What was your earliest exposure to classical music? When did you begin performing and at what point did you decide to pursue it as a career?
My earliest exposures to music was with my father out in the garage as we were working on projects. He had LPs of classical works and he would play them as we worked. I did not hear my first opera until high school when my choir director exposed me to Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Even with that exposure, I went to college for choral conducting, where I performed four operas including three lead roles. I would say it was a performance in my junior year of college that made me realize I could do this for a living. That year, I was Frank Maurrant in Street Scene by Kurt Weill, and that was the turning point from choral conducting to operatic performance.
Do you have any musical influences beyond classical music? Who inspires you artistically?
I am influenced by all music that I listen to, within or beyond classical music. I listen to anything from film scores to classical symphonies. Artistically, there are very few who inspire me. My family is a great pull for me artistically. The bonds we have and trials we have faced bring a lot of emotion into my art. I also am inspired by my girlfriend, Eleni, through her encouragement and ability. She is an opera singer at the University of North Texas (UNT, my alma mater) currently. I know that if I ever need a push artistically, she will give it.
What was your reaction when you learned you had been selected as an Adler Fellow? What are you most looking forward to as you begin your first year in the Adler Fellowship?
Honestly, I could not believe it. I thought because of my extreme inexperience I would not even be in the running. I had already planned for a full year at UNT before I got the call. My jaw quite literally dropped when I heard Sheri [Greenawald, San Francisco Opera Center Director]'s voice. The biggest thing for me this first year is to establish my place here. I know I have been selected with great anticipation of what I can do and I wish to fulfill that call. The biggest challenge for me in this is language. I am looking forward to soaking up as much knowledge from these coachings and lessons as possible.
Matthew Stump and the 2014 Merolini at the Merola Gala Finale. Photo by Kristen Loken.
You are originally from Indiana, and studied in both Iowa and Texas. How are you adjusting to life on the West Coast, and what are some of your favorite places in San Francisco or the Bay Area so far?
I believe I am adjusting quite well. I finally have an apartment, a clipper card, a sweater for summer! I feel like a real San Franciscan. My favorite places would have to be the Haight, Ocean Beach (when it is warm) and Chinatown. I like them all for a different reason, but they are definitely my favorite places so far.
We're looking forward to your Schwabacher Debut Recital next month—what are you most looking forward to on the program and what has been the biggest challenge in preparing for this recital?
I am looking forward to performing the Niles set about a gambler. I love the story it gives and can't wait to see what Martin Katz has to say about it with my voice at the helm. The biggest challenge I would have to say is wrangling this work alongside the other mainstage work and a Philharmonia Baroque opera, Cambiale di Matrimonio, (to be performed later this spring) all at the same time. I believe it will come together but it will be a vocal and mental workout for sure.
What do you think are some of the greatest challenges the opera world is currently facing? Do you see any solutions to these obstacles?
I believe the problem we are faced with is the idea of live vs. recorded music-making. The world is very much a plugged-in place. The idea of going out and seeing a show seems to be faltering a bit. I don't think this is a problem that can necessarily be solved quickly. It is an idea that I think will turn itself around when the world is tired of not having something real in front of them. Opera has withstood the test of time and I believe it is going to keep on and possibly even thrive in the near future. The amount of operas being written right now that are actually worthwhile are growing in number. I see this trend to keep going along with the demand for the "real."
Matthew and fellow Adler Fellow Nian Wang at the Summer Schwabacher Concert. Photo by Kristen Loken.
What do you think is the most difficult part of beginning a career in opera? What advice can you offer to other young singers studying to pursue a career in classical music?
Finances. Simply the dollar amount is the hardest thing for me. A young singer must pay for coachings, classes, masterclasses, accompaniment, music scores, etc... and then the life necessities come in like rent, food etc... A singer must begin to budget very early or risk bankrupting themselves before even leaving college. The number one way to get somewhere in the opera world and make something of yourself is simple organization. "Organization is the key to entertainment." –Chuck Hudson. This is the best advice you will ever get. It will keep the singer on track vocally, keep them financially sound, gain them access to auditions, access to opportunities, win competitions etc... Organization leads to opportunity and that opportunity must be seized by the singer. I'm a perfect example of this idea. Since I talked about budget I will give you my abridged version of my journey: I have paid/am paying for all of my education. If/when I win a competition or am given a scholarship in a lump sum I have to decide what is most important which is where the organization comes in. I have to tell myself how much I will need for competition fees, living costs, taxes etc... for the next few months. Too many singers use a large sum they have gained to buy something or several things and then are left empty handed before their next payday. Organization keeps the singer on track for success.
Is there any particular obstacle you have encountered in your singing career thus far? What has allowed you to overcome and be successful thus far?
Language barriers. I have a very hard time learning languages and this is very troublesome for someone who deals with several languages every single day. Diction courses and a very select few language classes have been the savior of my journey so far. It at least allows me to pronounce correctly, which is the first step towards speaking the language.
Who are your favorite opera composers? Do you have any dream roles you would like to perform?
I love Mozart, Verdi and Wagner a lot, mostly because they write very well for my voice type, and usually have several parts for me per opera. One dream role is Wotan in the Ring cycle. I just love the monumental character that he is and the part he plays in the taxing opera cycle. I would also like to play all three [Bass-Baritone] parts in Don Giovanni (not at the same time obviously).
When you're not singing, what are some of the activities you can be found doing?
I like to remain active, so probably going for a walk on the beach, strolling around town, or hiking in the woods up North. I also have an affinity for fixing things and/or making things out of wood. I used to be a carpenter and remodeler during the summers, and have the skill for it. For this hobby, tools and a workshop are usually needed, which I do not have here in San Francisco. I save it up for when I get back to Indiana to work in my shop with my dad.
Matthew performing at the Schwabacher Summer Concert. Photo by Kristen Loken.
Don't miss the next Schwabacher Debut Recital on March 15, which will feature Matthew Stump, Jacqueline Piccolino, Zanda Svede,and Chong Wang in collaboration with famed coach and pianist, Martin Katz.