Bound for the Big Apple: Kent opera singer gets his chance

How do you get to the Met? Practice, says the old joke. But practice isn’t always enough. It takes talent, dedication and a little bit of luck. And in the case of Noah Baetge, regional winner of the 2009 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he has all three.

How do you get to the Met?

Practice, says the old joke.

But practice isn’t always enough. It takes talent, dedication and a little bit of luck.

And in the case of Noah Baetge, regional winner of the 2009 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, he has all three.

“I felt like this was a good year for me,” said Baetge, 28.

But even the day of the audition, Baetge, a Kent resident and Puget Sound native, was not entirely sure of his performance and almost left the auditions in Seattle early to get back to a rehearsal of an opera in Spokane.

Opening with a “solid” song from “Lucia di Lammermoor,” which he said was “spot on,” the judges next requested a number from a Mozart opera.

Baetge said he felt good about it, but not 100 percent. However his teacher, Jane Eaglen, a British soprano who has performed in opera houses around the world, and several others in the building told him to hang around since competitors had to be in the building to win the contest.

Turns out his extra-long stay was a good decision.

“It ended up going really well,” he said. “I didn’t think it did, but even the judges said it went well so I have to agree with what they said.”

What they said was that Baetge would be moving on to the semi-finals in New York City on Feb. 15.

If he performs well then, Baetge will move onto the Grand Finals Concert, Feb. 22 on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Up to five singers will be selected as National Council Audition Winners and will receive $15,000 and a chance at expanding their opera careers.

According to Baetge, one of the 2007 winners, Angela Meade, made her Metropolitan debut just four months after the competition.

“I’d love to sing at the Met,” he says, voice drifting a bit at the end.

Baetge wasn’t always an opera singer and finding himself here now may have surprised the kid who went off to college as an instrumentalist and became an operatic tenor “by accident.”

He didn’t even start singing until age 20, but soon after that, he changed his major to Vocal Performance.

“Singing was the last thing I thought I would do,” he said. “I didn’t think it would actually get me anywhere.”

But when professors and others heard Baetge sing, they urged him into opera.

“I think it was certain people in the trade who were like ‘He’s got something here. Let’s direct him this way,’” Baetge said.

Baetge did some singing with a piano player, but hadn’t even seen an opera until he was cast as the lead in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” It was the combination of singing and performance that started to hook him.

“That was really the first time I thought ‘Oh, this is what opera is,’” he said. “I really, really liked it.”

Learning to sing opera is difficult - much of it in the breathing. “We work very hard not to hurt ourselves,” he said.

But the real trick is doing it while acting and trying to connect with the audience.

“Singing opera is kind of like the triathlon of singing,” Baetge said. “You have the singing, you have the acting, but you have to connect it.”

People think it is about volume, he said, but it’s really about “finding the colors that go along with the orchestra.”

Sometimes that’s made more difficult because he’s singing in languages he doesn’t understand, like Russian or Czech.

But even more so, breaking through the cliches and misunderstandings that surround opera can be the most difficult part.

“The horns, the fat lady and the braids? That’s not what opera is about,” he said, though he did admit that the Bugs Bunny cartoons that feature opera are “brilliant.”

Baetge said it took him time to learn how to connect. In fact, he thinks it is what kept him out of being a finalist the last time he auditioned for the Met competition in 2006, in which he still received an honorable mention.

“I look back and I know exactly why I got that: I wasn’t connected,” he said.

This year, however, it all came together and Baetge will be ready to go in New York next weekend.

According to Eaglen, Baetge has a big career ahead of him.

“He’s a wonderful singer, a wonderful talent,” she said in a phone interview from South America, where she was performing. “I’m extremely proud of him.”

Eaglen said several of the singers who auditioned could have won, but Baetge put it all together and was the best that day. Another day like that, and he could be soloing at the Met sooner than later (though she is sure he will make the world’s great opera houses eventually).

“I have my fingers crossed and there’s no reason he couldn’t go on to win the whole thing,” she said.

Winning or not, Baetge is hooked on the power of opera and sees himself staying in the field for a long time.

“I love it when opera can make a sound no one else can make,” he said.

To hear Noah Baetge sing visit www.myspace.com/noahbaetge

To learn more about the MONC regional audition, visit www.nwauditions.com/


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