Charming beginnings: Matthew Cairns

A current member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, Mr. Cairns was recently seen as the Prince of Persia in Turandot, the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, Gamekeeper in Rusalka, and is covering Alfredo in La traviata. He’s performed Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi with the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy, Liberto in The Coronation of Poppea with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Detlef in The Student Prince at the Chautauqua Institution, where he placed first in its Sigma Alpha Iota Competition. Other roles include Count Belfiore in La finta giardiniera, Sam Kaplan in Street Scene, Sam Sharkey/Lumberjack in Paul Bunyan. A force in competition, Mr. Cairns is a semifinalist in the 2022 Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition and a finalist in the 2022 Neue Stimmen Competition. He was the First Prize winner of the 2018 Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio Competition and winner of the CBC Music Young Artist Development Prize. Mr. Cairns earned his master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Toronto.

Hello, dear Matthew! Thank for accepting my invitation. It is such a pleasure for me to have you interviewed! You have just returned as a winner of the 2022 Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition. How was this experience for you and what lessons have you learned from it?

Winning the Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition was a wild ride. To have the chance to sing on that famed stage, where many greats have sung, and be supported by one of the worlds finest orchestras was truly a dream. What set this competition apart from others was the level of support that we were given from the Metropolitan Opera Staff. Upon arrival to New York City they made it their priority to make sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed to succeed. We had coaching’s and dramatic sessions to make sure we were prepared and felt comfortable singing in such a large space. They also gave us tickets to all the Operas that were being performed at the Met during our stay. It was a surreal experience to watch a production from the audience and then to sing on the stage shortly after. I learned no amount of mental preparation could calm my nerves, and to trust my voice in a large hall.

How do you prepare for an important competition? What do you have in mind when choosing the repertoire and maybe the most important question, how do you deal with stage fright?

I normally like to make sure my arias are well prepared and feel comfortable to sing even when I might feel exhausted or stressed. As far as repertoire selection goes, I choose arias that I love, that I know an audience will love. Sometimes competitions have restrictive repertoire requirements that make it harder for certain fachs to create a cohesive repertoire package, but my rule of thumb is “Sing what you love to sing, that you know you sing well”. I suffer from stage fright every time I sing. What helps me is to reassure myself that I have done the work and I am ready to show up and do my job. A quick prayer before I go on stage helps, but generally I get quite nervous for competitions, auditions, and performances.

Read the entire interview here, in the 4th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.

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