27-year-old Canadian tenor Matthew Cairns is quickly making a name for himself as one of the most promising dramatic voices of his generation, with an impressive CV and an even more impressive path ahead of him.
After undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Toronto, he won the top prize at the Canadian Opera Company’s annual competition as well as a place in the company ’s Ensemble Studio. Recently graduated from his final year there, he has performed many roles on the stage of the Four Seasons Center including the Prince of Persia in Turandot, the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, Gamekeeper in Rusalka and the First Armed Man in Die Zauberflöte. This season, he also covered Alfredo in La traviata in the company ’s first staged production before an audience since the beginning of the pandemic. He will be back at the COC next season for the first time as a guest artist in Verdi’s Macbeth in the role of MacDuff, alongside a star-studded cast which includes Sondra Radvanovsky and Quinn Kelsey.
On May 1, he was named one of the 6 Grand Finals Winners in the 2022 Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition, going back home to Toronto with an incredible amount of exposure and a cash prize of $20,000 USD. Created in 1954 and previously known as the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, it is probably the most coveted competition for opera singers in North America.
“My dream was— and is—to sing on the Met stage,” says Cairns. “It’s the big one. As far as the Met Competition goes, I wanted to do it when I was ready. I applied during my Masters but ended up not even doing the first round.”
The audition process was long and rigorous. The online applications were due in the fall of 2021, followed by the district and regional audi- tions in January, then the semi-finals and the finals in April and May, both of which took place on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. “At the beginning of the process, my audition package was quite varied and we ended up narrowing it down to a more cohesive ‘young dramatic tenor’ package rather than someone who has a dramatic voice and also sings bel canto roles. Everyone was in agreement that they wanted to hear me sing Wagner even though I had never sung anything by him before.” The jury suggested Cairns learn Winterstürme, from Die Walküre, which he did in two weeks. It was the first time anyone had heard him sing a Wagnerian aria on stage. That and Don José’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”, from Bizet’s Carmen, were his winning arias.
“At the finals, before going on stage, I felt a sense of calm. We were all dressed, had our hair and make-up done, we each had our own dressing room with printed plaques with our names on them—it was surreal. Though as soon as I stepped on stage, I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. I always have nerves, but I think it fuels excitement for the singing.”
Up next in Cairns’s schedule is the Neue Stimmen Competition in Gütersloh, Germany. In the fall, he will join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, for which he was auditioning in between rounds of the Met.
Speed Round with MATTHEW CAIRNS
favourite sports team?
The Toronto Raptors—I’m a big Raptors fan
The Righteous Gemstones
what’s your favourite recipe?
My go-to is a reverse-seared ribeye with butter and herbs
favourite warm-up aria?
I always test my high C with the one from Che gelida manina—but I usually warm up with whatever piece I’m singing at that moment.
aisle or window seat?
I need to sit on the aisle with the extra leg room of the emergency row—I’m 6 ‘5“!