April 09, 2021

Spotlight on Matthew Polenzani

Internationally renowned tenor Matthew Polenzani is no stranger to Chicago audiences. The Evanston native became a regular fixture at Lyric, first as a member of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center from 1995-1997, and then as a regular featured artist. He has appeared in more than 15 roles and numerous concerts since his company debut as Captain of the Crossbowmen in Lyric's 1995/96 production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.

Lyric's 1995/96 production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.

In his second season as a Ryan Opera Center Ensemble member, Polenzani appeared as the Priest in Mozart's The Magic Flute, Count Lerma in Verdi's Don Carlo, the Song Vendor in Puccini's Il Tabarro, and a Singer in Berio's Un re in ascolto. Immediately after completing the program, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Boyar Kruschov in the company's 1997 production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Following that starry premiere, he has gone on to give more than 300 performances in over 20 roles at The Met.

Matthew Polenzani in his first leading role at Lyric as Romeo opposite Dina Kuznetsova as Juliet in Gounod's operatic adaptation of the beloved Shakespeare play.

He returned to Lyric as a featured artist in the 2006/07 Season, singing the role of Romeo in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet. From that moment, he would be seen on Lyric's stage in nearly every subsequent season, first as Alfredo Germont in Verdi's La traviata (2007/08), and as Belmonte in Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (2008/09).

Matthew Polenzani in the title role of Massenet's Werther in a new Lyric production.

Particularly celebrated for Mozart, bel canto, and French repertoire, Polenzani was next seen at Lyric in the title roles of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann (2011/12), Massenet's Werther (2012/13), and Mozart's La clemenza di Tito (2013/14).

The Illinois-born Polenzani, who scored a triumph in the title role of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann here last season, delivered another triumph on this occasion. The beauty of his sound, the musicality of his legato, the suppleness of his phrasing, the clarity of his French diction, the ringing ease of his high notes – all served a finely realized portrayal. His account of Werther's "Pourquoi me reveiller," ardent yet elegant, was a model of how that great aria should be sung.

Chicago Tribune

Another Lyric triumph: Matthew Polenzani as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi's Rigoletto.

Most recently, Chicago audiences enjoyed four roles that Polenzani has performed and perfected at some of the greatest opera houses in the world: Tamino in Mozart's The Magic Flute (2016/17), Nadir in Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, the Duke of Mantua in Verdi's Rigoletto (both 2017/18), and the title role of Mozart's Idomeneo (2018/19). In a glowing review of Polenzani's performance as the Duke of Mantua, Chicago Classical Review declared, "Is there a finer lyric tenor currently singing anywhere before the public? Not likely," and that is something his fervent Chicago fan base is sure to echo!

Matthew Polenzani performs with Broadway star and fellow Evanston native Jessie Mueller in Lyric's 2017 Chicago Voices Concert.

As a longtime member of the Lyric family, Matthew Polenzani has taken part in multiple celebratory and commemorative concerts over the years. While in the Ryan Opera Center, he performed at the Ardis Krainik Celebration Gala, when the Lyric Opera House's auditorium was named for the then general director; and in 2015, Polenzani performed at the Celebrating Ken concert, honoring the life of Lyric's president and CEO Kenneth G. Pigott. In 2017, he was an Honorary Advisor and performer in the multi-genre concert Chicago Voices, which won an Emmy Award for its national broadcast on PBS Great Performances. This spring, Polenzani returns to Lyric's concert stage—albeit digitally—singing the role of Foresto in Attila Highlights in Concert: Explore More with Enrique Mazzola (premiering April 11) and Tom Rakewell in selections from The Rake's Progress in Celebrating Sir Andrew Davis (premiering May 16). Both virtual concerts will be available to stream free of charge and view on-demand on Lyric's Facebook and YouTube channels.

Matthew Polenzani performs in the virtual concert Celebrating Sir Andrew Davis: From Mozart to Stravinsky.

In addition to regular appearances at Lyric, Polenzani is greatly in demand at the Metropolitan Opera, London's Royal Opera House, Salzburg Festival, Munich's Bavarian State Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and more. He is a past recipient of two of opera's greatest honors—the Richard Tucker Award (2004) and the Metropolitan Opera's Beverly Sills Artist Award (2008)—and in 2017, the tenor received an Opera News Award. 

You can follow Matthew Polenzani's musical journey around the globe on his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels, and find his recordings of works by Brahms, Liszt, Schubert, and more on all of your favorite streaming platforms.

Header photo: Matthew Polenzani in Attila Highlights in Concert: Explore More with Enrique Mazzola. Credit: Kyle Flubacker

All other images: Robert Kusel, Dan Rest, Todd Rosenberg, Cory Weaver, Kyle Flubacker