|| Tenor ||
His work onstage is the perfect marriage of splendid voice and unfaltering genuineness.
by Maria Mazzaro.
As Nemorino to Anna Netrebko’s Adina at the Met, 2012
© Beth Bergman
MATTHEW POLENZANI'S performances are characterized by beauty of tone, grace and authenticity. His star-blazing moments occur in thoughtful soliloquies, peaks of revelation and bursts of emotional depth, when his near-seamless voix mixte propels his lines through pristine exultation or confession: he lets the sweetly spun, lyrical silkiness of his tenor shape the emotion of the sound, and his audiences perch on the edges of their seats as they are pulled into the core of his characters’ feelings. A Polenzani performance is always one of raw honesty.
opera news readers first encountered the Chicago native through a Sound Bites profile in 2001, after he appeared in comprimario roles in Met productions of Der Fliegende Holländer and Fidelio; he had made his debut with the Met in 1997, as Khrushchov in Boris Godunov. New York has since heard Polenzani in more than 300 performances of an impressive thirty-five roles in thirty-three operas, beginning with smaller parts in operas by Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Janácˇek and Schoenberg and graduating to the exciting tenor showcases of Rossini, Verdi, Offenbach, Mozart and, in particular over the past few seasons, Donizetti.
Polenzani doesn’t just appear onstage with other artists; he creates fulfilling character interactions with each of his colleagues. In 2012, when he opened the Met season in Bartlett Sher’s production of L’Elisir d’Amore opposite Anna Netrebko, the two seemed an ideal temperamental match: the more fiery Netrebko’s Adina became, the more outwardly reserved and inwardly tormented Polenzani’s Nemorino grew, culminating in a delicately spun rendition of “Una furtiva lagrima.” The aria had it all—luminous pianissimos (a defining characteristic), the right blend of chiaroscuro, clarion tone and swelling lines that burst with previously unspoken passion. During the impressively long ovation, preserved from an HD broadcast, he seemed pleased, content, almost bashful, as if he couldn’t believe he merited such an honor. His audience very much believed it.
Some Mozarteans today sacrifice genuine character for the sake of vocal fireworks; not so Polenzani. In Claus Guth’s production of Don Giovanni, recorded at the Salzburg Festival and available on DVD, Polenzani proves himself a committed Don Ottavio, singing of his resolution to avenge Donna Anna with crisp Italian diction, especially throughout the recitative; after Polenzani’s rendition of “Dalla sua pace,” it’s easy to rally to Ottavio’s side—something that is not always a given for Don Giovanni’s other Don.
The French repertoire showcases yet another dimension of Polenzani’s technique. Singing “Je crois entendre encore” at the Met in 2015–16, in his role debut in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, he smoothly delivered Nadir’s As and Bs while obeying Bizet’s dynamic markings of piano and pianissimo. Throughout the aria, his instrument sounded at once light and free, buoyant and full, excited and unerring, creating one of those thrilling moments one wished might never end. Even more strikingly, in the famous duet, he effortlessly navigated the shifting mood between firm declarations of friendship and longings of love. His lines floated on air.
An elegant presence onstage, who can concurrently maintain theatrical legitimacy and sheer beauty of sound, he has devoted his career to the Met, the house he calls his artistic home. Lucky for New Yorkers, who have had the pleasure of hearing Polenzani in all his major roles, a list that continues to grow—and to delight his fans. —Maria Mazzaro