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Matthew Hayward and Jena Carpenter

Opera Idaho's 'music man' (and woman)


The Music Man may well be the consummate American musical. There is hardly a marching band in the country without "76 Trombones" in its repertoire. "Goodnight My Someone" is a classic lullaby, "Till There Was You" was included on two albums recorded by The Beatles (the only Broadway song they ever recorded) and "Ya Got Trouble" is considered by some to be the first rap song.

Opera Idaho is set to showcase American musical comedy's most hummable score when it presents The Music Man in concert on Friday, Aug. 21 at the Egyptian Theatre and again on Monday, Aug. 24 at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater.

Prior to one of their final rehearsals, Jena Carpenter (playing famously fussy librarian Marian) and Matthew Hayward (portraying music man Harold Hill) sat down with Boise Weekly to talk about their musical journeys and presenting an American classic.

Let's begin with your personal and musical roots.

Jena Carpenter: I was born and raised in Boise. Mom and dad own a software company, Silver Creek Software [which specializes in financial management systems for produce wholesalers and distributors]. I have four siblings and half-siblings, and I'm somewhere in the middle. I took piano and voice lessons and did a few things with Music Theatre of Idaho.

Matthew Hayward: I'm a Seattle boy. No one else in my family is really musical, but my grandmother took me to the theater nearly every weekend. When I graduated high school, I wanted to be a trauma surgeon, but all the while I was singing and taking voice lessons, and I thought one day, "I really like this."

Which schools did you choose?

Carpenter: I studied music at Vanderbilt University. I studied abroad for a semester [in Austria]. I was soon recruited to study with someone there and I started to get into productions there.

Hayward: I studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. I figured if I was going to do this, I wanted to go big. I did my undergrad and grad studies there. I was in a number of school productions and performed in a number of summer festivals back East.

Is there such a thing as a traditional career path for an opera singer?

Hayward: You find a teacher you trust. Maybe you take some auditions and possibly some competitions. And then more auditions, and more and more.

At some point, do you need an agent or manager?

Carpenter: I'm in the works of doing that now.

Hayward: I was with a manager for eight years—that was definitely a turning point for me. I'm flying solo these days. Plus, I'm on the voice faculty of Portland State University. Honestly, managers are having a hard time getting work for singers nowadays.

Is that because there are fewer companies or fewer productions?

Carpenter: Both. Yes, in the United States.

Hayward: And there is an insane number of really good American singers.

Does that mean you have to debate whether to leave the U.S. just so you can get more work?

Hayward: I've sung in Europe a few times over the years. I have family in Austria and have taken a number of auditions when I've been there.

Carpenter: Right now, I think every single singer ponders going to Europe. My husband is German. We have a place in Stuttgart [Germany], and I'm probably there at least two- to three-months a year.

Are you fluent in German?

Carpenter: Absolutely. Many European nations subsidize the arts and opera in particular. I lived in Mannheim, Germany, and there must have been six separate opera houses within an hour's vicinity. I've performed there often. I even sang West Side Story and My Fair Lady in Germany.

Wait a minute... in German?

Carpenter: [Singing] Ich hatt' getanzt heut' Nacht ["I could have danced all night"]. American musicals are very popular in Germany.

So why do you think we're seeing a renaissance of American musical productions, particularly with opera companies?

Hayward: It's the great American songbook: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and, of course, Meredith Willson.

Speaking of Meredith Willson, I'm pretty sure most Americans know at least half of the score of The Music Man.

Carpenter: I had forgotten how many of these songs, which I've loved for years, are in this show.

How difficult is Harold Hill's song, "Ya Got Trouble"? It has be one of the trickiest songs in musical theater.

Hayward: I've been having... let's just say, some trouble. I think my wife knows the songs better than I do now. Honestly, half of this stuff is like rap. The hardest parts for me are the talking sections of "Ya Got Trouble."

Remind us of how this production will be presented by Opera Idaho.

Carpenter: It's a concert version. A narrator will bridge the songs together. We have a spectacular chorus.

And you'll be performing in two very distinct venues.

Hayward: I love to sing in the Egyptian.

Carpenter: And we're really excited for the Shakespeare amphitheater. I know they're in the middle of a number of productions out there, so I hope we get some extra time out there for rehearsal.

I'm presuming you've both been in your share of very passionate operas, and The Music Man is filled with plenty of its own passion, as well. Ultimately, it's a love story with a big brass band.

Carpenter: It's all in the music.

Hayward: The music leads you. Honestly, you don't have to do much with a score this beautiful.