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  • Writer's pictureLiya Khaimova

What I Learned Singing at the Met Competition

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

This was my first year singing at the MONCA (Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Competition), and I learned A LOT... Some good, some weird, and some necessary things every singer should just be prepared for.

Liya describes what she learned singing at the Met competition for the first time as a lyric soprano


I am going to be totally honest here. I am 27, about to turn 28 next month, and I don't have many years left to participate in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Competition (that name is long, ugh...). The cut off is 30...

So, I bit the bullet and applied. This is as ready as I will ever be, and what could I lose from applying? Another rejection? Well, yeah, but it's to be expected.

To cut things short, I didn't win the St. Louis District, and I am totally okay with that! I didn't expect to win because it was my first time, and I know that I have work to do. However, I did NOT expect to feel as great as I did about how I performed. Even the pianist, with whom I had coached months before, said that was the best she had ever heard me, and gave me a big hug. To me, that was a win.

Anyway, this is what I learned coming out of the competition:

  • You never know what to expect from the other singers. Okay, so I know that's a given, but I made some weird assumptions... Since I wasn't participating in one of the big districts, like Chicago, NYC, LA, Denver, I thought I would have a better chance at placing. Boy, was I wrong. The talent was incredible, and I just felt honored to have sung in the same hall as those singers. Don't go in with a big head, but be confident in who you are. You can only be you.

  • The feedback from the judges will not be what you expect. So, the strangest thing I encountered was the feedback. I know over the years people have said that you can't listen to every little thing that people will tell you about your voice, or how you sang, etc. This proved to be the case COMPLETELY! I started with "Ain't it a Pretty Night" from Susannah and the judges then asked for "Quando m'en vo" from La Bohéme. I spoke with all three judges afterward and this is what they told me. Judge 1 from Nashville Opera: my Tennessee accent for Susannah was going in and out, and that I didn't really address the tempo changes in "Quando..." Judge 2 from Opera Colorado: My Tennessee accent was spot on, but that I needed to connect my middle voice with my lower and top registers so it sounded like one voice (so, two contradicting opinions about my accent). Judge 3: I was one of the only young singers who actually addressed the tempo changes within "Quando" and that she had "heard singers from the Met who hadn't even sung it as accurately" as I did. Clearly, a strong contrast from Judge 1 about the tempo... Oh, and my dress was too short (it hit the middle of my knees). IT'S ALL SO SUBJECTIVE!!! I had to giggle at these contrasting opinions because it made me realize how difficult it is to objectively judge a singing competition. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

  • Judges love coloratura. At least, this is what I observed about the singers who won based off what they sang. I get it: it's showy and takes phenomenal technique to sing coloratura well, but not everyone is a coloratura, so then what? I have been transitioning out of a light lyric coloratura voice to a lyric soprano for about a year and a half now, and don't touch as much coloratura as I used to. My lower register has expanded significantly, and I don't sing those high E flats like I did in early undergrad. And that's okay. Do I wish I could? Hell yeah! However, my strengths lie elsewhere. That doesn't mean I can't work on my coloratura. But, if I wanted to win this competition, maybe I'd have to add some more coloratura arias to my package...

  • There aren't just 3 district winners every year. This year there were FIVE District winners, and one Encouragement Award winner in Saint Louis. They were all women. Last year in STL the three winners were all men. I don't know what this has to say about the trend, but maybe there was some correlation to the winners last year and the winners this year.

  • It's not as organized as you might expect. I have to give credit to the amount of detail that is needed to run this competition, but I had a few questions about how certain things were run. When I arrived I wasn't told what number I was, but that a singer before dropped out, so I would be singing earlier than originally planned. I had to figure it out based on the people who sang before and after me, whom happened to know their numbers. There were also volunteers telling us contrasting things about where to put our stuff, when to get up, who was ushering us in, etc. These are all little things that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things. These are volunteers running things, after all.

  • Just because you didn't win this year doesn't mean you should quit singing. It is soooo easy to bring yourself down when you don't get something you want. I seriously was so thrilled with how I sang that at one point I thought, "I really have a chance at this!" Yes, I would have been thrilled to get the piece of paper and a check with a nice sum of money for my singing, but I wasn't going to let myself get down about the results. I AM ENOUGH and a competition doesn't define me. It doesn't define my singing, either.


In short...

Keep doing what you're doing. Eventually our hard work is going to pay off, right? We'll see. Everything that's worth doing takes effort and is scary as s**t. And how do we know unless we try? Fun fact: no one every really feels 100% prepared to sing in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Competition.

So, take what you sing best (of those 5 arias they ask for, of course) and sing your head off. Have fun!! You get to sing in front of people and then get feedback from the judges. We all know how rare it is to get those precious nuggets of (contrasting) advice/critique.

You got this!

Now, if you've enjoyed reading my posts then please subscribe to my email list by scrolling down! I'll let you know about when I put up a new blog post, what my next singing engagements are, and tips for living a more nontoxic and sustainable lifestyle (another passion of mine that I've acquired over the years).

If you liked this post then check out my post on How I Maintain my Health as a Singer

With all the love and sincerity,


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