|Emma Matthews as Lucia|
Allerta!: Lucia is one of your signature roles. How has your approach to it developed over the years?
Emma Matthews: With maturity comes stamina and the ability to trust one’s own ideas. For example, for me the mad scene results from Lucia being unstable from the beginning of the opera, and from having a very unhealthy relationship with her brother. But director John Doyle has a different view: to him her madness is more the thrill and fascination of the spectre than innate instability. Yet he gave me the freedom to develop my own ideas, which is so much more constructive than being yelled at. He let me create mannerisms that developed into madness.
I've also written a cadenza that suits my own strengths. There's some Tetrazzini in there, some Sutherland, some Tebaldi, Melba... but mostly it’s Matthews. Initially Christian Badea, who conducted the Sydney run, thought I was playing it too safely, so he made me come up with new ideas until he was happy. Working with him was exhilarating.
A: Musically, Richard Bonynge groomed you in this role. Have you by and large stuck to his take on Lucia?
EM: I owe Richard my career and my love for this music, and for that I will always be grateful. He has been much more than a conductor; I love him dearly. When we worked together, his interpretation of roles, recorded by Dame Joan, was my main point of reference, but emulating as much as I could of those historic moments was an art in itself, like trying to copy a beautiful renaissance painting. At times it was very difficult. Richard taught me that bel canto is always beautiful, never forced, and that won't change. But now, I'm spreading my wings a little.
|Emma Matthews as Lucia with Giorgio|
Caoduro as Enrico
A: What are Lucia’s biggest challenges?
EM: Taking the mad scene past the brink of safety whilst keeping the singing beautiful. Badea wanted screams and mad sounds…that was hard! You also need enormous stamina and concentration to get through the scene, and you have to find a way not to let your heart break every night. I feel Lucia very deeply.
A: What do you enjoy about singing the role?
EM: I love moulding the voice into the shapes and phrases needed to melt and cry with her. Lucia is a fascinating woman to inhabit, surrounded by egotistical, unstable men, and so very lonely. I also love working with different conductors and moulding their interpretations with mine. This year I’ve sung the role with Brad Cohen in Perth and Christian Badea in Sydney. I learned a great deal from both conductors, and I'm very much looking forward to working with Maestro Tourniaire in Melbourne.
A: You’ve made a hugely successful role debut as Violetta in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) La Traviata earlier this year, and next winter in Sydney you will be reprising the role in the beautiful old Elijah Moshinsky production. After such a sensational role debut – you were crowned with a Helpmann award – will you be doing anything differently in Sydney next winter?
EM: It was quite a debut. I was very uncertain about taking on the role and I pushed myself harder than ever. It had to be huge and I felt that I was rough on the voice at times; I'd like to be more intimate in my indoor interpretation. But I’ve dreamed of performing Violetta in the beautiful Moshinsky production since I was a young artist and I can’t wait.
A: How did you find singing with sound enhancement?
EM: It was tricky. I have small ear canals, so the ear piece would come unstuck as the jaw moved and I’d hear nothing for a moment. We ended up taking off all the plastic and keeping an ear free so that I could hear what I was doing! I did love hearing my voice ring round the harbour though, it felt huge!
|Emma Matthews as Violetta in Handa |
Opera on Sydney Harbour - La Traviata
A: As one of the stars of the inaugural HOSH, what do you think this outdoor extravaganza means to Opera Australia?
EM: I think it's a very exciting endeavour. A lot of friends who have never seen me sing before came to HOSH, and they subsequently came to Lucia. That's a positive sign.
A: Were there hairy moments?
EM: A bit of slipping on the wet stage, wet bed sheets, ponchos in dressing rooms on the night it rained. There was also going to the loo in a bucket when the loos stopped working one night, and swallowing Gianluca’s microphone when the wind blew us too close to each other.
AB: Your Violetta appeared to come completely effortlessly. Yet it’s one of the most challenging roles in the soprano repertoire, isn’t it?
EM: Much like Lucia, yes. Keeping it beautiful was very difficult, as I was asked to make her raw, edgy, passionate. And physically covering that vast space and singing effortlessly was insane! My heart was generally pounding like a lunatic. Singing Violetta also requires a lot of crying, which makes it hard for me as I really do cry.
A: What ambitions are you still chasing?
EM: I want to sing Puritani and Hamlet. Otherwise my ambitions have been fulfilled. I am very proud of my career and my family. I've made a conscious choice to stay in Australia and be a mum; my boys are very understanding when I do have to go away, and Stephen is a wonderful dad, so they are always around one of us. I will always sing, but I’m doing less singing and more mothering now. I feel blessed to have that choice.
Lucia di Lammermoor is showing at Arts Centre Melbourne from 19 November to 15 December 2012. Click here for more information and tickets.