EMMA Matthews is clearly upset that top-billing soprano Yvonne Kenny, a sentimental Australian choice for Canberra’s Centenary performance of “Voices in the Forest”, at the National Arboretum, has had to withdraw due to a leg injury in London.
“Yvonne is such a beautiful artist and a dear colleague, I’m disappointed for her and sorry not to get the chance to share the stage with her again,” the co-star, now top-billing performer, tells “CityNews”.
“We will still have a wonderful concert, I look forward to hearing the beautiful Greta Bradman, and singing with my dear friend Rosario La Spina. But we will miss Yvonne very much. She is loved by so many.”
But it’s on with the show for Matthews, the dazzling coloratura soprano and former principal of Opera Australia who bowled the Sydney public over as the tragic courtesan, Violetta, in “La Traviata” in the inaugural Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour in 2012.
She has received more Helpmann Awards than any other individual artist, nine Green Room Awards, the Mo Award and the Remy Martin Australian Opera Award. No wonder some Canberra opera buffs were puzzled when a Canberra publicist for the preview in June this year described her as an “emerging” singer. Matthews emerged long ago.
In fact she jokes that, at age 43, she’s a very senior figure, “but at a very early age…I’m still in my prime vocally, it’s the perfect age to be a coloratura soprano.”
In a couple of weeks she’ll be recording in Tasmania her next CD of Mozart’s opera and concert arias, in which she’ll sing the devilishly difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute”.
That reminds her that she’ll be singing the same aria at the National Arboretum.
“It will be the first performance of the ‘Queen of the Night’ in my career,” she says.
Other choice selections from what she describes as a “top of the pops” program include Violetta’s equally devilish aria, “Sempre libera” (“Always free”) from “La Traviata”. Matthews remembers how once she thought that was way beyond her, but now calls it her “bread-and-butter aria”.
And in a nice local touch, she’ll perform “Now Touch the Air Softly” by Canberra composer Calvin Bowman, recorded on her CD “Emma Matthews in Monte Carlo”.
So, apart from visiting the Arboretum (“such an amazing spot,” she says), what is Matthews doing now that she is “free”?
She’s doing a lot of concert work; she’s started teaching master classes and has been the national adjudicator for the Australian Singing Competition – “a new string to my bow”.
In short, she says, “the doorway has opened to another path in my career”.
Mind you, she’ll still be doing major roles for Opera Australia and is busy losing weight to play a “fabulous, saucy woman” in Rossini’s “The Turk in Italy”, where the director is making her wear a swimsuit onstage.
“I’m not a big girl,” the glamorous Matthews tells me, “but I had to lose some weight, so this year I’m all fixed up with a gym and a trainer and I’m really enjoying it… I encourage all young singers to keep fit and not just stay inside.”
A singer, she explains, cannot go into environments full of cigarette smoke. Even when younger, she never went out clubbing, “it’s too hard on the vocal chords”. Rather, she just stayed in her room after performances, but that can be bad for the health, too.
“The pressure of the role is not just emotional, it’s physical,” she says.
“I’ll always try to commit 100 per cent in every role I do, so I get a bit obsessive, but with my new goal of becoming fit, I think I’m a better wife and mum.”
And with a husband, two school-age sons and a Bengal cat to look after, that’s what really matters.
“Voices in the Forest”, Emma Matthews, Greta Bradman and Rosario La Spina, at the National Arboretum, 4.45pm-8.30pm, (gates open 1.30pm) November 23, bookings to 6275 2700 or canberraticketing.com.au