My Favorite French Tenor
I went to high school on Chicago’s North Shore with Matt Polenzani. He is a tenor, from New York, who just wrapped up a starring role in “The Tales of Hoffmann” at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. As part of the promotion for that opera, he sang the National Anthem at the Bears-Packer game in late September.
I have been to only one other opera. However, I grew up going to musicals with my mom, once a year, on my birthday. I would then buy the sheet music and learn the songs on the piano.
Last night, with opera glasses in hand, and my mom and my “Auntie Val”, we went to see his final performance.
As I was fidgeting with my opera binoculars, I heard “that voice”. I zoomed in on my former classmate from way back when and he took over the stage with a powerful and beautiful voice backed up with evident passion and drama. His eyes, even from Row J in the second upper balcony, showed his vulnerability and commitment to his role.
I took French in junior high and high school so I was able to capture some key phrases such as: “amour”, “oui”, and “voulez-vous”. Candidly, it didn’t matter what the actual words were. You could figure it out through how he was emoting on stage. He commanded attention and it was very enlightening and entertaining to watch.
When I told Matt that I would be attending, he graciously put all three of us on the back stage list.
There were quite a few of us there. Someone asked for his interpretation of his character’s role and it was interesting to hear his take on it.
Before I could catch eye contact, he held court with some fellow classmates. He gave them all quality time, they laughed, hugged and then they left.
There were still many people behind me but then he and I locked a glance. He paused as I walked over and then recognition took place. In a moment of complete relief, accompanied with one of those quality hugs you get when you haven’t seen someone in 25 years, versus those fake ones we have all experienced, he exclaimed “Lauren, it’s you!”
My mom and Auntie Val gave him raves, that were much more believable than anything I could say because they understand opera. For me, it was a bit more simple.
“Matt, you were awesome. May I get a photo of us for the blog?”
I called out to the crowd to find out who had the least shaky hand. The picture was taken and we said our good byes. Before I left, I told him he was the best French tenor I knew. He laughed, knowing that I didn’t actually know any others.
Matt was impressively gracious and very sincere and kind. He had just sung an incredibly long performance full of quality and range, with very little down time in a 3 and 1/2 hour time period. However, he was full of energy and appreciative that everyone was there to pay homage to him.
While it is evident he is making it in the business, he is still Matt: a classmate of mine who grew up down the street. The Matt I saw in performances at high school, in show choir and in musicals. The Matt who sang at local restaurants before he made it in New York. No inflated ego, although well deserved. Just a nice person who happens to be loaded with a great French tenor voice and capable of delivering memorable performances.
It was a wonderful moment. As I walked away, I promptly sent our photo to Facebook, of course! Caption: “Matt Polenzani, My Favorite French Tenor”. By the way, oh say, can he sing!