Last weekend, Audra Methvin won the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition. This weekend, she’ll sing the same program of four arias at the McCammon Voice Competition in Fort Worth. The 27-year-old is continuing her studies at SMU. In the Friday Conversation, she talks to KERA’s Anne Bothwell about the path that led her from her family’s prize pig farm in Levelland to the brink of a career as a soprano.
Listen to the piece that aired on KERA FM:
Watch Audra perform at last weekend’s competition:
Audra Methvin is no stranger to competition. The 27-year-old soprano started singing in high school choir in Levelland, and won many singing contests, including first chair in the Texas State Choir. But opera competitions are a little different.
“When I first started doing them it was more for experience to be on stage,” says Methvin, who estimates she’s been in 10 contests and won several, including a $10,000 prize from The Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition last weekend. Last fall, she took top honors in the Meistersinger Competition in Austria. This weekend, she’ll sing in Fort Worth Opera Guild’s McCammon Voice Competition.
“The role they play now is just so different from what it was a few years ago. It’s exposure, because you never know who will be listening to you and who will offer you a contract somewhere, or an agent.
“They can be a total game changer as far as, “Am I ready? Am I cut out for this?” You really just have to be at a certain maturity level and confidence in yourself to be able to handle all of the criticism.”
And there is criticism. Judges regularly give feedback during competitions. Some of it really hurts.
“I guarantee you every single competition I’ve been in, I’ve had at least one judge tell me I looked fat on stage. It’s ridiculous! But the first time I heard that, I was just devastated. To be honest I went home and smoked a pack of cigarettes.”
She laughs at it now. “That was several years ago. It can really destroy you mentally if you are not prepared for it.”
So how does one prepare for competition? Methvin drinks a lot of water, spends time trying to get in character, and gives herself lots of quiet, no-talking time. She knows singers who have a special routine, a particular breakfast, a lucky pair of underwear, but that’s not for her.
“I try not to change anything,” she says. “I don’t want to make a big deal about it because then I’ll get nervous.”
Sometimes, she even has a beer the night before.
“I try to be as normal as possible.”
Methvin chose four very different arias to win the Dallas competition. She’s walking a line between works that show what she can do vocally, and those she can relate to and convey emotionally.
“This is a huge endeavor in trying to pick out a good package of arias,” she says.
I asked her to walk me through the thinking behind one choice, the first aria she performed last weekend.
“I started with “Dove sono,” it’s from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro.” I don’t want to elaborate too much but I was married for three years. And that was a very trying experience. I was really young when I eloped. I was 20 and I got a divorce when I was 24. So there was a lot of life experience in that short period of time.”
“Dove sono” is sung “by a countess who’s been married for a few years and her husband is philandering, he’s running around on her. And she’s just devastated, because she loves him. So on some level I can completely relate to her, as far as being married and wanting something that was. I know exactly how she feels. She wants to be loved. There’s a certain wistfulness and vulnerability that I can bring to this character now that I couldn’t have before I experienced something similar. And that’s something that I’ve really learned with competitions is what sets you apart from other singers is being able to show and give some of yourself rather than just say hey look what I can do vocally.”
Audra is fully immersed in opera life today. When she’s not competing or performing, she’s studying with her teacher Virginia Dupuy at SMU where she’s pursuing a Performer’s Diploma. But it hasn’t always been this way. Opera wasn’t part of her childhood.
“I’m the only musician in my family,” she says. She comes from a family of cotton farmers in Levelland.
“My dad has a show pig farm. And growing up we showed pigs. And it was a great monetary income as kids. You win lots of money at the shows. My family’s in Houston right now at a stock show. But when I’ve told opera buddies that I grew up around a pig farm, they don’t believe me. And they say, did you sing to the pigs? And I say hell yeah, I sang to the pigs. Nobody was out there except them, so why not?
She didn’t see her first opera until she was 20. (Tosca; on video; she cried.) Despite that, “I truly never thought of doing anything else except singing opera,” she says.
“They tell us that only the top 1 percent of people who pursue this career actually make it. Maybe I’m just stubborn, but I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I know I was made to sing.”