Matthew Polenzani: Putting It Together (Cover Story)

James C. Whitson

Opera News

How does Matthew Polenzani balance the demands of an international opera career with his responsibilities as a husband and father? By always putting his family first.

“Hang on here” — a wail of distress has interrupted Matthew Polenzani mid-sentence — “I have to make sure this isn’t as bad as it sounds.” He covers the handset, and the sobs of a three-year-old occasionally break through a muffled parental inquest. It’s August in the Polenzani household, and I have caught the tenor between productions, in the midst of a move to another house in Pelham, NY. The chaos at home — a place intended as a quiet oasis far from the desert storm of an international career — doesn’t faze Polenzani. If anything, he seems to be drawing deeply from the mayhem. “Not as bad as I thought,” he reports momentarily.

Polenzani’s priorities are clear: his professional achievement over the past fifteen years is bound to his home life with his wife, Rosa, and his three boys, Gianluca, Nicola and Giovanni. “First I’m a father, a husband, a family guy,” he once said in an interview. “My identity is wrapped up more in my family than in my [career] — that outlook in life informs my singing.” However he perceives himself, over the past decade his public has witnessed the remarkably steady growth of an artist in performances of nuance and polish, executed by a voice of great beauty and purveyed with superb musical taste.

Since that might also be a list of prerequisites for Mozart tenors, it’s no surprise that the forty-four-year-old Polenzani puts Tamino, Don Ottavio, Ferrando, Belmonte and, lately, Idomeneo at the center of his repertoire. “I took on Idomeneo a couple years ago,” he says, “even though this is a role that people have associated with singers like Pavarotti or Domingo or Ben Heppner. Frankly, I don’t find Idomeneo as tough a night of singing as Ferrando, which is longer and a little higher.” That Polenzani can assess his capacity with such confidence is a measure of his maturity as a performer and the experience he’s gained in recent years.

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