Matheys back on zoo stage
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Thursday, 18 July 2013 09:31
Shawn Mathey has starred in operas around the world.
|Dick Mathey (left) and his son, Shawn. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
That career though started close to home growing up on South Grove Street in Bowling Green with the guidance of his chorale director father Richard Mathey.
And what proved to be an important breakthrough happened at the supper table.
His father, an operatic tenor was a favorite of Sam Szor, who conducted the Toledo Concert band at its weekly concerts at the Toledo Zoo.
When he called in the summer of 1991 to see if Richard Mathey was available to sing, the elder Mathey felt it would be old hat to do yet another concert. He suggested that his son Shawn, then in his 20s, join him.
Can he sing? Szor asked.
So the elder Mathey handed the phone to his son, who on cue serenaded the conductor.
The duo was booked, and they were a hit. When Shawn Mathey sang "Nessun Dorma," his father said, "The place came unglued."
The Mathey duo became regulars at the zoo concert, and recorded an album "Without a Song."
This Sunday the Matheys will join the concert band, now conducted by Bruce Moss of the BGSU faculty, for duets and solo pieces. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. It'll be the first time in nine years the father-son duo will perform in the series.
Despite early signs of talent and direction from his father, Shawn Mathey did not set out to be a musician. He studied finance at BGSU, and then was working at The Wall Street Journal when that call came from Szor.
It was through a concert at the zoo that someone put Shawn Mathey in touch with James Meena, conductor of the Toledo Opera. Meena spotted the younger Mathey's gifts and advised he attend the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Mathey made his mark in Europe where he was a particularly sought after performer in Mozart operas.
After years in Europe, Shawn Mathey, 44, said he is looking to work more in the United States. That will include a performance in the title role of Charles Gounod's "Faust" next April with the Toledo Opera.
The lifestyle of the opera singer is "disruptive," Shawn Mathey said. Though his family - wife Sujin Lee, herself a operatic singer who teaches at BGSU, and their daughters Hannah and Sarah - moved back to Bowling Green a number of years ago, he remained based in Europe where work tends to be more plentiful.
For the singer "you're only as good as your last performance," he said. And the singer is always looking over his shoulder for the next hot tenor to arrive on the scene, and garner the plaudits and roles.
"You have to hustle," he said.
Among those Mathey's impressed is operatic legend Placido Domingo with whom he worked at the Washington National Opera. When Domingo left the company, his co-star in his farewell production "Iphigenie en Tauride" was Mathey.
The Associated Press said: "Shawn Mathey delivered a warm and extremely sympathetic performance."
The call for the most recent zoo concert came from Moss asking Richard Mathey to solo with the band. Richard Mathey, who turns 75 Friday, has not been singing much, he said, so he would want his son, "his crutch," on stage with him.
As of last week they were still sorting out repertoire, which will be a mix of popular and operatic selections. They expect to sing "Without a Song," something this family has never been.
Story of a song
(Ed. note: Shawn Mathey provided this account of how his father, Richard Mathey, inspired him to become a singer.)
My vocal training began when I was about 6 years old.
While on a family camping tour of the United States, I sat in the front seat of the station wagon between my parents. Several times each day I would ask my dad to sing Tonio's aria from Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment". I would look up at him and say "do it, Dad." He would sing all nine high C's with ease and in full voice. (My three siblings in the back seat were not always so enthused at my request.)
What a thrill that was. That got me turned on to the sound of the tenor voice. It was stunning what he could do. He had all the vocal goods.
What's even more amazing is that his voice is still fresh and vibrates with youthfulness. He's a great, great singer.¬†
Another part of my early training happened when my dad came home from his long days of teaching at BGSU. Instead of just saying "I'm home", he would come through the front door singing a spectacular tenor cadenza. I would run to greet him, trying my best to imitate him. I even worked on getting the vibrato right by shaking my head in all kinds of directions. He would pat my head and say "good job, son." When I was 16, I made my first true operatic sound by accident. I asked, "is that right, Dad?" He gave me the look that let me know it was.
Finally, at age 21, I got my first big break which allowed me to sing with my dad for Music Under the Stars at the Toledo Zoo. It was a huge hit - father and son tenors. We sang there eight consecutive years.
Inheriting a musical talent is a wonderful thing. Having direct access to the person who gave you that talent is even better. My dad's presence continues to profoundly influence my development as a singer.
It's been about 10 years since we've appeared at the Music Under the Stars together. Sunday will be a special night for both of us.