From HSO Box Office To The Bushnell Stage For Grills

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mattgTenor Matthew Grills got his start with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. But not the kind of start you think.

The first HSO experience for the 25-year-old celebrated singer and 2012 grand prize winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions was selling tickets for its Talcott Mountain Summer Festival in Simsbury. On Saturday, he returns for something much bigger and better, as a guest soloist in the HSO production of the seasonal favorite, “Handel’s Messiah” with fellow soloists Lester Lynch, Rochelle Bard and Daniella Mack, and the Hartford Chorale.  

The Connecticut native who grew up in New Canaan and Newtown, still jokes as he recalls his Connecticut box office days. Not a huge opera fan when he was a teenager, he was bitten by the bug and now can’t wait to sing in the iconic production with the orchestra that was always special to him. He explains why and how he went from selling to singing as he “Spills the Beans” with Java.

Q: So how did you get from the box office to the stage?

A: I had a bug for music and was studying at Eastman School of Music in Rochester. I was working on my master’s degree but came home for the summer and was looking for a job. My aunt volunteered in the symphony’s development office and they needed someone to work the ticket trailer in Simsbury so I took the job.

Q: When did you know you wanted to sing opera?

A: I always wanted to be on stage and wanted to sing. When I started Boston Conservatory I just wanted to sing and then a couple of years later got into opera. I won a competition in 2011 and that helped propel me. It got me some gigs. Opera is beautiful music. I think the fallacy about opera is that it is too sophisticated to be main stream but it seems like it has a renewed interest. I think a lot of the traditional opera productions are being given a more contemporary flair and that attracts more young people.

Q: “Handel’s Messiah” is iconic this time of year. Are you feeling nervous or excited about performing in your home state again?

A: This is the first time I am singing a solo in this classic piece. It feels pretty awesome that it is happening in my home state.  There aren’t a lot of opportunities for opera singers in Connecticut unfortunately. I expect to see a lot of my friends and relatives there Saturday. My mother is a Facebook-aholic and has been telling everyone I am performing.

Q: Besides performing here, will you be spending Christmas with you family here in CT?

A: I usually am home for Christmas but this year am going to Germany to perform over the holidays. I feel a little sad that I won’t be home but am excited. It’s a new chapter of my life.

Q: Who are some of the singers you most admire?

A: I relate to a lot of opera singers. There is not just one I could pinpoint but I love Pavarotti. He is someone I could listen to for a long time. He is very main stream. I love Joan Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda. They inspire me.

Q: Tell me about your first stage performance?

A: It was a summer theater production in Newtown, a white version of “The Wiz.” We had just one black kid in it. I was a freshman in high school and had just seen a production of “West Side Story.” I was hooked. I wanted to sing.

Q: In this season of the “hard sell,” what was your secret to being a good ticket rep for HSO?

A: I was super charming so they couldn’t say ‘no.’ I would tell potential customers how I was a musician and in school and then they would feel sorry for me and buy tickets.

Q: Finish this sentence. “When the audience leaves the Bushnell Saturday evening I want them to …”

A: I want their evening to be more about the piece itself then my singing. I want the performance to put them into a mood that reflects the spirit of the season. I want them to enjoy it.

Tickets for “Handel’s Messiah” are available from $20 to 467.50 with student and young patron tickets (40 and under) offered at $10 and $25. Information: 860-244-2999 or hartfordsymphony.org

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