Australian soprano Emma Matthews shares her experiences adjudicating at the prestigious competition for young singers.
I’ve just come back from a week and a bit of adjudicating, where I travelled around Australia and went to Wellington to hear some amazing voices. It was absolutely fascinating and I loved it – even more than singing, dare I say?
Hearing and meeting the young singers and hearing different interpretations of the same song, even, was really quite fascinating. I actually came home and went and did about four hours of practice and thought of all the things I’d heard other singers doing wrong, and tried to hone in my own technique a little bit more as well. So I’ve learned a great deal from these young singers – it’s been absolutely amazing. Also being able to observe the the rawness of some talents and the detail and refinements that other singers have already accomplished just excited me so much. The differences in ages as well; we had a fabulous young 18-year-old perform which had myself, Michael Lewis and Andrew Dalton in tears – just the most beautiful beginnings of an instrument.
There were also fabulous young tenors from New Zealand who had just this incredible passion and faith behind their sound, but who didn’t have the technical line yet but you could see the potential for their voices to be quite extraordinary. So there was this sort of “Oh my God” feeling in the room that was quite exhilarating. It’s really exciting the level of talent we now have in Australia and New Zealand, it's just thrilling – the future’s safe!
One thing I noticed however was that languages generally were not good – I remember when I did the competition I don’t think I really knew what I was singing about. But the competition is not just about the voice but also the competitors' interpretation and story-telling, and those who were prepared that way were just miles above everybody else. There were also a lot of singers bringing in repertoire that was just wrong – it’s OK to show potential, but competitors also need to be able to conquer all the problems within a piece.
In the end I had to choose ten semi-finalists, and that was really hard despite there being quite a gap between the lower range of performers and the top. It’s interesting, because the lower range were generally the younger singers with less experience and less polish. But careers can become secure as singers get older – as their bodies stop growing and as the vocal cords settle.
I would definitely love to do some more judging in the future and see the development of the singers from this year. I think it's going to be really exciting; we’ve got some really lovely talent out there.