by Gail Eichenthal, KUSC
My name is Gail Eichenthal and I am a Metropolitan Opera Western Region auditions junkie.
Perhaps, given KUSC’s close involvement in broadcasting the finals concert each year, this was inevitable. My great late friend and former colleague Gene Parrish had forged a wonderful bond with the organization and its remarkably talented contestants going back more than 20 years. Rich Capparela has effortlessly (well, it’s actually quite challenging work!) taken over for the past three years, and our association with the Western Region has only grown closer; they even honored KUSC at the 2011 Finals Concert in the fall. On top of that, I’m a lifelong choral singer and the proud (stage) mom of a fledgling baritone studying voice in college.
Still that warm Saturday afternoon of October 22 was more thrilling than usual, even for an admitted Western Region groupie. I had previously heard some of the phenomenally gifted singers the year before; they had also made it to the 2010 Finals. One of them, a brilliant L.A. soprano and alumnus of the Merola program, had stolen the show at the USC Thornton School’s glittering Charles Dickens Dinner, its grand yearly Christmas benefit at the Biltmore’s Crystal Room: you know who you are, Marina Boudart Harris.
As always, all the singers were exquisitely polished and professional; none exhibited the slightest sign of the tremendous pressure they no doubt felt. It was beginning to seem an impossible task for the judges to eliminate even one of these gifted artists from contention. Then, as the invincible longtime Western Region leader Molly Siefert put it later that day, the contestants ran into “a buzzsaw”, a beautiful beaming buzzsaw named Janai Brugger. The soprano, originally from Illinois, broke hearts, pulled tears, provoked gasps, and, well— won. Her sheer unmitigated joy in singing was infectious. Her pure, soaring tones, almost defied belief.
To none of our surprise, but to all of our delight, she went on to the National Metropolitan Opera Finals this past March. (Go Western Region! Baritone Joseph Lim, another Thornton alum, won the year before, as well!) The 2012 National Met Finals concert airs tomorrow at 10am on Classical KUSC. Don’t miss it! As for me? I’ve been waiting by the radio for days.
P.S. Please cry no tears for Marina Harris, one of the buzzsaw-afflicted! The Thornton alum has landed a coveted spot in the San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Adler Fellows program. And if my stage mom instincts are right, hers is also a name you will soon come to know on the KUSC airwaves, as both her voice and her major career take flight.)
P.P.S. Catch soprano Janai Brugger, an LA Opera Domingo-Thornton Young Artist, currently singing the role of Musetta at several performances of the company’s current production of Puccini’s La Boheme. She carried us away at the dress rehearsal, and will do the same tomorrow (May 12) evening and on Sunday, May 20 at 2pm. The May 20 performance of Boheme, conducted by Patrick Summers, will be broadcast live by KUSC, a special edition of LA Opera on Air.
Soprano (Darien, IL. Winner of the Western Region)
Janai Brugger is a second-year artist with Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. This season’s highlights include Musetta in La Bohème with the Los Angeles Opera, Juliette in Roméo et Juliette for her debut with the Palm Beach Opera, and the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Last season she appeared in Los Angeles as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro and the Page in Rigoletto. She holds a bachelor’s degree from De Paul University and recently received her master’s degree from the University of Michigan (where she sang Tatiana in Eugene Onegin).
In 2009 she sang Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the “Opera in the Neighborhoods” Program and the following year joined the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. She was a 2011 finalist in the Loren Zachary Competition and a Midwest Regional (Detroit district) winner of the 2008 Met National Council Auditions.