As The Lion King hits Perth with a successful run, we can’t all help but be musical theatre obsessed. (It’s hard to stop singing that opening number!) But whenever a new musical hits Perth, I become more aware of the stereotypes and myths of Opera out there. I wonder if in 100 years, musicals such as The Lion King will be considered for old people, and people will be surprised when the singers performing these works aren’t the size of an elephant (Although, that’s somewhat fitting for The Lion King…), and the performers will have to endure comments like: “I didn’t realise it was going to be fun!”
Opera and Musicals are both Musical Theatre. The point of both genres is to tell a story with the help from music. So we decided to talk to someone who, for the last three years, has been working in both. Perth audiences will recognise him as Professor Calahan from the highly successful WAAPA production of Legally Blonde, but WAAPA Graduate Matthew Hyde is a man of many talents. Performing in musicals such as West Side Story, Children of Eden (God), Urinetown (Mr Cladwell) and Legally Blonde (Calahan), as well as operas such as Little Women (John Brooke) and Midsummer Night’s Dream (Demetrius), I was lucky enough to sit down with Matthew Hyde and get his experiences on working in these two art forms.
Some fun facts about Matthew Hyde before we begin:
- Matthew is not only a singer, but has played piano since he was 5/6 AND violin since he was 9
(Although, he claims his violin skills are terrible.)
- His first experience was singing in school choir for a year. “I just remember wearing this bright white and yellow outfit… I remember going to Winthrop Hall at UWA with the organ and stained glass windows and thinking… This is so cool, I’ve made it.”
- His first Musical Theatre experience was watching Les Miserables at 13 – 15 years old. He learnt the sheet music for the piano and drove everyone in his house crazy with Castle on a Cloud, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and I’ve Dreamed a Dream.
- Before Musical Theatre, Matthew did a four year honours degree in Conservation Biology at UWA. He worked with Chevron as an Environmental Advisor for a year and a half.
- He discovered Musicals again in the final year of his Science degree. He couldn’t sing, he couldn’t act, and he couldn’t dance… There was only one way to change that!
…And so the musical theatre training began!
MH: In my last year of Conservation Biology, I began singing lessons with this guy in Bassendean and then thought: I’ve got to dance! Better do something about that. So I started doing ballet. For a good year and a half, I was there Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and all day Saturday. I was a science geek, I was half the size and I was not even slightly athletic at all. So it was a year and a half of tap, jazz, but mostly ballet.
“If you want to do something properly, start with the classics. I figured if I wanted to learn how do dance properly, I’d start with ballet. If I wanted to learn how to sing properly, learn classical first.”
In 2009 I graduated UWA. I was doing my dance lessons, my singing lessons. Got a job with Chevron as an Environmental Advisor for about a year and half. So by 2010 I was working full time, and also doing ballet and singing on the side.
So end of 2011, I auditioned for WAAPA. My mum said “If you don’t give it a chance you’ll regret not giving it a chance forever.” I went and auditioned and got into the WAAPA Musical Theatre Certificate course. I dropped my hours to part time at Chevron and I was working with David Dockery. He has a classical background, so when I started with him, I really wanted to do classical stuff as well. At this point it was because I wanted to have a good technique.
Listening to other people sing, I thought I do sound to suit legit musicals and classical music. I’m not a rock singer. So I auditioned for the Bachelor of Musical Theatre and Classical, at both Griffith University in Brisbane and WAAPA.
Matthew was accepted into all courses at the universities, but accepted the Musical Theatre Bachelor at WAAPA. His teacher became Patricia Price, who was not only a teacher of some of the musical theatre students, but is also the Head of Classical Voice at WAAPA. With Patricia, Matthew continued his classical training and was soon engaged in his first opera experience: Mark Adamo’s Little Women.
MH: It was in my third lesson I think that she mentioned would I like to be in the opera. In first year Musical Theatre you don’t do much so I said I’d love to, thinking I’d be in the chorus standing in the back. I thought it’d be great experience. Then I found out I was playing Mr Brook and that I had my own aria and I was like “oh my god!”
It’s a beautiful aria. I actually started listening to recordings of the opera and on my first listen through, my aria was the only part that I liked out of the entire thing. I thought “This is horrendous! What have I signed up for?” but it grows on you. The quartet at the end is just beautiful. And the music for Beth dying is just incredible. That kind of music was still foreign to me. The intervals were weird, and it was just incredibly intimidating. Before Little Women, I had never done a play or show, not even amateur theatre. I thought the music was atonal and weird… Then I did Britten!
