(This profile is being published on the 50th birthday of the tenor. Happy Birthday!)
Throughout the 21st century, Matthew Polenzani has turned into not only one of the finest tenors but one of the greatest singers in the opera world.
Born on August 23, 1968, in Evanston Illinois, the American tenor studied at the Eastern Illinois University before earning a master’s from the Yale School of Music. It wasn’t long before he was a fixture at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, first as a member of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (which is now known as the Ryan Opera Center), and eventually as a regular performer.
His first big break came in 1997 when he made his Metropolitan Opera debut, cementing a major relationship with the company that he would perform with 30 years later. The tenor would go on to perform at all the major companies around the world including the Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu, among others.
He is a recipient of the Richard Tucker Award and Beverly Sills Award and has made a number of recordings.
The tenor has seen his repertoire expand in recent years and in the 2018-19 season he is prepping to move into more dramatic territory with Bizet’s “Carmen.” But the American tenor is arguably one of the greatest Mozartian tenors of all time, his voice absolutely perfect for the works of the great master.
“I have to talk about “Dalla sua pace” and truly ask if there is currently any tenor that sings this with more nuance and feeling than Polenzani?” said OperaWire’s review of his performance of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni during the 2016-17 season. “His opening phrases were sung full-voiced and with tender passion, but it was the repetition that really broke my heart. His voice but a gentle mezza voce breeze, Polenzani made love to every single line, interpolating his own ornaments with utmost care.”
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Watch and Listen
Here is an interview with the tenor.
Here is a clip from his lauded “Idomeneo” at the Metropolitan in an aria that he himself called one of the finest written (read the interview above for more).
And here is the tenor alongside Anna Netrebko in a historic performance of “Don Pasquale.”