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The next great opera stars may not hail from New York or Milan. They may come from places like Seattle or Bellevue … or even Centralia.

The Metropolitan Opera National Council holds tryouts all over the U.S. and Canada, unearthing extraordinary talents: Superstars Jessye Norman and Renée Fleming were discovered in Met Opera auditions, and Nadine Sierra, now on stage in Seattle Opera’s excellent production of “Rigoletto,” was a national winner in 2009.

Since 1956, 19 singers who tried out in Seattle have traveled as finalists to the Big Apple — the winners who went on to illustrious careers include Lawrence Brownlee (who recently starred in Seattle Opera’s “The Daughter of the Regiment”) and Angela Meade, of Centralia, who was just in the Met’s production of “Falstaff.”

Is there another rising star among the dozen vocalists competing in the Met’s Northwest auditions at Benaroya Hall on Sunday

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Time will tell at this inexpensive ($20), open-to-the-public event, which has developed a strong fan base over the years.

Longtime followers of the yearly contest might notice there’s a bit more to the Met’s Seattle activities this weekend than in years past.

Besides the auditions, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Northwest is offering an immersive experience for the public in all things opera, developed by MONC NW’s new chairman, longtime tenor and Seattle native Melvyn Poll.

Poll oversees all Northwest district-level and regional auditions (encompassing Western and Eastern Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Western Canada). But with Sunday’s auditions focused on the future of opera via new talent, Poll decided to host a broader conversation about the art form.

“I love opera and I love working with young singers,” says Poll.

“Opera is very stuffy in a way, and I like to get people to understand what great singing is, and the greatest use of the human voice: opera.

“There are so many things going on in opera. But are those changes for the good or bad? Are there too many mechanical things on stage? Is HD (the live broadcasts of Met productions screened in movie theaters) a good thing? I think we have to look at all this to make opera grow, in addition to attracting an audience that will see artists accomplishing so much. It will be very exciting.”

MONC NW’s “Opera Weekend” kicks off Friday, at The Ruins with a buffet dinner and a talk (“Critics: Who Needs Them?”) by Pulitzer Prize-winning music and dance critic Martin Bernheimer.

On Saturday morning at the Fairmont Hotel, Bernheimer will join a panel (“Opera: State of the Art”) including soprano and vocal teacher Elizabeth Hynes, Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins, Met Opera Auditions national director Gayletha Nichols and Met Opera mezzo-soprano Judith Forst.

Sunday afternoon finds Meade appearing as a guest artist at the Northwest Regional Audition Concert, and that evening at a gala dinner at the Fairmont. (She’ll also appear at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a benefit concert at her alma mater, Pacific Lutheran University; ticket info at 253-535-7415 or

Hynes will lead a master class Monday at Seattle University.

“The focus has to be on young singers and developing them,” says Poll.

“But there also has to be audience development and education. I want to do anything I can to foster opera and the love and quality of it.”

Poll, 72, has a somewhat ironic personal history with the Met’s Northwest regional auditions.

“I went to the University of Washington law school and then auditioned for the Met,” he says. “I didn’t do very well. I left the city, went to New York and trained, and then went to Germany, where I sang opera.”

Poll says his voice is still healthy and he still sings, including performances of the national anthem at Husky football games.

“I do concerts in New York and Europe a bit. I know the craft and how rigorous it is and how hard it is to get into it. I’m thrilled that young people are still interested in this. A career in opera is not something you choose. It chooses you.”

Tom Keogh:

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