As we’ve talked about in our other blog, Britten is not for everyone. Britten was, however, an influence on musical theatre composer, Stephen Sondheim. Classical composers have played huge influences on many musical theatre composers: Gershwin, Bernstein, Weill (All of them also wrote Operas). So I had to ask him: What is the biggest lesson he got from doing opera?
MH: An appreciation for different forms of art. For example, you can take Puccini’s La Boheme and compare it with Rent. Having an appreciation for that makes you realise what Rent came out of. There are ten minutes in La Boheme from ‘Che gelida manina’ to ‘Mi chiamano mimi.” These songs back to back… That’s just my favourite. I’ve watched it over and over.
(This is an outdated version of this recording, but Pavarotti’s voice and the English Surtitles make this recording a must watch!)
I do love legit musicals (shows requiring classical training). I think a lot of that’s to do with a love of well-written music. What’s beautiful to me tends to be the more classical driven music. Great musical theatre composers built from classical artists, so it gives you an appreciation for classical.
What can Opera offer to Musical Theatre and what can Musical Theatre offer to Opera?
MH: Kelli O’Hara and Audra McDonald.
O’Hara singing Almost Real is a great example to opera singers for the importance of telling a story and she tells it so well. She’s such a great singer. For the musical theatre singers, it says – hey, look! You can be an incredible singer classically trained. She has a way of marrying technique to the character and it doesn’t seem out of place. Audra McDonald is also a fantastic storyteller and singers these stories incredibly well.
Advice to the students in Classical Voice and Musical Theatre:
MH: Classical Voice: If anything, you need more acting. As Graham Johnson says, “Text! Text! Text!” and he’s right. They want to hear the stories as well as the music.
Musical Theatre: I love belting, but you can add classical singing to your repertoire. Even if you don’t want to do classical music, it gives you another voice that you can use to tell the stories.
The point of The O Word is to make opera more accessible to the wider audiences. So Matthew; why is classical music important?
MH: It’s the stories that are told. Any art form that tells a story is important. Storytelling is important and opera is definitely apart of that. I think it’s important that opera evolves to stay relevant in the 21st Century. Which it is: The Divorce (starring Lisa McCune) is a great idea, Kate Miller Heidke is doing great things with The Rabbits. We just need more of that.
If you were to see an Opera based on a movie, TV show, book or real life story, what would it be?
MH: I wonder how Harry Potter the opera would go! I think The Wheel of Time series would work… Talk about endurance theatre though! I also think George Orwell’s ‘1984’ would make an interesting opera. I’d like to see my Bathtub Cabaret take form and become something.
(For those that don’t know, Matt has created the beginnings of a cabaret show called “Opera in the Bathtub”. It features a time travelling bathtub, a time travelling companion called Figaro (a rubber duck, naturally) and a rewritten parody of Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s Barber of Seville…. Please, Matthew, this has to become a fully staged Cabaret!)
I think any story that resonates with people would make a good opera. I would love to see an opera tackle the issues of today. Refugees, displaced people, people looking for opportunities: These stories would be totally moving.
So Matthew… Will you continue doing opera in your career?
MH: Hopefully. I mean, I know how musical theatre works. I don’t really know how it works in the opera world. I’m learning Italian, which will help as 60% of operas seem to be in Italian.
(He then proceeded to say “There’s a snake in my boot!” in Italian. Maybe he should add a Toy Story opera to the list above!)
The biggest barrier is the languages. The next step for me is keeping up classical singing and finding a teacher in Melbourne who does classical and musical theatre. The only thing is, I don’t have a particular desire to go and do a Masters after eight years of uni. I don’t know if that will be limiting.
Who knows what the future holds? You’ve just got to keep your skills up.
After sitting with Matthew for an hour and listening to him speak so passionately about music, it is safe to say this man is set for success. Moving to Melbourne on December 13th, Western Australia is definitely going to miss this bright, young talent. The Opera and Musical Theatre Scene better have their eyes peeled and ready for yet another WAAPA graduate! It is so important to remember the importance of story telling, as Matt brought up, as it is a reminder to why we do this in the first place. We’re not here for the standing ovations, or the big dance numbers, or those high notes: We’re here to tell a story.
Written by Katherine Goyder