Count on Everything Music and Theatre to bring you what you want, in this case an exclusive interview with American tenor Matthew Polenzani, a favorite with Metropolitan Opera audiences. This spring he performed three roles there, in three operas: the daunting title role of Mozart’s “Idomeneo, re di Creta”; Ottavio in “Don Giovanni” by the same composer, a bread-and-butter role; and, the briefest, “ein italienischer Sänger”—an unnamed Italian singer—in Richard Strauss’ massive comedy of errors “Der Rosenkavalier” (The Rose-Bearing Squire). This overlapped with Ottavio, at times requiring consecutive-night performances.

Regarding that microscopic role in the gigantic German opera, the tenor took time to explain his performance routine for a role that allows him to go home earlier than with any other opera.

How the roles differ

Idomeneo is a “big sing”: three acts across four hours, including two intermissions, with the tenor seldom missing from the stage. In contrast, Matthew Polenzani says of Ottavio that It’s “a vacation-type piece in that I don’t have to work much during the evening.” Huh? In case it’s lost on you amid all that modesty, other than ensemble numbers, Ottavio sings a major aria in each of the opera’s two acts.

“Dalla sua pace la mia dipende” (My tranquillity depends on hers) is an exercise in elegant legato singing, whereas “Il mio tesoro” (My treasure) is full of fioriture (vocal embellishments like scales and a zillion notes to be sung in a nanosecond). He makes it sound easy, thanks to a perfectly honed technique supporting his artistry at interpretation.

And then there’s 'Di rigori'

In greater contrast still, the Italian Singer comes onstage in the middle of Act I of “Der Rosenkavalier,” sings 39 words throughout five minutes, and off he goes.

Matthew Polenzani says that, with a 7 PM early curtain, “I’m back in my dressing room by 7:45. Assuming traffic is not bad, I am usually home [in Westchester County] before the Act II curtain rises.” His colleagues, left behind, have another two and a half hours of work while he spends time with the wife and kids.

Can’t phone it in

“I arrive at the Met the same time as for a regular opera—two hours or so before curtain,” says Matthew Polenzani. This allows time for dinner and initial warmup, a visit by makeup artists and wigmakers; then, more warmup. “For this part, I sing more before I go onstage. The tenor has to start in immediately on a high and difficult aria, so the voice has to be ready to go.

When the entire part consists of one aria and it doesn’t go well …” You can see why he’d like to avoid leaving the audience with that impression. “If you’re singing Cavaradossi in ‘Tosca,’ and ‘Recondita armonia’ doesn’t go very well [in Act I], you’ve still got ‘E lucevan le stelle’ in Act III. Here, there’s just one chance, so the voice has to be nice and hot when I enter.”

‘You’re on!’

Since the Italian Singer in “Der Rosenkavaliar” goes onstage about 35 minutes into the first act, our tenor has plenty of time to don his costume, in this case a 1920s three-piece cream-colored suit and a huge white overcoat. “My props are on a table right outside the door I enter from,” says Matthew Polenzani.

“I just pick them up right before I walk out.” Often, the character holds a music score, from which he sight reads the aria. But not in the Met’s new Robert Carsen production. “No score this time. Instead, I bring the Marschallin a record as a gift, which I sign for her when I’m done with the aria.” Classy.

Stage business

Matthew Polenzani’s character enters in the midst of a levee, which, among Austrian royalty, occurred in the boudoir. Milling around are scads of people, even animals: orphans, a notary, the Marschallin’s hairdresser, her boorish cousin Baron Ochs, vendors, intriguers, you name it.

The Singer swoops in, tossing his overcoat to one of four sycophants (or are they assistants?), takes his place and begins the treacherously high, exposed aria. After an interlude that allows for more stage busy-ness, he launches into the aria again, a half tone higher. Ochs raises a ruckus, squelching the aria, giving the Singer the chance first to graciously take his leave from the Marschallin, then leave in a huff, retinue in tow. And he’s off.

'Quiet days'

Performance days I generally treat as quiet days. I try not to do too much on any performance day, whether it’s a long or a short sing.” But no lolling, not for Matthew Polenzani. “I like to exercise a bit. Maybe play golf if I don’t have too long a sing that evening.”

His performance

Matthew Polenzani’s appearance in this role Friday, May 5, was slick.

The aria flowed off his honeyed tongue in his trademark gorgeous tone. His scene seemed a high point in an opera of numerous highlights, a true crowd pleaser. The busy tenor returns to Metropolitan Opera in mid-January as Nemorino in Gaetano Donizetti’s romantic comedy “L’elisir d’amore” (Love Potion). Meanwhile, he next appears in Munich, then Ravinia Park, Ill.; Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and Chicago.

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