Clayton Mathews is studying opera at Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts.
How did you discover your passion for opera?
It is coming up on 10 years since I sang my first note. At that time, opera was never a field that I was ambitious about. The only thing that I knew about opera was hearing Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Wabbit” about the cartoon character Bugs Bunny, and it turns out he’s singing Wagner.
To this day I still don’t believe that this is the reality of my life. Being a baseball player for as long as l could breathe, you can only imagine the difficulty of transitioning to the life of an opera singer. It’s like transitioning from being an apple to being a steak – especially growing up in poverty on the North Side of St. Louis,, where being anything positive bordered on the unrealistic.
What’s your favorite part about creating and performing music?
The most frequent question that I get asked is how in the world did I get into opera? In all the honesty in my heart the answer is: I don’t know. It really just happened, but I’m glad it did because it saved my life.
I didn’t know what to do after I was injured and my dreams of being a professional baseball player were ripped out of my heart. Opera came and gave me a life, purpose and, most importantly, self-worth, because there is nothing worse than feeling worthless.
Why did you pick the Mason Gross opera program?
Before I came to Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, I applied to and auditioned for other schools. One thing that I learned about a lot of these conservatories and programs from friends and colleagues and my own general experience is that a lot of these programs want you to already have the necessary tools to function in the professional world. It just seems as if a lot of these schools want you to be perfect in order for them to teach you. Personally, I think the definition of a prestigious school is a school that sees the beauty in your imperfections; a school with teachers who value mistakes; a school that doesn’t just see you for what you are, but what could be. Someone asked me some time ago where they could find a program like that, and I told that person to look into Mason Gross School of the Arts, because that’s the exact school I was talking about.
How do you think this program will help in what you want to do next?
The experience that I’m having at this school has been phenomenal. They accept my transition to opera from a baseball background, and they push me to my potential. They made me see something that I never saw in myself, and they do that that with everyone. This was the best decision of my operatic life, because I actually feel like I’ve grown as an artist.