For her first aria, the soprano Jessica Faselt, 25, sang “Tacea la notte” from Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” including the quick-paced cabaletta at the end. This music demands a “lirico spinto” voice, which combines qualities of lighter lyric roles with weightier dramatic aspects. A true spinto is a rarity.
From her first phrases, Ms. Faselt demonstrated that she might be the real thing. Her sound was rich, full and luminous throughout its range. Yet she sounded slightly tentative at times; I wanted more fervor and spontaneity. And I was bothered by her occasionally lax approach to rhythmic execution.
After intermission, she brought gleaming sound and a little more intensity to “Dich, teure Halle” from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.” Might she be a Wagnerian in the making? In choosing her, the judges seemed to be placing their bets.
Hongni Wu, 23, a mezzo-soprano, brought technical agility, warm colorings and an ample sound to “Cruda sorte,” a bel canto showpiece from Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri.” Then, after intermission, in a bold choice, she sang the opening scene of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” with youthful bloom and richness. We’ll have to see if she follows the path of the coloratura-happy Marilyn Horne or the refined, lyrical Susan Graham.
The three other winners struck me as more fully formed. The appealing, technically solid mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, 26, excelled in arias from Gluck’s “Orphée et Euridice” and Massenet’s “Cendrillon.” Madison Leonard, 26, a soprano, brought a bright, dexterous voice and sassy charm to an aria from Humperdinck’s “Hänsel und Gretel,” and was especially at home in “Caro nome” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” She seems headed intrepidly into the lyric-coloratura repertory. But who knows?
Carlos Enrique Santelli, 26, was for me the most easily categorized: a light-voiced, assured bel canto tenor, in the manner of Juan Diego Flórez. Mr. Santelli won big ovations for dispatching a florid, showy aria from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” and (a Flórez specialty) “Ah! mes amis” from Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment,” complete with a string of confident high C’s.
The other finalists were the soprano Emily Misch, the mezzo-soprano Megan Grey, the soprano Danielle Beckvermit and the mezzo-soprano Gretchen Krupp. They should take comfort in knowing that the afternoon’s host, Joyce DiDonato, took part twice in the National Council Auditions and never even made it to the Met stage. Today, she’s a star.