Bountiful singer Rebecca Pedersen has won one of the top prizes at what many consider one of the world's top opera houses.
"It's the Super Bowl of singing competitions," said Pedersen, 21, a Brigham Young University sophomore. "Every singer dreams of winning this. It's the Met."
Pedersen on Sunday performed with nine other students at the Metropolitan Opera, and was one of six to be awarded a $15,000 grant to further her education. Nearly 1,500 aspiring opera singers from across the country entered the competition and competed at regional levels. Of the 10 finalists, Pedersen, a soprano, was the youngest.
All who made the finals were asked to perform arias with the Metropolitan Opera's full orchestra. Pedersen selected arias from Massenet's "Le Cid" and Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci."
"I was terrified going on stage," she confessed. "The nerves never go away. You just find your inner calm."
Runners up were awarded $5,000. Pedersen said her $15,000 grant will most likely be spent to further her education at BYU. She is also considering opportunities that have resulted from her rise through the competition, and her ultimate spot in the winner's circle.
"This will open many, many doors," she said. "Some have been opened already. There are none I can disclose, but I've already been offered opportunities."
Pedersen said her mother introduced her to opera by taking her to a 2008 BYU concert by American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.
"My mother dragged me," Pedersen said. "I fell in love with the art form. I realized it wasn't just for old people. It was alive and beautiful. It was obvious to me that it took your whole body and soul to sing opera. It takes everything you have in you to get up there and sing with that passion and force."
Pedersen pursued her interest by listening to recordings, and at age 18, she began taking voice lessons.
"I went in really naive," Pedersen recalled. "My first teacher told me I had a real voice. It was a calling."
Pedersen picked BYU to study with the man who has become her musical mentor.
"They have a fantastic teacher, Darrell Babidge, who is one of the best in the country," she said. "Going to BYU, you get a fantastic education."
Asked what she would tell aspiring opera singers, Pedersen hesitated.
"Talent isn't enough to get you to the Met," she said. "It takes that, and hours and hours of study, practice and research. It takes lots of prayers, tears and sweat."
Pedersen said she enjoyed her first trip to New York City and liked having her mother in the audience. The singer anticipates a performing career as a touring artist, and she said a somewhat "nomadic" childhood prepared her for the lifestyle.
But as of Monday afternoon, Pedersen said her next plan was to be back in sight -- singing class at BYU this morning -- and back to her regular life.
"It's going to be a hard transition, but a necessary one," she said. "I just want to thank everyone wholeheartedly for all the support and prayers. They were much needed."
Watch a video of one of Rebecca Pedersen's solo performances at BYU.