This former BYU student is a rising opera star — and he really can’t believe it
Jonah Hoskins, 24, is still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that on Sunday, he will be performing on the Bolshoi Theatre stage under the direction of Placido Domingo
Jonah Hoskins’ phone tells him that it’s 45 degrees in Moscow. But as someone who grew up in Saratoga Springs, Utah, and is used to the cold, he has a hard time believing that.
One jacket doesn’t quite cut it as he makes the five-minute walk from his room at the Marriott Royal Aurora Hotel to the iconic Bolshoi Theatre, where he’s spent the bulk of his time this past week.
“Russia cold — it hits different,” he said with a laugh.
Other than visiting Moscow’s historic Red Square, Hoskins hasn’t done much sightseeing. He doesn’t want to stay out for too long or get too exhausted, because his reason for being in Moscow isn’t a leisurely one: He’s competing in the biggest competition of his life.
Hoskins is one of 11 finalists in this year’s Operalia — a prestigious global opera competition that renowned tenor Placido Domingo founded to help launch the careers of “the most promising young opera singers of today,” according to the website. This year’s finalists come from all over, including the United States, Russia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Peru and South Korea.
As someone who has followed this competition for years, Hoskins is still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that on Sunday, he will be performing on the Bolshoi Theatre stage under the direction of Domingo, and being judged by opera directors from opera houses all throughout the world.
“People who do well in the Operalia competition, they tend to have pretty successful careers,” the 24-year-old tenor and former BYU student told the Deseret News from his hotel room in Moscow. “As a 20-year-old, I thought, ‘If you win Operalia, you’ve made it.’ So it’s weird to see me here, and of course I don’t feel like I’ve made it at all. I can’t believe that I’m in the competition.”
From Utah to New York
During our conversation, Hoskins mentions three times how shocked he is to have made it into Operalia, let alone the final round.
It’s a surprising amount of humility for someone who just over a year and a half ago won the prestigious National Council Auditions — a competition at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House that gave opera star Renee Fleming her big break in 1988.
Not long after that victory, Hoskins got an offer from the Met to join the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program — a paid position where he trains with vocal coaches and gets to perform at the Met. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up that Hoskins decided to discontinue his audition process for the Juilliard School.
He packed his bags and moved from Utah, where he was attending Brigham Young University, to the heart of New York City.
He’d lived there before while serving a mission in Chinatown for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2015-2017. Recalling how some people were surprised he would halt his vocal studies to serve a church mission, Hoskins says he believes it’s a decision that ultimately ended up benefiting him as a performer — just a year after his mission, he made his professional debut in Utah Opera’s production of “Romeo et Juliette.”
“Opera is all about finding your true voice, getting everything out of the way so that your pure, raw sound is what’s coming out,” he previously told the Deseret News. “And I felt like my voice matured and got better while I was on my mission. Taking (time off), I don’t feel like that pulled me back at all.”
In New York once again, Hoskins — who grew up singing in the Salt Lake Children’s Choir — has continued his vocal training for the past year. Although the Metropolitan Opera House was closed to the public during a large portion of the pandemic, Hoskins trained virtually. Now, he is preparing for a small role in the upcoming production of “Cinderella,” which will mark his official Met debut.
After that, he’ll perform as Count Almaviva in Pensacola Opera’s production of “The Barber of Seville,” and then in “Carmina Burana” with the San Jose Symphony.
It’s a whirlwind of a schedule — and one that will likely intensify thanks to the exposure from the Operalia competition that concludes on Sunday.
“A lot of people in the opera world watch this competition,” he said.
In his hotel room, Hoskins reflects on the past few days. He hasn’t had much free time — the entire competition, including all of the rehearsals, takes place in just under a week.
The other day, he got to work briefly with Domingo during a rehearsal, and described the tenor as “so nice and gracious.” He’s made some new friends and fans, including one local in Moscow who just couldn’t seem to stop clapping after hearing Hoskins’ performance during the semifinal round on Wednesday (his performance begins at the two-hour and seven-minute mark in the video).
“He continued to clap for a couple seconds after everybody else stopped,” Hoskins said with a laugh. “He was just very excited.”
On Sunday, Hoskins will perform two more pieces, including the famous French aria “Ah! Mes Amis” that helped secure his victory in the Met competition last year. The challenging piece — once a signature aria for Luciano Pavarotti — comes with a string of nine high C’s. But Hoskins likes to go beyond and throw in a trill to a high D — an especially rare move for that piece.
The finals will be live-streamed at 10 a.m. MDT on Sunday. And depending on how the competition goes, Hoskins could be heading back to New York on Monday afternoon with a lot more than an impressive addition to his resume — monetary prizes range from $10,000 to $30,000, and the winner of the audience choice award also gets a Rolex.
“It could be like my income for the year if I win everything I possibly can,” Hoskins said with a laugh.
But above all else, the rising opera star, who just last year couldn’t even imagine himself in this competition, is simply taking in the moment.
“Mostly I’m just excited — I don’t feel super nervous yet,” he said. “We’ll see how I feel the day of.”