Arts & Culture

UK Alum Blake Denson Winner at Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions

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photo of Blake Denson at MONC grand finals concert
photo of Dennis Bender with Blake Denson
photo of Blake Denson performing in UK Opera Theatre's "Show Boat" at Singletary Center

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 3, 2020) — University of Kentucky alumnus Blake Denson is one of five winners of this year's Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Winners of the auditions were announced at a grand finals concert March 1. As a winner of the prestigious opera competition, Denson and his fellow winners each received cash prizes of $20,000.

Denson, a baritone, advanced to the semifinal and final rounds at the Met out of the Midwest Region held in St. Louis, Missouri. He competed against eight other finalists in the last round of the auditions. Judges for this year's finals were Sophie de Lint, director of Dutch National Opera; Ian Derrer, general director and CEO of the Dallas Opera; Jonathan Friend, artistic administrator at the Met; Gregory Henkel, managing director, artistic, at San Francisco Opera; Sophie Joyce, director of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Met; Melissa Wexner, executive director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; and Diane Zola, assistant general manager, artistic, at the Met. 

"I am so grateful to be a part of this legacy that is the Metropolitan Opera Competition," Denson said. "I give all the praise, honor and glory to my Lord and savior Jesus. I stood in his grace. This battle was conquered for his glory."

Among Denson's 22 competitors in the semifinals held early last week at the Metropolitan Opera was countertenor and UK arts administration alumnus Key'mon Murrah, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, who won the Southeast Region held in Atlanta, Georgia. 

When asked about the gravity of Denson's accomplishment, Dennis Bender, UK associate professor of voice, said. "Singing in the semifinal round on the Metropolitan Opera stage last Monday was like making it to the Final Four. Blake's success Sunday is equivalent to winning a National Championship!"

Bender traveled to New York City to watch Denson in the semifinals last week and was blown away with the UK graduate's performance. "He literally moved me to tears with the elegance of his legato, his sophisticated French and German diction, and his wide palette of tonal colors. I was literally moved to tears when I heard him sing."

A 2018 vocal performance graduate, Denson studied with Bender at UK. A native of Paducah, Kentucky, he was a recipient of the 2014 Alltech Vocal Scholarship in the undergraduate category. Bluegrass audiences may remember Denson as Joe in UK Opera Theatre's 2018 production of "Show Boat"; as Dottore Grenvil in the program's 2017 production of "La Traviata"; or as Future in its 2017 world premiere of "BOUNCE: The Basketball Opera."

Since graduating from UK, Denson participated in the Houston Grand Opera Young Artist Vocal Academy. He is set to finish his master's degree at Rice University in 2020. This summer will mark his second with the Wolf Trap Opera Studio Artist Program.

Denson is UK Opera Theatre's third winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Tenor Gregory Turay was among the winners in 1995 and baritone Reginald Smith Jr. was named a winner in 2015.

The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions program provides a venue for young opera singers from all over the U.S. to be heard by a representative of the Met. Applicants prepare a minimum of four operatic arias in their original language with selections demonstrating contrasting style as well as languages. Semifinalists were chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 singers who participated in auditions held in 40 districts throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico, and who then competed in the 12 regional finals.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.