It’s “American Idol” at Spivey Hall, Metropolitan Opera style, for Southeastern finals
Lawson Anderson is a 25-year-old management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. That’s his day job; on weekends he sings opera arias.
As a high school athlete at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Anderson joined the school choir, where Scott Morris, then director of choral music, encouraged him to think more seriously about singing. “My mentors helped me to understand that there’s something special about singing, and I began to think more critically about how music affects the audience,” he says.
So he decided to double-major in music and economics at the University of Virginia and participated in the student-run opera company, singing lead roles in productions of “Die Fledermaus,” “Don Giovanni” and “Orpheus in the Underworld.”
These days Anderson travels for PwC from Monday through Friday and, while he’s on the road, finds time to practice after hours in his hotel room, despite occasional noise complaints. On weekends he takes voice lessons with Bradley Howard, visiting director of vocal studies at Emory University.
It’s Anderson’s sports background, as a baseball player and wrestler, that gives him the discipline to study singing seriously, he says. “The same principles apply. If you don’t run every day, you’re not going to stay in shape.”
Anderson, a lyric baritone, in January entered the first opera competition of his life — the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the state of Georgia — and won. The Met auditions are designed to discover exceptional young talents across the United States and to assist in development of those with the greatest potential.
Anderson returned to the competition Sunday as Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall showcased 12 finalists from the Southeast. Those winners were selected from among 150 competitors in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
High-profile opera professionals George Darden, Gianna Rolandi and Brad Woolbright judged the contest. Each singer brought five well-practiced arias and had the opportunity to sing two selections, the first of his or her choosing and the second picked by the panel of judges.
Anderson — one of only two baritones in a sea of sopranos — offered “Hai già vinta la causa” from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Predictably, the judges couldn’t resist asking for the one Wagner aria on Anderson’s list, the haunting “O du mein holder Abendstern” (“Hymn to the Evening Star”), Wolfram’s aria from Act III of “Tannhäuser.” It consists of an extended recitative and a sustained air. It’s difficult to execute, but also a popular aria that highlighted Anderson’s beautiful timbre and commendable sostenuto singing.
As the judges deliberated, Heather Phillips, winner of the 2010 Southeastern competition, gave a mini-recital.
First prize went to lyric soprano Samantha Barnes, 29, of Florida, who brought the audience nearly to tears with her rendition of Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon.” As a regional finalist, she will join 13 other soloists from across the country to vie for a $15,000 grand prize.
Second place went to baritone Kenneth Stavert and third place to soprano Emily Duncan-Brown. The judges honored tenor David Blalock, lyric coloratura Sidney Mancasola and lyric soprano Melinda Whittington with $500 “encouragement awards” for their performances.
In a few short weeks, Samantha Barnes will be standing at the semi-finals on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. And when Monday morning comes, Lawson Anderson will most likely be back on a plane, opera scores packed in his bag, off to visit one of his PwC clients. But that is work that he says complements his passion for music. “I don’t ever want music to feel like a day job,” he says. “For me, it’s an escape.”