Couple reaches for stars with voices
Matt Hayward, Angie Niederloh sing for Portland Opera and teach students
Like all high-end operas around the country, the Portland Opera searches far and wide for talent.
Most singers are highly paid, reputable performers. Some singers join through the Portland Opera Studio Artists program.
Others just sort of land in the Opera's lap -- like Matt Hayward and Angie Niederloh. They live in Portland as two of the rare locals who get the opportunity to sing for the opera.
"It's great to have a home-based company that welcomes you with open arms like they've done," says Hayward, a baritone who will sing in "Galileo Galilei," the story of the famous astronomer, which opens March 30 at Newmark Theatre. "It's nice that they like us both."
It turns out they like each other. Hayward and Niederloh are husband and wife. They also work as adjunct voice faculty members at Portland State University and run their own voice studio, VOX Northwest.
Niederloh is a native Oregonian. Hayward hails from Seattle, and relocated to Portland from New York City.
The couple is fairly entrenched in the opera community in the Rose City, and clearly remain on Portland Opera's radar.
"Portland Opera is such a unicorn, they really support their own," Niederloh says. "For whatever reason, there's a real stigma to hiring local singers; from what I hear from colleagues all over the nation, their 'home' operas won't hire them, like singers in their backyard aren't good enough. Portland Opera is very loyal, and they'll support their own."
"It's one of the best companies I've ever worked for," Hayward says. "They take incredibly good care of their singers, even local artists. Out-of-town singers love to come back here. The quality of work is exceptionally high."
Of Christopher Mattaliano, the general director, and Claire Burovac, director of artistic administration, Hayward adds, "They really know what they want, and are willing to take risks with new productions like 'Galileo.' "
Indeed, Philip Glass' "Galileo Galilei" tells the astronomer's story in reverse chronological order, with his incline plane experiment done on stage. It'll also be the opera's second commercial recording, the first being Glass' 2009 "Orphee."
Other than the reverse chronological order, "Galileo" features several singers playing different roles. Another local, Anne McKee Reed, also sings, and former studio artist Jose Rubio returns to the opera for the first time.
"I'm singing three different roles in this opera, as is everybody else," Hayward says. "It's an ensemble production; they're putting it together in a theatrical way. The whole cast never leaves the stage; we're there moving scenery and furniture and props in sort of this seamless ballet."
Highs and lows
Hayward made his opera debut in Maurice Ravel's "L'heure espagnole" last year, and Niederloh appeared in "Cosi fan tutte" last year. They hope the parts keep coming.
"Once you're established in the opera system, there are times when you are specifically asked to audition," says Niederloh, a mezzo soprano. "If you're on the radar for certain companies, you cross your fingers that you're not only hired but hired back. I've had the good fortune of working with Portland Opera for many years. They've been so kind to keep asking me back."
The couple also keeps busy with their private business (voxnorthwest.com) and PSU classes. They are getting ready for their PSU spring opera.
"They are pretty young singers; it takes awhile to graduate to the league of main stage roles," Niederloh says, of their students. "Give them time."
Hayward says the two share some common thoughts with aspiring singers.
"Just getting over making noise and singing out, letting the sound out, even if it's wrong or sounds funny," Hayward says, of his best advice. "Getting over one's fear of making noise -- people seem to be very timid. In solo voice instruction, we're trying to find that person's sound, and it starts with learning to not be afraid to let your sound out. Then it's off to technical things like breathing."
Hayward and Niederloh, who spend most of their time singing or teaching others to sing, get along very well.
"We both understand the business, inside and out," Hayward says. "Been there and gone through highs and lows.
"We get to bounce ideas off each other. We feed off each other. It's a real blessing. We don't butt heads too much about singing stuff."
"Galileo Galilei" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. March 30, April 3, 5 and 7, and 2 p.m. April 1 at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway. Tickets range from $50 to $86 (info: www.portlandopera.org).