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Pacific Review, summer 2016
by Emily Olson '15

Pacific opera alumna wins prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions

Pacific opera alumna Yelena Dyachek '13 is on the move.  

In March, she stepped onto the stage of one of the world's biggest opera houses, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City — facing a full house and the toughest competition of her young career. Or of any opera singer's career. 

In May, she left Los Angeles with a master's degree from the internationally recognized Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. She will spend this summer in San Francisco, where she's earned a highly coveted young artist spot with the San Francisco Opera. In August, she'll head to Houston for a studio artist position with the Houston Grand Opera. 

And at any time in the next five years, the 23-year-old soprano from Sacramento might be called back to New York because of her March win in the world's most prestigious opera competition: the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. 

Since 1935, the competition has been a defining step in the careers of opera's most successful singers. As a grand finalist, Dyachek has earned a prize of $15,000, plus opportunities to audition for main-stage Met roles, perform for top talent agents and receive further funding.

With 1,500 others vying for the title, Dyachek planned to be patient with herself when she first began the competition at the district auditions in November. 

"Not a lot of 23-year-olds make it to the finals; not a lot win .I thought, 'If I don't make it to the next round, at least I'll have feedback from the judges.'" 

Dyachek went on to win the Los Angeles district and western regional auditions, securing one of 20 spots and earning the chance to perform on the famed Metropolitan opera stage.  She was thrilled to visit New York for the first time, but the sightseeing had to wait-she was vying for a spot in the grand finals, and the opportunity to be a Met winner.

In addition to preparing for the March 6 semifinals, Dyachek was auditioning for the Houston Opera's Studio Artist program and rehearsing for multiple USC productions. While the hectic schedule might have disadvantaged other singers, it ultimately worked in Dyachek's favor. 

"It helped me not overthink anything," she said. "And being able to audition in Houston gave me practice performing in a really big hall." 

"It was amazing getting to experience the quality of staff from one of the world's biggest opera houses."

—Yelena Dyachek '13 

That sort of practice was critical; because opera is never amplified, the acoustics of the performing venue can change a singer's sound significantly. 

In New York, the semifinalists were given only a minute onstage before they performed in front of the judges. On top of that, Dyachek was the last of the 20 performers, meaning she had to wait about five hours to perform in the Met Opera House for the first time. It was another hour of anxious pacing before the judges announced the nine finalists and Dyachek learned she was moving on. She spent a night celebrating with her family before turning her focus to a week of preparation before the final concert. 

Though she worried about getting sick in New York's fitful March weather, she stayed healthy and was able to absorb the coaching she received from the Met's artistic staff as part of the prize for making it to the grand finals. 

"It was amazing getting to experience the quality of staff from one of the world's biggest opera houses,"  Dyachek said. 

The day of the final concert, March 13, was a long one. And it's one Dyachek will remember for the rest of her life. She got her makeup and hair done by the Met staff, sat through a full orchestra rehearsal, and then waited through the performances of the other eight finalists for her chance to take the stage. 

And once again, she was last on the program.

Dyachek walked onstage to a vista of red velvet, chandelier lighting, gilded ceilings and 3,800 filled seats-a full house. The support of the audience, which included a contingent of faculty and students from Pacific, was palpable, she said. 

She sang two arias chosen by the Met staff, similar in their themes about young women staying faithful in love: "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and "Pusaki pogibnu ya" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin

"A lot of undergraduate programs don't allow students to get actual roles. That's a big pro of the program at Pacific."

— Yelena Dyachek '13

As she waited behind the curtain for the judges to be ready to announce their decision, she reminded herself about why she started the competition in the first place: to sing the best she could.

"From then on, it was just whatever the judges decided," she said. When the winners were announced onstage to the waiting Met audience, Dyachek's was the second name they called-but because the announcer mispronounced "Yelena," it took her a few moments to realize that she had actually been called.   

"Then everything felt very exciting and unbelievable," she said. "Every stage of the competition, I did not expect to move on. The universe kind of aligned for me; everything worked in my favor."

Yelena Dyachek '13 in Merry Wives of Windsor
Above, Dyachek in Pacific Opera Theatre's performance of Merry Wives of Windsor. Dyachek counts her numerous performance opportunities at Pacific as among the most beneficial aspects of the conservatory program.

Originally from Ukraine, Dyachek came to Pacific already fluent in English, Russian and Ukrainian.  With the language requirements of Pacific's voice program, she also studied Italian, German and French-giving her a "crucial tool" in her professional work. 

Dyachek also counts unique undergraduate performance roles as among the most beneficial aspects of the conservatory program. She participated in every opera production while at Pacific, including three leading roles, and made valuable connections with Stockton Opera. 

"A lot of undergraduate programs don't allow students to get actual roles," she said. "That's a big pro of the program at Pacific." She remembers her first onstage role at Pacific — Mrs. Peachum in Brecht's The Threepenny Opera-as one of the most challenging.

"The character was totally not how I am. It pushed me out there and I just had to roll with it," she said. In the end, it taught her to persevere through the challenges she'll face as a professional artist.

"Everything that was done in the program is similar to how it works in the real world," she said.

More singing successes

Three other opera alumni advanced in the 2015-2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions — an amazing feat for a single university. Hannah Ludwig '14, Andrew Dwan '13 and Ted Allen Pickell '14 all received an encouragement award for their performances in the regional auditions. 

Irene Roberts '06, a mezzo-soprano, made her debut at London's Wigmore Hall in recital with tenor Bryan Hymel. Roberts also recently performed the title role of Carmen with San Francisco Opera, including a live simulcast at AT&T Park for 28,000 people, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. 

WEB extras!

audio iconSample a performance by Yelena Dyachek


Dyachek returned to California in July for performances of Cosi fan tutti with the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco. Read a story in the Sacramento Bee>>