Sunday, January 29, 2017

Q&A with barihunk Kenneth Mattice

Kenneth Mattice
We briefly introduced American barihunk Kenneth Mattice to readers way back in 2008, when we were still pretty new on the scene. He was a resident artist at Opera San José where he was singing Mercutio in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and Papageno in Mozart's The Magic Flute. He has since moved to Germany where we "rediscovered" him as Count Almaviva in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. He graciously agreed to answer some questions and tell us about his career path since we first posted about him.

1. What drew you to a career in opera? 
Partially, Uncle Joey.  He was always the family singer and entertainer who led all the silly campfire sing-alongs.  Partially, Mr. Scheer.  He gave a freshman a leading role in the school musical.  And then another, and another; shaping my first attempts at finding my voice and making music.  Partially, Aussies. A sophomore music-education major decided to do a study abroad and came back a voice major; having made his professional debut in Australia.

2. What are your thoughts about being featured on Barihunks?
Thrilled!  Barihunks has been awesome at marketing both itself and a lot of handsome, talented men for some years now.  Back in 2008, when I was a principal artist with Opera San José, I actually got my first shout-out from Barihunks.  That was a nice ego boost for a young singer, especially with the title, "Opera San José shows up San Francisco Opera"!  Since then I've lived and worked in many states and countries, but it seems you've tracked me down again!

Kenneth Mattice & soprano Veronika Haller (photo right: Klaus Lafebvre)
3. What do you do to stay in shape? What are your thoughts about singers taking care of their bodies as well as their voices?
I lift, brah.  No, seriously.  I do, but I'm not OCD about it.  I go to the gym 3-4 times a week and play pick-up basketball with some German locals one-two times a week, when I can.  I hate running though; unless it's after my wife or a ball/frisbee, in that order!

Singers, like any athlete, need to condition their entire bodies.  We're talking cardio, even when it sucks.  It's not just about singing long beautiful phrases anymore, but whether or not you can do it after running down a staircase shirtless.  And a baritone that isn't working toward being half-naked on stage at some point, is in danger of losing Barihunk status.  Beautiful singing should always come first, but it's bonus to give the director the option of a shirtless (or more) Billy Budd, Giovanni, Silvio, Escamillo, etc...  I just may have an opportunity coming up with Die Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald in Hagen in June.

Kenneth Mattice (photo: Klaus Lafebvre)
4. How did you end up in Germany and what's it like being on a fest contract?
Germany: I wish I had come here sooner.  That being said, I'm here now.  I'm working.  I'm doing what I love every day, I have some job security and my wife has the same situation at her theater with only an hour commute from where we live.  What more could I ask for?  After a couple of years free-lancing in the US, I knew I had to change course.  If I wanted to stay in the biz, it was either stay in the NYC temp world and keep hashing it out with the regional companies or jump ship.  So, I started making short audition trips over here.  I met agents, old singer friends, new singer friends and saw a lot of operas.  The best investment I made in my German adventure, however, were two summers of immersion-style language training at Middlebury College in Vermont.  After seven weeks of living non-stop in the language, I lost the fear I had felt standing on an German operatic stage for an audition; never really certain that my introduction was spoken correctly or, God forbid, they ask me a question other than my name!  In most regional theaters here, ours having over 47 different nationalities represented, German is the rehearsal/work language.

Being fest, for those that don't know, generally starts with a two-year contract to work at one theater, singing all the roles that are appropriate for your voice-type.  Depending on the size of the soloist-ensemble, you may be double-cast or have a show off from time to time.  Our ensemble is not very large, so for the last three seasons I've been singing all of the leading baritone roles at our house.  This has included some very rewarding debuts (Onegin, Valentin, Edwin in Csárdásfürstin, Jonny in Jonny Spielt Auf) and revisiting some roles I've previously done (Almaviva, Papageno, Sharpless, Enrico).

