Eric McConnell

It's a dream gig for any aspiring singer -- performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. And it's within reach for Eric McConnell -- again. The bass-baritone from Thornton is competing for a third time in the Met's National Council Auditions, a contest for young (30-and-under) singers.

McConnell is one of 50 singers who will perform in the District competition on Feb. 23 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Winners from that event will advance to the Regionals, held the next day, also at the Newman Center.

The national semifinals will be held March 24 in New York, with the finals a week later.

McConnell, an artist-in-residence with Opera Colorado, has not advanced beyond the Districts in two previous auditions. Living in Chicago at the time (he has a Masters from Northwestern University), last year he flew in to Denver the night before and had trouble adapting to the dry air. The year before however, he earned an honorable mention award, which was accompanied by a cash stipend.

"That was very, very nice," he says.

While getting to New York would be nice, McConnell just participating in the audition (contestants sing an aria of their choosing, along with another chosen by the judges) carries tremendous value.

"What's really nice is when the competition is over, you go downstairs and talk with all the judges," he said. "Your face-to-face with the three of them--they're active singers, or prominent voice teachers, coaches or directors. That's the real joy--you hear what you're doing right and what you need improvement on."

One piece of feedback McConnell has received is to work more on language; as a result, he says, he's become almost fluent in Italian and has been improving his French and German as well.

Another is to correct his overdarkened O vowels.

"They said when I sang the vowel O it didn't represent my true voice--it sounded like I was trying to sound like someone 50 years older," McConnell said. "It just sounded false; you don't ever want a fake sound because audiences can always hear it--you want to sound mature, but my O vowels were sounding like an old man in a church choir, not a mature opera singer."

McConnell says he's performed mostly minor roles with Opera Colorado and in his nascent career, but that will change, he adds, when he indeed gains maturity.

"Being an artist in residence with Opera Colorado has really allowed me to explore and develop my voice," he says. "And not worrying about things like having to pay rent and being able to concentrate on my voice has been tremendous.

"It's really grown. There's physical maturity--it's louder, richer and older. I'm still about 10 years away from singing the really big roles. But you learn something new with each performance--really you keep learning and learning until you die."