Connecticut native Grills to perform with Bavarian State Opera
Rising young tenor began his journey to operatic career at Western
DANBURY, CONN. — Former Western Connecticut State University student and Connecticut native Matthew Grills, a 2012 winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, is taking his promising career as an operatic tenor to the international stage with his recent agreement to sing as a featured young artist with the Bavarian State Opera in Germany.
The contract arrangement with the renowned opera company in Munich for the 2013-14 season marks the latest in a series of remarkable achievements for Grills, a New Canaan native who moved with his family at age 13 to Sandy Hook. A member of the Santa Fe (N.M.) Opera apprentice program in summer 2012, he became a resident artist with the Portland Opera in Oregon during the 2012-13 season, performing the roles of Spoletta in Puccini’s “Tosca” and Goffredo in Handel’s “Rinaldo.” In April, he gave solo recitals of works by Mozart, Barber, Britten and other composers at the Portland Opera and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. This summer he made his debut with the San Francisco Opera in a supporting role in Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffman,” and performed the role of Fenton in the Virginia-based Wolf Trap Opera production of Verdi’s “Falstaff.”
During the past year, he noted, “I’ve worked for four separate opera companies all across America. I’ve learned that it’s a constant struggle to be noticed and heard in this business, and you have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, especially as a young artist. I’ve never lived in a foreign country, so Munich will be a challenging and completely new experience, but I’m so excited about the opportunities it will bring.”
Grills’ operatic career has soared since his selection in March 2012 as one of five winners in the 2012 Met National Council Auditions that brought together nearly 1,500 singers from 20 to 30 years of age to compete at 41 district and 14 regional auditions in the United States and Canada. His winning performance in the semifinals and the Grand Finals Concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, earned a $15,000 award and invaluable exposure at an event that annually draws leading opera and music industry professionals to hear emerging new singers.
Grills also earned the $15,000 first prize in the 2012 Lotte Lenya Competition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., for outstanding singing and acting performance in repertory ranging from opera to musical theatre. His achievement marked the first time that a single singer had captured top honors in both the Metropolitan Opera and Lotte Lenya competitions.
“Even a year-and-a-half later, I’m still in disbelief that the Met competition ever happened,” he said. “When you reach the semi-finals, you’re working with the best coaches and conductors for one of the greatest houses in the world. I’ll never forget the day of the Finals Concert: My whole family came from Connecticut, and friends whom I hadn’t seen since graduating and many of my music teachers also came to support me.”
Grills’ impressive progress during the past two years toward a successful and enduring international career in opera has delighted WCSU Professor of Music Dr. Margaret Astrup, who has coordinated the vocal studies program in the university’s music department for more than two decades. Astrup recalled Grills’ arrival in 2004 at Western as a freshman who already had received local attention for his voice and acting as a strong performer in musical theatre at Newtown High School. During his two years of undergraduate study at WCSU, he sang the leading tenor role in the WCSU Opera performance of Franz Lehar’s operetta “The Merry Widow” and played the lead in the WCSU theatre department production of the musical “Nine,” as well as a dramatic role in Wendy Wasserstein’s play “The Heidi Chronicles.”
“Matt was a powerful presence onstage, both dramatically and vocally,” Astrup observed. “From a musical standpoint, Matt had a beautiful and mature sound and an extremely developed range for someone who was then still a teenager. He sang a high ‘C’ with confidence and grace — a rare accomplishment for any tenor. I would lie awake at night planning the repertoire that we could do to feature the talents of such a tenor!”
Grills expressed gratitude to faculty in the Western music and theatre arts departments for enabling him to pursue both voice and theatre performance studies. “I have very fond memories of my time at WCSU. I started as a classical voice major but realized I wanted to try more theatre, so I stayed connected in both departments and gained a lot of practical stage experience,” he said. “I’m not sure I would be in the same position today if it hadn’t been for that. It is so important for young artists to spread their wings and experience all kinds of art.”
Astrup’s only regret was the loss of her gifted student after his sophomore year. Grills received the invitation to complete his bachelor’s degree in music at the Boston Conservatory in Massachusetts, where he also performed in productions of operas by Puccini, Massenet and Britten.
He continued his studies at the Eastman School of Music, performing in several Eastman Opera Theater productions as well as the summer 2011 opera program for young artists at the Seagle Music Colony in upstate New York. He earned top honors in the 2011 Jessie Kneisel Lieder Competition and third place in the 2011 Friends of Eastman Opera Voice Competition, and received his master’s degree from Eastman in 2012.
In a profile published in April in “The Oregonian” of Portland, David Stabler observed that music educators who have worked with Grills have expressed appreciation for his vocal talents as a lyric tenor, a “warm and bright” vocal style in the tradition of past opera greats such as Luciano Pavarotti. Grills’ New York vocal coach, Tyson Deaton, told Stabler that he considers Grills “a very rare commodity in the current opera world. During the 1960s and before, there were these wonderful Italian lyric tenors who could sing with an immense resonance in the middle and low range, had very secure high ranges, and were convincing in just about any repertoire. Lyric tenors are less common now, and Matt is the link to that tradition.”
Robert Swensen, associate professor of voice at Eastman who conducted vocal lessons for Grills, recalled in remarks published on the school’s website that his former student was not merely “a supremely talented tenor. More than that, he has a stage presence that is magical and a voice that reaches into the heart.”
Astrup has remained in contact with Grills and cherishes the opportunity to share in his professional successes. “I am extremely happy for him and wish him all the best on his new contract with the Bavarian State Opera,” she said. “We are fortunate at WCSU to have played a part in his education and development as a musician and an artist.”
For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.