Vocalist - Baritone
UR grad returns as 'Orphée' in Virginia Opera production

As an undergraduate at the University of Richmond, Matthew Worth was a happy-go-lucky young man from West Hartford, Conn.

There was something special about his heroic good looks, his sonorous baritone speaking voice and the seriousness of purpose that seemed to belie his campus high jinks.

Two years ago, Richmond became aware of just how special Worth was when he commanded the Carpenter Theatre stage to dazzling effect as the title antihero in Virginia Opera's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

On Friday, he'll open, again at the Carpenter Theatre, as the questing title poet in Virginia Opera's state premiere of modernist composer Philip Glass' "Orphée."

At 33, Worth is a shooting star in American opera, a respected interpreter of Mozart and the contemporary cutting edge.

He's in great demand. Earlier this season, he made his debut at the Santa Fe Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. When "Orphée" closes, he'll move on to engagements with opera companies in Memphis and Fort Worth.

Worth - call him Matt - was anything but the budding opera singer when he entered UR in 1996 on a $500 pep-band scholarship.

He auditioned for the music department on the trombone. At the end of the audition, he asked if he could sing.

Of course, Jennifer Cable, who would become Worth's voice teacher at UR, and her fellow music faculty responded.

Worth sang "The Vagabond" from Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel."

The rest is campus history.

"It was quite evident Matt had a voice," Cable recalls. "I most certainly saw musical potential at that point. He had a lovely line and a natural musicality. I would not go so far as to say he had operatic potential at that point. After all, he was a young singer with much growth yet to come."

Cable discounts reports that Worth was an incorrigible campus cutup.

"He was searching for a passion, a direction," she says. "Matt was testing the boundaries, learning about himself and which direction to take. He did not present a challenge. He was an undergraduate singer who was simply figuring out the next step, considering his options and moving ahead."

After UR, Worth earned a master of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music, then was tapped to study at New York's prestigious Juilliard Opera Center.

"That was one of the luckiest days of my life," he recalls.

Nothing in Worth's childhood particularly prefigured his operatic success.

He and his siblings continue to sing grace at meals with their parents, retired elementary schoolteachers, in West Hartford. He started singing in a Congregational Church choir when he was 8.

"When I became aware I was a baritone, in seventh grade, I stopped singing and talking altogether," he recalls. "I didn't like the sounds I was making, especially the cracking voice."

Once his baritone was in place, he started listening to - and singing along with - recordings of Broadway musicals, especially Andrew Lloyd Webber works such as "Phantom of the Opera." Inspired by crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr., he sang jazz in addition to playing jazz trombone in high school.

Worth's long résumé is heavy in Mozart and contemporary opera, but lists only one Puccini role and nothing by Verdi or Wagner.

The alliance with Mozart doesn't surprise Cable.

"Matt understands the direction of a musical line," she says. "To sing Mozart, one must understand how to sing elegantly and effortlessly, communicating through the beauty inherent in each phrase. Matt knows how to do this."

Neither does his success with contemporary opera surprise Worth.

"The business tells you what kind of singer you are," he says. "The business tells me that I'm very good at contemporary opera. I have the mind and the range that contemporary composers like to stretch."

Worth, who says his dream role (as yet unattained) would be the title character in Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd," is also philosophically attuned to the aims of contemporary opera.

"Opera needs to become contemporary again in its composition, subject matter and themes," he says.

What makes Worth so special as a performer?

"He has the complete package," says Virginia Opera artistic administrator Andrew Chugg. "Vocal ability, acting ability, stellar good looks, all at extremely high levels. He's very marketable."

And as a human being?

"He's one of the most humble singers I've known. He worked his way up the system and through various apprentice programs across the country. He's earned his stripes, and he's a very genuine person.

"Matt is no divo."

Roy Proctor, Richmond Times-Dispatch
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