Pictured above in a submitted publicity photo is Matt Gray, a Marysville native, who is returning to Ohio for his production of As One with Opera Columbus. Gray has previously directed the show at New York City Opera, Chautauqua Opera and its European premiere in Berlin. As One performances will take place at the Southern Theatre, Columbus on Nov. 8 and 10. (Photo submitted)
A Marysville native is making his return to Ohio with his latest opera production.
Matt Gray, a 1993 graduate of Marysville High School, will direct Opera Columbus’ production of As One at the Southern Theatre on Nov. 8 and 10.
While he has worked in the world of opera for nearly two decades, he wasn’t always familiar with it.
Gray, the son of local residents Jim and Martha Gray, said he moved to New York City 20 years ago, hoping to pursue a career that capitalized on his education in theater and film.
In 2003, he began work as an office manager for an opera company now called The American Opera Project (AOP).
“I got a 9-5 job working at this company, AOP, without ever having seen an opera – but, it was theater to me,” he said.
He said he accepted a position that was out of his realm simply because it’s difficult to find a paid arts-based position in NYC, but he eventually found his niche there.
Gray said he was initially intimidated by opera directors and producers with years of musical experience.
“I didn’t have a music background aside from eighth grade band in Marysville,” he said.
But, he used his inexperience to his advantage and said “I wound up leaning into my ignorance” to approach opera from an audience member’s point of view.
Now, he is the General Director of AOP, one of the most prominent contemporary opera companies in the U.S., a place he’s continuing to bring an outsider’s perspective.
Unlike traditional productions, he said contemporary opera is “very underdog, very punk, and very cool.”
He said most people have an idea of the classical opera experience, in which audience members get dressed up, go to a big theater and watch a masterpiece that was written hundreds of years ago and performed in a different language.
On the other hand, he said contemporary opera is “so different from what you expect.”
Contemporary performances are written by living people who are telling stories about their communities through music, he explained. They often incorporate modern musical influences, including anything from rock and roll to techno.
They’re the perfect performance for someone in the position he was in years ago – “an audience member who is interested in opera, but may feel like they’re not smart enough.”
His upcoming production, As One, depicts the story of a transgender protagonist navigating her world.
While the subject matter can spark debate, he said the opera is “not didactic and not trying to make a political point.”
Instead, it’s a “funny and relatable” example of contemporary opera telling the story of modern communities.
“A lot of times, if a piece is socially relatable… it tends to come down on the side of frustration and despair,” Gray said.
But, he said audience members will leave As One feeling a sense of hope.
This unique approach has made it the most produced opera written in the 21st century, with over two dozen separate productions.
It’s popular among veteran and new opera viewers for good reason, Gray said.
“As One is a really accessible work if people are going to see opera for the first time,” he said. “This is the one to see – it’s really going to break down any preconceptions.”
He’s previously directed As One at New York City Opera, Chautauqua Opera and its European premiere in Berlin, but said his return to Ohio is something he’s always hoped for.
“In a way, that’s part of the why I left – because I felt I could one day bring something back,” he said.
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