Lydia Grindatto has been busy since she graduated from The University of New Mexico with a Bachelor of Music in 2017, but the opera soprano reached new heights this month after winning the Fernand Lamesch Award of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition.

The Met Opera’s Laffont Competition is an opportunity for opera singers ages 20 to 30 to gain national recognition for their operatic skills and assistance in their career development. Performers who win the Laffont Grand Finals earn a prize of $20,000. The artists must perform four arias in at least two languages.

“It feels a little bit surreal because this competition was something that I’d always heard about in school and as I was going through training. It’s such a big deal and so I never assumed that I would go on to be in the finals, much less win. It just feels so surreal and very exciting,” Grindatto said.

Grindatto first learned about the competition while studying opera at UNM, but even through years of intense operatic practice, she recognized the exceptional difficulty of the competition. As she prepared, she focused on finding arias she connected with most and worked hard to refine them with vocal coaches. As she advanced through the four-stage competition, she strived to improve her vocal skills through extensive practice.

Even prior to the Laffont win, Grindatto has had an incredible performance year and is currently a resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA), a rigorous institution dedicated to training opera soloists. Residents must have a minimum of four years of collegiate academic training in music, a history of working with major vocal coaches, and exceptional vocal and theatrical experience. Grindatto’s professional background includes several seasons with Opera Southwest, where she performed in the choruses of Norma and Tosca, covering Violetta, and singing a Page in Lohengrin. Last year, she made her debut at the Santa Fe Opera singing the Second Wood Sprite and covering the title role in Rusalka. In early March, she made her debut at the Columbus Opera as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin. In April, she will perform for the first time with the Arizona Opera as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.

Acceptance to the Academy was a “dream come true” for Grindatto, who has looked up to the singers who have come out of the institution since she began her career and study of opera.

Lydia Grindatto, soprano, sings "Coppia Iniqua from Donizetti's Anna Bolena with the AVA opera orchestra conducted by Steven White.

Studying vocal performance at the university level felt like a natural next step after growing up in a musical family and singing in choirs. When she arrived at UNM, she discovered her love of opera. Though she’d been exposed to the opera and even sung some opera pieces before, UNM is where she was cast as her first character — Adele in Die Fledermaus.

“I’ll never forget my first experience of being the one on stage, singing with the orchestra and acting with the opera and I think that is where I really started the journey of refining my skills,” Grindatto said. “It helped me learn how to do things like watch a conductor and sing with an orchestra. These are very unique and special skills that are very difficult to learn at first and so UNM gave me the beginning of that training.”

Grindatto in purple dress and feather boa portraying the character of Adele.
(Credit: Lydia Grindatto)
Grindatto as Adele in UNM's 2015 production of Die Fledermaus.

Her first role got her hooked on opera performance. She loved the challenge of trying to juggle opera’s complexities like singing with a high-level technique, acting, and performing with an orchestra all at once, often in foreign languages. She connected with the stories, sometimes tragic, sometimes comedic, but always beautiful, and seeing the way opera performances touch audiences.

“There’s a lot of joy to be had in opera, especially in the acting. It’s just a lot of fun,” Grindatto said.

Grindatto went on to credit UNM for providing her with the foundational academic skills required to be an opera singer, like music theory, history, piano, acting and performing. She was quick to thank the faculty in the Department of Music for the mentorship and coaching they provided her with during and after her studies.

All of Grindatto’s achievements have been widely celebrated by the professors of her alma mater, though her success in the opera world has been no surprise to them. Michael Hix, chair of the Department of Music, described how proud the faculty are of her.

“From her very first semester at UNM, we knew she was destined for success. While she possessed natural talent, it was her work ethic, intellectual curiosity, and drive that really made her shine. It was such a pleasure watching her grow while at UNM,” Hix said. “I remember her UNM Opera Theatre performances from her early years as a singer so fondly. We know that the Department of Music provides a top-notch musical education and amazing faculty mentors. Lydia’s success is just another example of the results of this education and mentorship.”

Between the Met Opera win and becoming an AVA resident, Grindatto’s vocal coaches have much to be proud of. Olga Perez Flora, assistant professor of voice, and Kristin Ditlow, associate professor of vocal coaching, were excited to see her not only earn an award in the competition but to hear the aria she performed in her final round.

“She studied with me for two years post-college and our goals were for her to win the Met and go to AVA. She accomplished both of those goals,” Perez Flora said. “Kristin and I both worked with her regularly and in preparation, she was having two lessons a week. We worked on Sempre Libera together (all 3 of us), the aria she sang last in the finals.”

Later this year, Grindatto will join San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program as one of 29 artists selected from more than 1,300 applicants.