Before the first round in Salt Lake City of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Rebecca Pedersen had no expectations.
It was the first singing competition the 21-year-old Brigham Young University student had ever entered, after all.
"It was just supposed to be a learning experience," she said this week. "It was, 'Let's get our toes wet a little bit.' "
In the end, after four rounds of competition, Pedersen made the biggest splash of her life.
In New York on Sunday, Pedersen was named one of six winners out of 1,800 contestants of the National Council Auditions for Metropolitan Opera, the most prestigious opera company in the United States, if not the world.
She is one of the youngest winners in the competition's 60-year history.
The stage performance Sunday, in front of a full house at New York City's Metropolitan Opera House and backed by a full orchestra, was the culmination of the soprano's journey that began on Jan. 5 at Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus.
With 28 singers competing that day in the National Council's Utah District auditions, Pedersen came out on top, moving on to the Rocky Mountain Region Finals in Denver on Jan. 27. After winning in Denver, she sang in March in a closed competition, accompanied by piano on the Met stage, for a place as a National Council Auditions Finalist. She again advanced.
The 10 finalists performed at Sunday's Grand Finals Concert, and six were chosen as winners. Pedersen's winning performance of "Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux" from Jules Massenet's 1885 opera "Le Cid" earned her $15,000. She joins the National Council Auditions' impressive roster of alumni, which includes legends such as Jessye Norman and Renée Fleming.
On average, nearly 100 National Council Audition alumni sing in Met performances every opera season.
Gayletha Nichols, executive director of the Met auditions, said she first became aware of Pedersen's remarkable talent at the Denver auditions.
"She is, as we say in the opera business, the real deal," she said.
Nichols added that Pedersen's talent is especially noteworthy considering her youth. "It's insane that someone so early in their undergraduate [program won]," Nichols said.
Pedersen, who grew up all over the country but whose parents now live in Bountiful, received offers from opera companies from all over the U.S. during and after the competition, she said. Pedersen said she is "considering" them but intends to finish her studies at BYU first. She is now a sophomore, studying vocal performance under Darrell Babidge and Jennifer Welch-Babidge, who was a National Council winner in 1997.
Pedersen needn't worry about slowing down her career trajectory by finishing her education, Nichols said. More important than the prize money, Nichols said, is the exposure Pedersen received by being one of the winners of the competition, which is followed by every major opera company in the country,
"Everyone knows her name," Nichols said.
Pedersen's supporters included Gunter Radinger and Julie McBeth, co-directors of the National Council Auditions' Utah District competition. They first saw Pedersen sing on Jan. 5, before a panel of three judges: Anthony Dean Griffey, the American tenor; Joshua Winograde, a senior director at L.A. Opera; and Peter Kasaras, who is UCLA's opera director and runs Seattle Opera's young-artists program.
"We have a strong following of opera lovers, and it's particularly exciting for them," said McBeth, who is married to Christopher McBeth, artistic director of Utah Opera. Having a winner from Utah "makes it all the more fun."
"We're ecstatic," Radinger said. "We have some fine singers here."