Salminen is distinguished by an imposing figure and height (6' 5"); a cavernous, heavy, dark voice with a huge upper register; and an expressive face. According to one reviewer, in his prime Salminen was "... simply the largest bass voice in captivity. It is not just its roar in powering over Wagner's maximum orchestra, but the way he carves the sonority and forms the color."
Salminen has a special gift for playing menacing, threatening characters. He performed as Fafner and Hagen in the PBS video broadcast Ring Cycle from the Metropolitan Opera, for the largest viewing-audience of the Ring in history.
Salminen has a contract at the Zurich Opera, and he also frequently performs in his native Finland.
At the Bayreuth Festival he first appeared in 1976 (Titurel (Parsifal), and Hunding (Die Walküre) and Fasolt (Das Rheingold) in the Jahrhundertring (Centenary Ring) in 1976, celebrating the centenary of both the festival and the first performance of the complete cycle, conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Patrice Chéreau, recorded and filmed in 1979 and 1980. He continued until 1989 adding Fafner (Rheingold, Siegfried), Daland (Der fliegende Holländer), King Marke (Tristan und Isolde), Heinrich (Lohengrin), Pogner (Meistersinger), Landgraf (Tannhäuser) and Hagen (Götterdämmerung) to his roles there.
Other important roles are King Philip II (Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi), the Grand Inquisitor in the same work, Seneca in L'Incoronazione di Poppea, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, the title role in Boris Godunov and Ivan Khovansky in Khovanshchina.
In his youth he earned money for voice lessons by singing Finnish tangos in night clubs. He first caught public eye as a lucky understudy in the role of King Phillip II, which he continues performing.
- Ruth-Esther Hillila, Barbara Blanchard Hong (1997) Historical dictionary of the music and musicians of Finland Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 359 ISBN 0-313-27728-1
- Lawrence Journal-World June 24, 1990
- San Francisco Chronicle, May 1989
- Anderson, Martin. Strong and Simple. Interview with Aulis Sallinen. Finnish Music Quarterly magazine, 2/1999.
- LATimes interview
- On video (YouTube): Hagen's watch
- Dripping with fury as Hunding (on YouTube)
- Osmin's aria (on YouTube)
- Matti Salminen on IMDB
- His bio on allmusic.com