Matt Ferguson is classing up the appliance business at St. Louis Park’s Home Depot.
The 2016 bachelor of arts degree holder in vocal performance from North Central University has been singing opera on the job at Home Depot for nearly six years. Since I attended Ferguson’s senior recital in October, he has landed an actual singing job. He’s “staff baritone” at Minnetonka’s Immaculate Heart of Mary. He sings at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday mass and cantors once a month for Saturday and Sunday masses. But he can still be heard singing at Home Depot.
Opera is kind of in Matt’s blood. His dad, Michael Ferguson, was a classically trained singer and his mom, Sandy Ferguson, “is an Italian chef. That’s what she learned to cook because her mom was Italian,” said Matt, who does pretty well in the kitchen with a sauce recipe that has been passed down through the family. “It’s a big thick hearty meat sauce; it takes two days to prepare,” said Matt. “It’s so much fun.”
He’s got big opera house dreams but as for going to Italy? Been there, done that with his Osseo High School band in 2005. That was before he started singing in college.
Q: When was the first time you heard opera?
A: Out of my dad’s mouth. My dad is a classically trained singer as well. He would wander around the house absent-mindedly singing “Don Giovanni” or something like that. He is semiretired, living down in Miami right now. He does online research and article writing, mostly scientific. He ultimately [decided] that the everyday practicing wasn’t for him. He enjoyed performing. He’s one of the best performers I’ve ever heard. He did some lounge singing back in the ’80s. He was in the top choir at the [University of Minnesota] when he was there in the ’70s.
Q: What was the first opera you were taken to see?
A: I was young and went to see the Minnesota Opera do “The Magic Flute” at Orchestra Hall. Always such a perfect first opera, which is why they took us. I think I was in elementary school. I was going to an interesting classical-style private school and they took us to a lot of different artistic things.
Q: Who are your opera idols?
A: The biggest, most important to me is Bryn Terfel, a Welsh singer. He’s a baritone, sounds a lot like what my voice will sound when it’s done maturing. So he’s someone I follow a lot. I have a lot of his recordings and I watch his videos.
Q: When will your voice mature?
A: Not for another 10 years. When you are a bass baritone, especially someone with a lower range, the voice is not generally done maturing for a man until about 35 to 40 years old.
Q: Will you be working in New York by the time your voice matures?
A: [Smiles] Maybe. My big hope. I’ve got dreams locally; I’ve got my choir here. We were out in New York for a performance with the choir at Carnegie Hall, so I got to see Broadway. I got to go to the Met Opera for a show when I was out there. That’s attractive.
Q: I know. That’s why I was in a hurry to get you on video before you leave town.
A: [Big expressive, sustained laughter]
Q: You were telling me you had an opportunity?
A: That would be heading out there in August, staying for at least one year. Then we’ll see what happens. If the offer is still there, I don’t know if it is; there was an offer to work backstage at Carnegie Hall and also sing in a choir there that performs in New York City.
Q: Which one of those pays your bills?
A: It would be working backstage. The choir would be the artistic experience and the résumé builder.
Q: Did you ask permission before you started singing at Home Depot?
A: Sort of. I didn’t sing full opera initially at Home Depot. When I started at Home Depot a little over five years ago, I was starting to get into the classical repertoire but mostly I was more focused on gospel and some of the old soul and R&B from the ’70s. So I sang a lot of that Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and they were completely fine with that. As I started with North Central and was doing more of the classical repertoire, I started adding that in and they were OK with it. Now all the managers love it. I recently sang an operatic greeting for one of my assistant manager’s voice mails.
Q: Do you remember any reactions from the first time you started singing around Home Depot?
A: Oh. I sang at Home Depot from Day One. But every time [we] get a new employee there always comes a time with this look [he demonstrates] from the end of an aisle: Is that him? I get customers who say I thought that was the radio. This is what I do; it’s just part of who I am, a lot of times I don’t realize I’m doing it.
Q: Do you see any impact on refrigerator sales as a result of your singing?
A: I kind of do. When I am not working with a customer I’m just standing around or tasking, cleaning the appliances, I’m singing. What that will do a lot of times is bring someone over to me. They ask me questions. They give requests; I usually don’t know the songs. It starts the conversation, so it does help.
Q: Is a fringe benefit of singing opera speaking Italian well?
A: I can pronounce it well. I don’t know what I’m saying, necessarily. I had a three-credit class right here called “International Diction for Singers” and the whole thing was learning how to pronounce the languages properly just by looking at them.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.