BY MARY WICOFF
GEORGETOWN — Matthew Newlin has found a career path that lets him combine the best of two worlds — singing and performing.
The 26-year-old Georgetown native is finding success on the opera stage.
“I’ve always had a big love for classical music,” he said in a telephone interview from Miami, Fla. “Opera is a great opportunity to perform beautiful music, play characters and entertain.”
Newlin, a tenor, is with the Young Artist Studio at the Florida Grand Opera for its 2012-13 season, from September to May. He works as a performer and understudy, and does promotional events for the opera.
Last summer, he landed a role as an apprentice with the prestigious Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico. He said 1,600 people applied; 800 were called for auditions. For the 2012 season, 40 singers and 77 technicians from all over the United States were chosen to take part in five productions.
At the end of the program, he was awarded the Donald Gramm Memorial Award, given in memory of the bass-baritone who appeared with the Santa Fe Opera for several years, as well as other leading opera companies.
Newlin had small roles in the Santa Fe productions, was an understudy for some major roles and did community outreach. This was his second summer with Santa Fe.
Newlin is the son of Jane and Greg Newlin of Georgetown, and graduated in 2004 from Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School. He played drums, bassoon, saxophone and piano, but he didn’t start taking singing lessons until he went to college.
Newlin said he’s grateful to the teachers at Georgetown-Ridge Farm, including band director Sara McGovern and his personal piano teacher, Barb Jones.
“They are the ones that got me started on this path, even though I had no idea at the time,” he said.
Newlin earned a bachelor’s degree in music and voice performance from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in 2008. Two years later, he received a master’s from the Chicago College of Performing Arts and a professional diploma in opera performance.
After that, he went on his first apprenticeship with the Santa Fe Opera and also worked in Chicago.
“I go wherever the work is,” he said, adding that he decided to pursue opera in the first place because he wanted to travel.
There are a lot of people competing for spots, and not enough jobs, he said, especially when the economy is down. However, he’s fortunate to have had more success than many of his peers, he said.
Newlin has won several awards, including first place at the Opera Birmingham Competition; third place at the Midwest regional finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions; and winner of the St. Louis District Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.
“He’s very talented, no doubt about that,” his father said. “He works hard.”
Greg likes to joke that he can’t get his son to sing country and western. The first time he heard Matthew compete at SIU, “I didn’t understand a word he said.”
Greg is amazed at how his son is able to handle all of the foreign languages, dialects and facial expressions. But, he added, “He’s a very intelligent kid.”
Both Matthew and his sister, Lindsay DePasquale of Louisville, Ky., were valedictorians, he said.
The main languages that the younger Newlin sings in are English, German, French and Italian; he also has sung in Russian, Spanish and Czech.
“Mastery of the pronunciation, or diction, of these languages comes with a lot of practice and listening. This comes from diction and language classes in school and personal development by listening to native speakers sing and speak,” he said. ”Once I have a firm understanding of what I am singing after I translate everything, it’s all about getting the words and pronunciation into my muscle memory.”
Newlin said he’s never had to step in as an understudy for a major player. “You cross your fingers, but you don’t want anything to go wrong with anyone.”
His father said Matthew is continually auditioning, adding, “He puts his heart and soul into it.”
Most of the stars in opera are older, as a person’s voice matures with age.
Greg said he had never listened to opera before his son became involved, but, he added, “I kind of enjoy it now.”
According to Newlin’s website, he will be in the Chicago area next month:
— At 7 p.m. Dec. 8, he will perform as a tenor soloist for the chorus in “Messiah” with Apollo Chorus of Chicago at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie. (www.apollochorus.org)
— At 3 p.m. Dec. 9, he will perform as a tenor soloist in “Messiah” at St. Clement Church, Chicago. (www.events.org/Messiah)
— At 3 p.m. Dec. 16, he will perform in “Messiah” with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago at the Harris Theater, Chicago.
Learn more about Matthew Newlin at his website, www.matthewnewlin.com. You can hear audio selections on the site and see a list of upcoming events.