11 Dec 2009

Emma Matthews in Monte Carlo

Emma Matthews is an English born soprano currently resident in Australia where she has sung with the state based opera companies as well as the national company Opera Australia where she is currently a soloist.

Matthews is mostly known for her already formidable coloratura technique. In her work with Opera Australia Matthews projects a big, secure voice in lyric and coloratura roles but also in less likely assignments including the title role in one Opera Australia’s finest achievements, Alban Berg’s Lulu, using that light, lyrical voice to revelatory effect.

This co-production between ABC Classics and Deutsche Grammophon will also be released internationally and coincides with Matthews launches her international career. The project is a luxurious one, instead of an Australian orchestra the Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo is employed and even a second singer (mezzo Catherine Carby) has been brought over to sing the ‘pertichio’ role in the Lucia di Lammermoor scene.

The disc opens with a restrained account of “Glitter and Be Gay” from Bernstein’s operetta-inspired Candide. Eschewing the histrionics that often negate the song’s effects Matthew’s equates the coloratura passages to the type of musical laughter familiar from Manon Lescauts’ laughing song in Auber’s opera or the best known example, Adele’s laughing song in Die Fledermaus. The result is immensely satisfying and encourages multiple hearings.

The folksy “Last Rose of Summer” from Flotow’s Martha reveals Matthews’s beautiful legato but the bulk of the disc is a 60 minute ‘potted’ history of the Bel Canto era before ending with a return to simple serenity. Instead of the celebrated mad-scene from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor comes the equally dramatic fountain scene is chosen which introduces Lucia (and subtly indicates her mental breakdown is already beginning). The featured mad scene is Ophelia’s scene and ballade from Thomas’s Hamlet. Given in full it the best demonstration of Matthews’s impressive technique as she incorporates the higher and more florid passages introduced by the singer Marie Carvalho and incorporated into the original vocal scores. Matthews then gives an even more elaborate account of the ‘Doll Song” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann and then just enough of an arrangement (the entire thing overstays its welcome even for coloratura fanciers) by Richard Bonynge of Proch’s Theme and Variations (presumably with his wife Joan Sutherland in mind) and which Matthews sings with the same power and agility as Sutherland.

The recital closes with two Australian compositions, and orchestration of a song by Calvin Bowman that has a folksy simplicity and even a beguiling Scotch rhythm in places. The Nightingale’s song from Richard Mill’s opera The Love of The Nightingale is sadly too brief an excerpt from an opera Matthews is so closely associated with. Sounding like a classical vocalise and orchestrated in a lush Ravel-ian manner it brings some beautiful playing from the orchestra. The conductor, Brad Cohen, has a personal interest in this 19th French operatic repertoire and the orchestra, as expected, are a world class band who respond to the familiar items, bringing some very Gallic and incisive playing to the scene from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The recording is demonstration class, Matthews’s voice given an immediate presence with the strings, in particular in the Bowman item, sounding luscious.

Michael Magnusson


Leonard Bernstein: Candide — Glitter and Be Gay

Leo Delibes: Lakme — Ou va la jeune Indoue (Bell Song)

Friedrich von Flotow: Martha — The Last Rose of Summer

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor — Ancor non giunse…Regnava nel silenzio…Quando rapito In estasi (with Catherine Carby mezzo-soprano)

Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi — Eccomi in lieta vesta…Oh! quante volte

Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette — Air de la coupe: Dieu quel frisson … Amour, ranime mon courage

Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet — A vos jeux, mes amis… Partagez-vous mes fleurs… (scène de la folie d’ Ophelie)

Jaques Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann — Les oiseaux dans la charmille

Heinrich Proch (arr. Richard Bonynge): Deh! Torna, mio bene, Theme and Variations

Calvin Bowman: Now Touch the Air Softly

Richard Mills: The Love of the Nightingale — The Nightingale’s Song