Speaking to a large, attentive audience of Montclair State University students, faculty, and staff, noted opera stage director, educator, and current general director of the Portland Opera, Christopher Mattaliano ’79, spoke about his career, and shared stories and advice at the Jack Sacher Memorial Alumni Lecture held in the Jed Leshowitz Recital Hall on February 23.
A former student of the late Professor Sacher, Mattaliano related the story of his life from his central New Jersey roots through his student days as a theatre arts major to his present position at the Portland Opera. He told how each step in his career could be traced back to his days at Montclair State, and to what he learned and the connections he made through his former professor.
“Dr. Sacher was very much the one who got me focused as a student….He was the one who got me serious,” acknowledged Mattaliano. “He never said it to me but there was something about him that just inferred, ‘Clean up your act and get serious about what you’re doing. Life is short; college life is very short; so clean up your act, get focused, and get serious’.”
That “advice” obviously paid off for the budding director as he went on to be a success not only at the Portland Opera, but also as a stage director of operas around the world, and as an educator at institutions such as the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and Yale University, Mannes College of Music. He has directed productions for the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, and L’Opera de Montreal, among many others, and his work has been performed at L’Opera de Nice and the Norwegian National Opera.
Judging by the many questions from the floor, Mattaliano’s talk clearly resonated with the audience—many of whom were aspiring singers. In response to an inquiry about what he looks for in a singer at an audition, Mattaliano responded: “I look for someone to tell me a story when they sing—your job as a singer is to communicate…The singer who connects and tells a story—that’s the singer that pops out for me. That’s the singer I sit up and listen to because they reveal the music.”
Mattaliano also stressed the value of making the most of educational opportunities. “The best training in the world exists right here in this country,” he said. “And as music students, I encourage you to really embrace that.”
There were also words of caution about trying to follow the advice of too many people. In order to avoid being pulled in too many directions, the director recommended that singers listen to only one or two trusted teachers or advisors and to do what feels right to them.
“[Opera is] the one art form [in which] everyone has a real strong opinion about what you should and should not be singing, what roles you should be studying, what you should do to adjust your technique,” he cautioned, then added with a chuckle, “There’s no other profession where everyone is such an expert as there is in opera!”
Sponsored by the John J. Cali School of Music and named for the beloved professor and former chair of what was then the Department of Music, the Jack Sacher Memorial Alumni Lecture series was established to honor Jack Sacher and a Montclair State University graduate who has established a distinguished career in music. The series gives current students a chance to learn about different arts professions and to see where their Montclair State education could take them.
For Christopher Mattaliano’s full bio, go to General Director.