2023-24 Utah District Judges
The competitors sing for three judges who have been selected from an elite list of opera professionals (vocal coaches, career singers, opera composers, opera stage directors, heads of opera companies and artistic administrators) who are highly qualified to identify talent and to assist young singers with developing and refining their singing.
Darren K. Woods
Santa Fe Opera
Apprentice Program for Singers
Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and Laffont Competition
Melissa Wegner is the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and the Laffont Competition. She is responsible for identifying, awarding, and developing the world’s most promising operatic talent. A member of the Met’s Artistic staff since 2011, she hears artists in stage and screening auditions at the Met and is additionally responsible for casting the Met’s New Opera Commissions workshops.
In addition to the District, Regional and National rounds of the Laffont Competition, Ms. Wegner has adjudicated international competitions including the Belvedere Competition (South Africa, Russia, Latvia, Germany), Opera’s Golden Voice (Georgia), the Nicola Martinucci Competition (Italy). US Competitions include the Ades Vocal Competition, the SAI Vocal Competition, the McCammon Voice Competition, and NATSAA Competition.
A faculty member of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, Ms. Wegner has also been visiting faculty for Bard College’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program and is a frequent guest speaker at academic institutions, professional companies, and digital media outlets. She has presented at the NATS Winter Workshop and is an active member of Opera America.
Recognized for her leadership in the industry, Ms. Wegner was an official ambassador for Opera America’s 50th Anniversary in 2020, was one of the 2019 Musical America Top 30 Professionals of the Year, and was a 2019 recipient of the Maria Callas Prize of New York from Melos International.
Ms. Wegner is a member of Families of FANA WNY, which supports the orphanage in Colombia from which she was adopted. She remains active with her three alma maters, having served as a Trustee of the Foundation Board of SUNY Potsdam, an Advisory Board Member of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and is on the Artistic Advisory Council at The Manhattan School of Music. She is on the team of advisors for Turn The Spotlight, a mentoring organization for women, BIPOC, and other equity-seeking groups. Her greatest achievement is raising a joyful daughter alongside her wife in New York City.
Darren K. Woods is currently the Artistic Director of the Seagle Festival, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious singer training programs and also of the American Center for New Works Development. Mr. Woods has been with Seagle in some leadership capacity since 1996. Darren specializes in training singers in the skills they need to create successful careers. The Seagle artists can be found on the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival and in virtually opera house and concert hall in America. Seagle singers can also be found in Berlin, Munich, Milan, Frankfurt, Brussels, and many others.
Mr. Woods was formerly the General Director of Fort Worth Opera (2001-2017) a company that was transformed by restructured festival format, and a devotion to new American opera. Considered a leading expert in 21st century opera composition, Mr. Woods was hailed by Opera News in 2012 as one of the “25 influencers in the world of opera”. In addition to mainstage opera productions, Fort Worth Opera launched a contemporary chamber opera series in 2008 called Opera Unbound and in 2013, Mr. Woods further advanced the company’s commitment to new work by starting Frontiers, a composer – librettist competition to identify new operas still in development.
Mr. Woods had a career as a character tenor for twenty years singing in the U.S. and Europe. He is a frequent judge of vocal competitions including the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition, the Tucker Awards, the Dallas Opera Competition and many others. As a singer, Mr. Woods performed in some of the most prestigious theaters in the world including, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Teatro Verdi in Trieste, Italy, Opera Madrid in Spain and at the Glimmerglass Festival.
Gayletha Nichols is a leading advocate for young opera singers. She brings to the business decades of experience as a singer, teacher and career advisor. As Director of the Apprentice Program for Singers at Santa Fe Opera, Ms. Nichols auditions, engages and mentors young artists. During the academic year she is a frequent guest at music schools and conservatories in the United States.
From 2000 to 2018, she was the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a program designed to discover promising young opera singers and assist in the development of their careers. Prior to that, she served as the Director of Houston Opera Studio, the young artist development program at Houston Grand Opera, where she oversaw the individualized training both for singers and pianists.
Ms. Nichols auditions hundreds of singers across North America every year and in her travels, addresses colleges and music festivals on developing the next generation of opera singers. She is a frequent adjudicator in national and international competitions and consults for other young artist programs across the country.