The only child of a pair of world famous opera singers - tenor Robert Swensen and mezzo-soprano Kathryn Cowdrick - Matthew was born into song.
At the age of 9 he performed with his father in a Benjamin Britten canticle about Abraham and Isaac. One summer he performed with his mother in a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. But whether Matthew was destined to be a professional singer himself only became clear to the family when he was 14. His father called him over to the piano, did some vocal exercises with him, and his future as an opera singer was set in motion.
There is no generational conflict between Matthew and his parents: they are like three peas in a pod. Rather than resenting his parents’ frequent absences while traveling and performing as some children of celebrities do, Matthew was proud of his parents. He grew up always feeling loved and appreciated by his grandparents, his nannies and most of all by his parents, who took him along with them whenever possible. He never felt the lack of a sibling. “One child lost at the airport is better than two,” his mother always said.
Born in Berlin in 1992 while his father was performing with the Berlin State Opera, Matthew moved back to the U.S. when he was one year old. The family settled in Rochester, NY where his father and later also his mother taught voice at the Eastman School of Music. It was a given that Matthew also study music there. Ranked at the top amongst undergraduate schools for voice, the Eastman program is dedicated to nurturing young singers, allowing them to mature without undue pressure, and giving them the opportunity to do vocal work that is appropriate for their age. Renee Fleming once said to Matthew: “I love your singing because you sing your age.” Well aware of his young age (he is now 23) Matthew has repressed the desire to emulate the singing of his idol Pavarotti and other tenors of the past, because he knows his body and voice are just not ready.
Having learned to pace himself at Eastman and grow gradually into a professional singer, he is now at Juilliard, the dream of nearly every singer. “Juilliard offers us polishing, experience, and exposure. Eastman prepared me for a life of singing with longevity. Here in New York, at Juilliard, I am presented with the resources to achieve success. And I am encouraged to push my limits and my boundaries.”
One of the roles he was cast in at Juilliard was the Poulenc opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias. In it he played a child born from a chemistry experiment, and he sang an aria dressed in nothing but a custom-made diaper, after which he was carried offstage. (“The diaper was quite nice, actually. But I did have to shave off my beard for the role.”) At the reception afterwards, a woman walked up to him and said he looked and sounded so nice in that diaper. Somewhat flustered, he mumbled a thank-you. Only after she left did Matthew find out that that woman was Kathleen Battle.
With A Bach Family Christmas, Matthew will make his Carnegie Hall debut. He sang the Magnificat four years ago at his family’s church in Rochester. Singing Bach - which sits high in the tenor voice - is an easy fit for him. But Matthew knows that his voice - the physiological mechanism as well as the intellectual force behind it - will not mature fully until he is in his late 20’s, when he can better understand where his voice is headed. His goal is to sing for as long as he can at as high a level as he can.
Tenor Matthew Swensen is completing his master’s degree at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Robert C. White. Most recently, he covered Sospiro (L’Opera Seria-U.S. Premiere) with the Wolf Trap Opera Studio. Recent masterclasses include Stephanie Blythe, Roger Vingoles and Graham Johnson. Recent roles at Juilliard include Pane (La Calisto), 2nd Priest (Die Zauberflöte), and Le Fis (Les mamelles de Tirésias). Matthew graduated from Eastman School of Music, studying with Robert Swensen and Kathryn Cowdrick. Recent recital and concert appearances include The Song Continues Festival at Carnegie Hall, Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin in Paul Recital Hall, and his Alice Tully Hall debut with songs from Scandinavia. This November he sings the role of Bill in Jonathan Dove’s opera Flight. Next February, Matthew will be the tenor soloist in the Mozart Requiem, with Juilliard 415 and conductor Gary Wedow in Alice Tully Hall.