Being on a fest contract is also like finding a second home, at least for me.  It's a very loving, supportive environment at Theater Hagen.  I've been encouraged/pushed to find my dramatic limits and given the freedom to try new roles that may be a stretch.  The depth to which I've gotten to know my colleagues here in different roles and situations has also allowed me to open up more and push those walls of insecurity aside, leaning on them for support when needed.  We often have gatherings on holidays or after shows that are much more like Sunday dinner with the family, rather than just hanging out with work colleagues.

Kenneth Mattice (photo: Klaus Lafebvre)
5. You're singing some rep that one doesn't see in much in the US, particularly some operetta. Do you enjoy these roles?
Absolutely!  Much of the rep done in the US is still full of the "old chestnuts" and for good reason.  They're heart-warming, soul-searching masterpieces.  What's nice about companies in Germany and the rest of Europe is the sheer number of operas being performed.  By that reason alone, they're forced to and have a desire to present both new works and revive old ones.  I enjoy the challenges that come with unusual or complicated roles.  That being said, I'd prefer to have a few of the "chestnuts" thrown in there for variety/sanity.  Csárdásfürstin, while not often performed in the US, is actually one of the Austrian/German/Hungarian "chestnuts" of operetta.  Edwin is a new for me; one that many would call a bari-tenor role.  Much like Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, he has a lot of high notes (going up to A), but the part doesn't live up there.  It's one of my stretch roles this season (both with the tessitura and also with the amount of German dialogue), but one that now fits me perfectly.

6.  Any limits on what you'd do at a stage director’s request?
On stage, very little, IF I can understand and come to grips with the reasoning behind it.  I'm not an exhibitionist by any means, but I strive for realism and believability on stage.  If there's going to be a love scene or a shower scene, then there should be some skin showing. One brief example; in the locker room scene in Trouble in Tahiti, Sam sings, "There's a law about men".  In our staging, we had a shower set up with a frosted panel in front, but open on the sides.  Once we were in stage rehearsals, it was obvious that a limited number of people sitting on the sides would see me in the shower without any visual barriers.  I made the decision at that point to not only be shirtless, but to strip down to only a nude dancebelt.  If I were doing a piece that requires nudity to be believable, like The Fly - sung by fellow Barihunk Daniel Okulitch, however, I'd go all-in.

7. Are there any roles in particular that you really hope to get to perform someday?
Billy Budd is hands-down the dream role for me.  I've been singing his aria for years in concerts and auditions.  I can't wait to sing a role in my native tongue that has so many colors, strengths and weaknesses with which to play.

Carina Sandhaus and Kenneth Mattice (photo: Klaus Lafebvre)

8. Do you prefer singing standard operatic repertory or newer pieces?
I prefer to mix it up and have both.  Singing in a fest contract does that automatically for you.  I like the different hats it allows me to wear.

9. What other passions do you have aside from music?
I love doing anything and everything that has to do with nature.  Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I always had the option (and often responsibility) to be outside; hunting, fishing, biking, bonfires, swimming, gardening - you name it!

10. What do you listen to other than opera?
I'm constantly listing to either a variety of podcasts or cooking to jazz/classic rock.

Kenneth Mattice and wife sopranoEmily Newton
11. The best advice anyone has ever given you?
Stick with it if you love it.  Failure does not determine your fate, it's the first step to having real success.

12. Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with opera.
Waushara County Fair Champion Swine Showman - 5 years in a row!  Yeah, so growing up, the summer county fair and 4-H were very influential.  I learned about parliamentary procedure, public speaking, nature, animals and experienced the selfless, giving community that surrounded it.  I used to actually put Swine Showmanship Champion down under "other talents" on my resume.  It was my wild card.  I don't think I ever landed a job because of it, but I would often be asked about it at auditions.  It gave me a chance to stand out from the other talented singers because it was different and completely unrelated.  It led to some interesting discussions and, hopefully, left a memorable impression.

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