On the day he flew to New York City to sing in the biggest competition of his life, Jonah Hoskins opened up a fortune cookie. 

“Sing and rejoice. Fortune is smiling on you.” 

He took that little piece of paper and boarded his plane. The BYU student was heading to the Metropolitan Opera House to compete in the semifinals of the National Council Auditions — a program that highlights some of the most promising young opera singers in North America. 

A competition that gave a 29-year-old Renee Fleming her big break in 1988. 

A contest that, if won, could launch his own opera career. 

Hoskins advanced past the semifinal round on Feb. 24. Now, he’s one of nine 2020 national finalists who will solo with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for the final phase of the competition on Sunday — which will be streamed live on the Met’s website at 3 p.m. EST.

Utah native Jonah Hoskins is one of nine 2020 national finalists in the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions. | Provided by Todd Hoskins

The winners are chosen by a panel of expert judges that includes Metropolitan Opera staff. If Hoskins is selected, he will receive $20,000 and major exposure in the opera world — in fact, some of the country’s biggest opera houses (Chicago, Washington, Houston Grand Opera) already heard Hoskins sing in the semifinals. 

There’s a lot of pressure in a competition like this. But that fortune cookie Hoskins got from a restaurant in Provo, Utah, has stayed in his mind. 

“Winning this competition would be really huge,” the 23-year-old tenor said. “But ‘sing and rejoice’ — that kind of became the goal.” 

Third time’s the charm

This isn’t Hoskins’ first time participating in the prestigious competition; he’s competed twice before. But this time marks the farthest he’s gone.

In the early evening on Thursday, the Saratoga Springs, Utah, native had just gotten out of rehearsal and was back at his room in the Hudson Hotel — about a half-mile walk from the opera house. As he talked with the Deseret News, the incessant city noise made its way onto the call. 

But the singer’s used to that. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City’s Chinatown — about a 40-minute subway ride from his hotel. He’s invited a few people from his mission to his big performance, and he’s even been able to brush up on his Mandarin Chinese with fellow national finalist Xiaomeng Zhang

Hoskins is an up-and-coming opera singer, so his decision to halt his studies and serve a church mission from 2015-2017 surprised some people. But it was a choice he said ended up benefiting him as a performer — a year after his mission, he made his professional debut in Utah Opera’s production of “Romeo et Juliette.” 

And now, a year-and-a-half after that, he’s finally made it to the ultimate round of the Metropolitan Opera competition.

Jonah Hoskins (center, standing) made his professional debut in Utah Opera’s “Romeo et Juliette” in October 2018. | Dana Sohm/Provided by Utah Opera

“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 said. “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 because in opera, people want you to be a little older. I still get people telling me that I’m too young all the time.”

A rising star

At 23, Hoskins is the youngest finalist in this year’s competition (last year featured a 21-year-old winner, soprano Elena Villalon). He’s in his final semester at Brigham Young University, where both he and his older sister, graduate student Mary Hoskins, study vocal performance. 

The two grew up singing together in the Salt Lake Children’s Choir and have been each other’s biggest supporter and toughest competitor over the years  — Mary Hoskins has participated in the Met Opera competition four times and made it to the semifinal round last year. 

Now, the siblings are getting ready to perform their school recitals together on April 3. 

Even if Jonah Hoskins doesn’t win the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, just getting to this point — the final nine — has already placed him in the rising generation of opera stars. | Provided by Todd Hoskins

“It’s nice to have kind of a partner in crime, somebody who understands how hard it is to leave overnight, take a redeye and go sing at 10 a.m and then fly back before the next day before school starts again,” Hoskins said with a laugh. 

The tenor is taking 26 credits this semester, and in New York, he’s been juggling rehearsal time and schoolwork since the competition overlapped with his midterms. He has two tests to look forward to when he gets home. 

But in the meantime, he’s concentrating on his big moment on the Metropolitan Opera stage. And finding a new pair of shoes to go with the $2,000 Brooks Brothers tuxedo he was gifted for this round of the competition. 

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More than 1,000 singers across North America entered this competition, which showcases performers who are 20 to 30 years old. Even if Hoskins doesn’t win, just getting to this point — the final nine — has already placed him in the rising generation of opera stars.

“I’m just super grateful and happy to have gotten to this point,” he said. “It kind of feels like a dream. Winning would definitely change my trajectory in this career. But mostly, I just want to have a really good time on the stage.”