Matthew Cerillo (he/him/they/them) is an Italian-American tenor from Freehold, New Jersey.
Share with us a unique experience for you in the opera world. How did it inspire you and what did you learn from it?
This past December, at age 24, I had a two sold-out shows in Lincoln Center! I was, of course, brought on by the incredibly generous Cristina Fontanelli, who’s been a staple in NYC entertainment. After getting to live in that amazing experience, Cristina has inspired me to want to give opportunities to younger singers when I’m one day in her shoes. She’s brought me on to other projects and introduced me to some wonderful people. She has taught me how important it is to use your platform to help others reach their full potential. I will be forever grateful to her.
Do you think opera should be accessible to everyone? How do you think this could be done?
For too long, opera has been severed from the mainstream. In the golden years of opera, everybody from every walk of life had a Pavarotti record, opera singers were on late night TV, the list goes on. Whenever I speak to non-musicians today, everybody calls opera “fancy” or “too high class for me”. This has become the side effect of our major opera outlets in America being at the mercy of wealthy donors to survive. It has created a hostile environment that sends the message “opera is only for rich, white people”. To make opera more accessible, two things must happen. 1) We need classical arts to be funded by the government like they are in Europe. The way seasons are chosen now, the way galas are planned, are all around the wealthy, elitist population’s requests and demands. The more privatized opera is, the quicker it will die from obscurity. 2) We need to dismantle white supremacy in opera. The first opera by a black composer at the Met did not come until 2021, 138 years since the Met was created. Notice how Broadway doesn’t have this problem? Notice how cinema doesn’t have this problem? Opera and the classical arts are the only field of entertainment still, literally, over 100 years behind. And yet, opera and the classical arts are the ones suffering the most. This year in 2022, The Met released its financial data showing that the pieces bringing in the most revenue are new, diverse operas. It’s time to put the gatekeepers aside. It’s time to make sure opera and it’s artists are getting paid enough to not have to gravel just to put on a show. Music is universal, not just for the wealthy and white.
Do you feel that your work as an opera singer helps you to use your creativity to serve your community? What do you enjoy the most about it?
As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, when I tell other queer people I’m an opera singer, their face lights up! With so many laws right now attacking transgender people, drag performers, the resurgence of gay people being painted as child predators; music is the great unifier. Music is how we all heal, our favorite records are what we turn to in times of trouble. By me not just existing, but continuing to thrive in entertainment, I continue to tell our stories. I stand on the shoulders of the giants from our community. Wherever I go, I carry their torch and do it 100% authentically me.