Magazine

A Masterful Voice Sustains Her Legacy

CSUN’s first opera star, Shigemi Matsumoto, and her husband, Marty Stark, bequeath $1 million to their alma mater.
By Cary Osborne

One word to describe the way California State University, Northridge distinguished alumna Shigemi Matsumoto ’68 (Music) conducted a class this past spring for vocal arts students is “masterfully.” For two hours, she taught music in CSUN’s Nordhoff Hall. But she did it in a way that incorporated physiology, philosophy, history and — in a sense — biology and botany.

“The first note of any piece is your nucleus,” she explained. “It’s your seed.”

Six students sang, uninterrupted, as the opera legend sat and observed. Then, she approached each budding classical music vocalist, asked them to sing parts of the pieces they had performed and gave each personal vocal coaching. Sometimes she would place her fingers on the nape of their necks, making sure their spines were in perfect alignment. She would gently tap some students on their arms, a cue to stay calm as they sang. Matsumoto gave each an honest evaluation.

“I was triple nervous, but she was so nice,” said soprano Ji Yun Choe. “She reminded me of another teacher I have and put me at ease.”

It was a golden opportunity for the students, as Matsumoto gave the already top-tier students advice on how to continue elevating their performance. But it was also an opportunity for Matsumoto to share part of her story.

She closed the master class by telling the students, “May the journey you take be rewarding. And do this as long as you love it.”

Matsumoto was honored in 2016 with a CSUN Distinguished Alumni Award. CSUN’s opera program has produced luminaries such as Carol Vaness and Michelle DeYoung, but the program’s first star — and one of the university’s first musical luminaries — was Matsumoto.

Matsumoto, the adopted daughter of Japanese internment camp survivors, not only brought notoriety to what was then San Fernando Valley State College during her time as a student, but she achieved fame with an internationally successful opera career that lasted more than two decades. She has performed with industry greats and won numerous awards, and she was managed by one of the most influential classical music managers in the world.

Since the late 1980s, she has devoted her work to music education, having taught at Cal State Long Beach and the University of Southern California. This was Matsumoto’s second trip to teach at CSUN in the past year, and it was her first master class.

Her own years as an undergraduate were incredibly impactful, she said.

“I wouldn’t have had a career if it weren’t for the guidance and mentorship that David Scott, gave me,” she said of CSUN’s first full-time voice teacher.

To continue that impact and establish a lasting legacy for CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, Matsumoto and her husband, Marty Stark — whom she met while both were students at Valley State — have created the Matsumoto Scholarship for undergraduate vocal arts students. In March, they bequeathed an estimated $1 million to CSUN through their charitable remainder trust. A charitable remainder trust generates an income stream for a donor or other beneficiaries during the donor’s lifetime, with the remainder of the donated assets going to CSUN.

“I am so blessed and happy that Marty and I could leave something for the students, so that maybe somebody could [have the same] opportunity I had,” Matsumoto said. “I know that a university’s strength is from its alumni base. Those are the people who felt good about being there, so when they left and succeeded in some way — they came back to want to share that [success].”

Matsumoto originally entered Valley State as a history major and joined a sorority. During a faculty appreciation dinner, she was asked to sing. Matsumoto sang a Johnny Mathis song and afterward, a professor approached her and suggested she talk to Scott. She did so and soon switched majors — and was quickly cast as the lead role of Mimi in a production of La Boheme.

Matsumoto sang six roles at CSUN. At 22 and still a student, she won the grand prize in the San Francisco Opera National Auditions and earned her first professional contract. She made her debut as Gerhilde in the San Francisco Opera’s production of Wagner’s Die Walküre.

“If it weren’t for CSUN, I wouldn’t have the nerve, the stamina — or should I say the moxie — to be able to do that, because I had so much experience,”Matsumoto said. “You can’t buy that experience.”

Stark, who served as vice president at Columbia Artists Management, reflected on their CSUN history, both as a couple and as young professionals.

“Our life together started here in this very building,” Stark said of Nordhoff Hall. “Our job — we look at it as a job — is to pass along to the next generation all the benefits we gathered. And one of the things that we know is [important is] knowledge and the ability to get it. Our gift will help kids gain knowledge by coming to a school like this.”

For more information about charitable remainder trusts and giving to CSUN, please contact the Planned Giving Office, (818) 677-2136 or