Mezzo-soprano Natalie Lewis (BHS Class of 2017) continues to win prestigious competitions for aspiring young opera singers.
On Sunday, April 23, the 24-year-old was one of six winners of the prestigious Met Opera Laffont Competition, performing the aria “Iris, Hence Away” from Handel’s oratorio “Semele” (which you can find on YouTube) and an aria from Cilea’s “Adriana LeCouvreur.” The award carries with it a $20,000 prize and the prestige and exposure that come with winning a competition that has launched the careers of many of opera’s biggest stars, including Renée Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, and Ryan Speedo Green.
This season, the competition had more than 1,200 applicants from across the country, with 20 named as semifinalists.
Earlier this year, Lewis placed first in Houston Grand Opera’s Concert of Arias in 2023. With these triumphs already in her portfolio, what’s ahead for this astonishing young artist?
We caught up with her recently as she took a quick mid-day walk on the streets of Manhattan. To the accompaniment of construction jackhammers, Lewis – whose enthusiasm for her chosen career came through strongly despite the din- said her next “first” will be her debut as a soloist with The Cecilia Chorus of New York, performing in Carnegie Hall on April 28. She will solo in “Three Village Scenes” by Béla Bartók and will sing a duet with a fellow Julliard singer in Martines “Dixit Dominus.”
Then it will be off to California for a 12-week stay with the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera program, whose “primary focus is on training and developing the finest young opera singers from around the world.” More than 1,300 applicants applied for this prestigious program with the ultimate selection of only 29 participants. Lewis will sing the role of Lucretia in Benjamin Brittens’ “The Rape of Lucretia” in one of the summer productions.
The next big leap for Lewis comes this September when she will join the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as a scholarship recipient. This covers 10-to-11 months with the company and during the year the students are offered roles in actual productions. It is a huge opportunity for Lewis and exemplifies the career trajectory for young singers: taking part in competitions and summer opera programs (as she has already done) and then achieving a residency with an unparalleled international company such as the Bavarian State Opera. Lewis is surely off and running!
She is modest about all these accomplishments and her love of music and singing bubbles through any conversation. During her years at Juilliard, she studied languages with coaches – Italian, “French, and German are already in her grasp- and she’s worked with drama coaches to prepare her for the roles she’s sung already.
If you watch some of her YouTube videos, you will instantly see that she has great dramatic ability in addition to her rich, expressive singing voice. Asked about her “mezzo role models,” Lewis said she admires Stephanie Blythe, and with a nod to the past, she listens to recordings of the late great mezzos Christa Ludwig and Shirley Verrett.
When Lewis and her sister Tracie were performing in BHS musical productions, they were interviewed by The Citizen in 2016. The article reported, “Natalie leans toward jazz, soul, R & B, Motown and has even recently grown to love opera.”
When reminded of this, Lewis laughed and agreed, she does indeed love opera! She credits her musical experiences with the Performing Arts department at BHS as a major influence on her career and still maintains close contact with her teachers at the high school.