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5 minutes with Emma Matthews


WAAPA's new Head of Classical Voice is returning to the place where her career began to teach performance.

Emma Matthews is WAAPA's new Head of Classical Voice.
Emma Matthews is WAAPA's new Head of Classical Voice.

Q. You’ve performed with all state opera companies and have been prima soprano, singing with Opera Australia for more than 20 years. Have you a favourite performance?

I have many favourites. I think in my top three would be singing at Covent Garden as the Vixen in The Cunning Little Vixen. It was an incredible experience and the most beautiful place to sing, with wonderful colleagues. It was also incredibly challenging physically.

It required lots of crawling and leaping; I’ve never worked so hard in my life!

Another favourite would be the 2001 New Years’ Eve performance at the Sydney Opera House. I was seven and a half months pregnant with my first son, Jack, and singing for the first time Ophelia’s mad scene, from Hamlet, with Simone Young conducting.

Q. What are you looking forward to most about returning to Perth and your alma mater?

I left WAAPA with the plan of coming back one day. My job interview for my new position was daunting, though, as I had to sing for the panel in the music auditorium. I hadn’t sung in there since my graduating recital and I felt like a student again! To come back now and share my passion for technique, stage craft and the opera repertoire is a huge honour.

Q. How different will it be to go from performer to teacher?

It’s a big change, but one I’ve been doing gradually. I’m not stopping singing, just doing less, so I can focus on my students. I love hearing a voice grow and getting to know the young singers. Singing isn’t just about singing — you need to be able to communicate through your voice and through your physical expression. I’ll be focussing very much on technique with my students, which needs to be mastered before they can become real artists.

Q. What is the one piece of advice you have for WAAPA’s aspiring Classical Voice singers?

Properly focus on all the steps needed to produce beautiful line and tone, and a constant flow of breath. When you’re given a vocalise to learn, learn it. Study languages, be prepared for lessons and be patient — it takes longer for some voice types to get it right. Listen to recordings, and go to as many live performances as possible.

Q. What do you love most about opera?

Opera is the ultimate of art forms. It is profoundly moving, and the voices combined with the orchestra and the visual elements, when done right, are incredibly powerful. People who say they’re not into opera generally haven’t been to a performance or have seen an uninspiring production. Do yourself a favour and open your mind and ears, get off your phones, and go and see one of the fabulous West Australian Opera performances. You’ll be surprised!

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