PRINCETON — Princeton native Dane Suarez, who is well known locally for his musical talents and forthcoming opera career, is prepping to compete in the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition.
Suarez recently beat out fellow competitors in the West Tennessee District and Mid-South Regional rounds of this prestigious competition. He now advances to represent the Mid-South region at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on March 23.
“I literally could not believe it when I won,” Suarez said. “I’ve had a lot of experienced people telling me that this would happen sooner or later, and it always felt like a dream. And then it happened.”
Suarez has been working toward this opportunity since graduating from Princeton High School in 2005.
“I’ve been involved in music since second grade in choirs and musicals but didn’t really get serious about opera until 2009,” he said. “All the people I’ve met and worked with have been a huge part of where I am now. It has taken a lot of work — hours of voice lessons and coatings, months of training programs, years of schooling. Each experience has gotten me closer to this point.”
Many of the world’s foremost singers including Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Jessye Norman, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade, Deborah Voigt and Dolora Zajick have received awards from the National Council.
Suarez explained being a semi-finalist in this competition is known to become a turning point in a singer’s career.
“People will begin to look at me differently and more seriously,” he said. “Singers get rejected every day, and it can be very taxing. Singing is very personal, and it takes a thick skin to pursue this career.”
This opportunity will also mark Suarez’s first performance in New York.
“What a way to debut! I could not be more excited,” he said. “The semi-finals concert is closed to the public with an invited audience of agents and big deal people in the opera world. It’s very important to sing for these people. It’s definitely a little scary, but super exciting.”
Looking forward to his upcoming March 23 performance, Suarez said there is a “definite chance” he could win.
“But there is an equal chance that I will not,” he said. “I will be among approximately 20 of the best young singers in the U.S., and only half will advance to the grand finals. To prepare, I’m just going to keep up the work I’ve been doing and be positive.
“With singing, it’s better to focus on the process rather than the goal. It is absolutely a necessary step in my process, and I’m so happy for that. It’s essentially a validation that I am doing the right thing,” he said.
Only 10 of the semi-finalists at the March 23 competition will be selected as a national finalist and will compete on March 30 at a public concert accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
There are only five grand winners, which are given $15,000 each. The concert is also broadcast nationwide on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Network.
Suarez said a great thing about each round leading up to the finals is each competitor receives judges’ feedback.
“I’m taking that feedback and working with my coaches and teachers to process that important information,” he said. “I will be making some repertoire changes and getting each aria to be something I can be proud of.”
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Where has he been? Where is he headed?
Suarez is currently a tenor artist-in-resident at Opera Memphis. In April and May, he will be workshopping four new operas at Fort Worth Opera Festival Frontiers. In June, he heads to Aspen Music Festival to sing the role of Don José in "Carmen." Suarez said things are up in the air after August with pending auditions. He has been offered a main stage role in 2015 Fort Worth Opera Festival.
Suarez received a bachelor's degree in music from Butler University and a master's degree in music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With an artist diploma at the University of Memphis, he's competed in numerous training programs.