performance. Although her power was particularly striking in the upper range, she also demonstrated remarkable strength in the lower register. What really stood out was her masterful use of dynamics in the “Thaïs” aria, which allowed her to fully bring the emotion of the piece to life. Her pianissimo was pure beauty.

Her second piece came from Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” ‘Ecco il punto o Vitellia … Non più di Fiori.’ Her coloratura was pristine, and she could float a note like a swan on a still pond. She captivated the audience from start to finish.

On the so-so side of things, projection was a concern. While she emphasized some of her lower range, it didn’t always make it over the orchestra. To be fair, few of the ten finalists could really do it—two being the mezzos. Filling the 3,000-seat auditorium isn’t easy for anyone who makes it to the Met stage. Timidity won’t reach the highest seats at the back of the house; you gotta go for it and trust your instrument.

Perrotta is a member of Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artist Program. She has the Fifth Maid in “Elektra” and Musetta in “La Bohème. The soprano will return to Glimmerglass as Mimì in “La Bohème.”

Another Floridian, 27-year-old Meredith Wohlgemuth, from Winter Haven, sang ‘Eccomi in lieta vesta … Oh! quante volte, oh quante’ from Bellini’s “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” and “Non disperar, chi sà?’ from Handel’s “Giulio Cesare.”

Wohlgemuth, the Eastern Region finalist, was the third singer out of the gate and got the audience roaring with applause. The ovation received took some time to quiet down before she left the stage.

She brought personality to her singing, walking around the stage, and using the whole space. She also moved at a measured pace; she was in charge, knowing exactly how she wanted to deliver the aria to the audience. In moments of stillness, she was poised. Her gentle and sweet town made it across okay. The pit brought the dynamics down and played with a light touch.

It sounds rather intuitive, but not all singers get it, and “it” is knowing who she was as a character and embodying them. This leads to conveying complex emotions convincingly through voice, movement, and body language. Wohlgemuth was playing for keeps, holding back nothing.

Her top notes were unshakeable, her embellishments distinct and precise, and set the bar high. She was a force.

When it comes to Baroque vocal music, you want the barn burning insanity of notes. Wohlgemuth’s selection was tamer and had moments of wonder, even without all the coloratura of other pieces. That’s good. While ripping through notes is a ton of fun to hear, a milder selection allowed her to demonstrate her ability to dazzle. The same was true for the Bellini piece. Again, the expectation with Bel Canto repertoire is to mesmerize through elaborate ornamentation. Wohlgemuth didn’t need to; she had the audience in the palm of her hand.

This year, you can expect to see her make her Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium debut with the Cecilia Chorus of New York, as well as at the Aspen Music Festival as a Renée Fleming Artist, singing the role of Llia in “Idomeneo.”

Wohlgemuth is an alumna of Renée Fleming SongStudio Young Artist and at the Caramoor Center for Music and Arts. The soprano will perform at New York’s Merkin Hall as a Schwab Vocal Rising Star with New York Festival of Song.


Let’s head into tenor territory, where, unfortunately, the repertoire at the 2023 Laffont Competition was lacking the blazing high Cs that thrill the audience.

However, the vocalists were still impressive, and 26-year-old Anthony León from Riverside, California, stood out as the favored winner following his previous Operalia victory. While the rep was “meh,” when it came to fireworks, the vocalists were far from a letdown. This year’s winner was 26-year-old Anthony León from Riverside, California.

León’s performance of ‘Il mio tesoro’ from “Don Giovanni” in Part One was okay, with stiffness and difficulty overcoming the Met Orchestra. However, he redeemed himself in Part Two with ‘Dal labbro, il canto’ from Verdi’s “Falstaff,” using the stage, being more expressive and engaging, and showcasing his sonorous voice.

León, a Western Region finalist, used the stage, strolling it, and was generally more expressive, emotive, and engaging. The stiffness was gone, and the radiance of his voice came through with no issues throwing his voice right over the pit and into the audience’s ears. With an Operalia win, he definitely was favored to win, and though he didn’t reach the heights that we love to hear tenors sing (repertoire), he was certainly a crowd-pleaser.

The tenor has appeared at the Santa Fe Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Théâtre Champs-Elysees. He is currently a member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. Audiences at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg Festiva. At LA Opera, he’s set to sing Don Ottavio in “Don Giovanni.”


28-year-old bass-baritone Christian Simmons from Washington, D.C., was nothing short of impressive at the 2023 Laffont Competition. His voice was unexpected for a young bass-baritone as it had already matured into a resonant, full-bodied tone with powerful projection. Simmons could give any Sarastro a run for their money, and his showmanship on stage was unparalleled.

For Part One, Simmons, the Rocky Mountain Regional finalist, sang ‘Non più andrai’ from “Le Nozze di Figaro,” and for Part Two, he dared to venture into the Russian repertoire with ‘Vyes’ tabor spit’ from Rachmaninoff’s “Aleko.” This was a brave choice, as Russian is among the hardest languages to sing for non-native speakers, but Simmons aced it. His lower range seemed bottomless and left the audience stunned.

Simmons exuded energy and verve that made his performance all the more engaging. He embodied the characters of the arias he sang, making the crowd feel like they were part of the story. One word describes this singer: fearless.

Although Maestro Gamba’s pacing felt too slow, Conductor Joe Rescigno points out in his book, “Conducting Opera,” that “anomalous tempos have crept into some Mozart arias.” The score has the aria marked Vivace, but it would be difficult to call Gamba’s interpretation as such.

Currently a Cafritz Young Artist at Washington National Opera, Simmons has covered Ferrando in “Il Trovatore,” Colline in “La Bohème,” and appeared as the policeman in Tesori and Thompson’s award-winning “Blue.” His Washington National Opera debut was as Zuniga in their young artist performance of “Carmen.” Simmons would also make a great Escamillo, and hearing him sing, you can feel it in your bones, or maybe it’s the Zeus-like thunderbolts of sound that make them rattle delightfully.

All told, the vocalists onstage were excellent. They worked their way through the rounds and came out on top. Each one deserved to be on the famed stage; no two ways about it. If you’re looking for a fun and exciting afternoon next April, check it out. It’s opera’s national championship, so to speak. And we know how such things thrill.


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