Nyle Matsuoka, pianist

by Michael Solomon

Mack Brown is not a Wagnerian, and Darrell Royal couldn’t tell you the difference between Verdi and Puccini.

Luckily, Austin Opera has Nyle Matsuoka.

Nyle’s official title is Austin Opera’s Principal Coach and Pianist. What does that mean, I ask him? He laughs and says “Everything. I am the jack of all musical trades, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Nyle, 35, is originally from Twin Falls, a small town in southern Idaho, but one with a strong musical community. Piano lessons started at age 10, and by the time he was 12 he had declared to his very supportive parents and grandparents that he was going to be a concert pianist.

Soon, though, he developed a diverting flirtation with the oboe, and he balanced his passion for both instruments through the beginning of college at Utah State University, where he finally settled on the major of piano performance.

“Even though I eventually chose the piano, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the oboe,” he explains. “The oboe was my conduit to the vocal repertoire. It’s such an incredibly vocal instrument, and it really helped me understand my way around the voice, and how best to support it.”

Nyle also admits that he wasn’t always the biggest fan of a certain type of vocal music called (well, this is a bit awkward) opera. “When I was younger, I couldn’t stand opera. I thought it was this ridiculous, absurd, nonsensical thing,” he admits.

But halfway through college, as he was walking past the campus concert hall, he was stopped in his tracks by a trumpeter playing “Der Hölle Rache,” the Queen of the Night’s famous aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. “I thought, wow, using a body to make this kind of music is fascinating,” he remembers. Sensing his world was about to change, he did what any young music student would do, “I got home, went on YouTube, and started listening to a million different versions of that aria, and that was the beginning of the end for me.”

Nyle came to Austin in 2009 to begin work on a master’s degree in the new collaborative piano program at what is now the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas, under the tutelage of Anne Epperson. It was here in Austin that Nyle’s love of the human voice intensified, and he began exploring the rest of the operatic repertoire.

“Listening to different instruments and different voices gives me more imagination at the piano as to what kinds of sounds and colors I can create,” he says. “It’s a fun challenge to figure out how to let the music breathe. Pianists can breathe all the time, singers don’t have that luxury. But working together, we can make thrilling music.”

Nyle saw his first Austin Opera productions while he was in graduate school. Prior to leaving Austin to do young artist residencies at Wolf Trap Opera and Arizona Opera, Nyle became well acquainted with the company’s principal coach, Elden Little. After Elden took a faculty position at Michigan State University, Nyle eventually auditioned to replace him, and the rest is Austin Opera history.

Once Austin Opera begins rehearsal for its productions, Nyle might play piano in rehearsal for nine hours a day, six days a week. In his “spare” time, he plays events like the popular evenings at Chez Zee, plus recitals and masterclasses. He also has a busy schedule of private coachings for the company’s principal singers, in addition to the regular students in his coaching studio.

But Nyle enjoys these intense bouts of music when he can immerse himself fully in a piece and work closely with Austin Opera’s world-class conductors on crafting an opera’s musical landscape.

In this week’s Live from Indy Terrace (Friday, May 15, 2020), we are proud to feature Nyle Matsuoka, the MVP of Austin Opera’s music staff and its principal coach and pianist, in a new position on the line of scrimmage: center stage.