University of Kentucky graduate Reginald Smith Jr. was one of five winners Sunday in the final round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
He is UK's second winner in the auditions, widely considered to be the most prestigious opera competition in the nation. The first was Gregory Turay, who won in 1995.
"I am so excited and happy for him," UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey, voice teacher of both singers, texted after Smith's win. "I told him yesterday that he had worked very hard to be where he was and that the mountain that he climbed was very high, but he climbed it, and he made it.
"I also told him that all he needed to do was go out and just 'do what you normally do!' I also told him to enjoy the experience and have fun! This is an incredible moment for our university, for the College of Fine Arts, the UK opera program and for the process that we have put in place to train students in the School of Music. I couldn't be prouder! "
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Smith, an Atlanta native, came to UK in 2007 on a full-tuition scholarship through the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Auditions. He was a popular and busy performer in Lexington, singing numerous roles in UK Opera Theatre productions and soloing with groups such as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
After graduating in 2012, Smith joined Houston Grand Opera's studio program and sang numerous roles in Houston Grand Opera productions. His voice teacher in Houston is former UK voice professor Stephen King, whose UK student Mark Whatley went to the Met finals in 2002.
There were five winners in the final round of the 2014-15 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which featured the nine finalists singing two arias each on the Metropolitan Opera stage with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in front of a live audience.
The other winners were soprano Marina Costa-Jackson of Salt Lake City; bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee of Mobile, Ala.; mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez of Brive La Gaillarde, France; and tenor Joseph Dennis of McKinney, Texas.
Each won $15,000 and the prestige of winning the internationally recognized competition. Some of the world's most famous current and former opera stars have won at the Met Auditions, including Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Frederica von Stade and Deborah Voigt. The Met's current roster of singers includes 126 Met Audition winners.
Competitors went through four rounds, starting with district and regional rounds across the country. Smith, 26, auditioned in his hometown Georgia District and advanced through the Southeast Regional round to the national semifinals and finals in New York.
Smith's next appearance in Lexington is slated to be the annual Messiah performance at Christ Church Cathedral on Dec. 4.