The acclaimed Australian soprano hopes to continue performing but will be moving to Perth in January.
The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University has announced that Australian soprano Emma Matthews will be its new Head of Classical Voice. In what is quite a coup for WA, the acclaimed singer will be moving to Perth to take up her post in January 2018.
“I am delighted to be coming back to WAAPA as Head of Classical Voice, and to share all that I’ve learnt in the industry since I left,” Matthews said in the university’s press statement. “I look forward to getting to know the singers at WAAPA, to sharing their artistic journeys, technically, musically, and dramatically, and to guiding them into the professional world that awaits them. I’m coming home with my husband and two sons to make Perth our home, and WAAPA our family.”
Perth is familiar territory for Matthews who graduated in 1992 from The West Australian Conservatorium of Music, now a part of WAAPA. Since then, the seven Helpmann Award-winner has made her name at home and abroad, performing with all the state opera companies and the major symphony orchestras as well as recording a string of best-selling operatic CDs. A regular with Opera Australia for over 20 years, she has also sung at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Limelight awarded her Music Personality of the Year in 2010 and most recently she was Limelight Australian Artist of the Year 2016.
“When I left WAAPA back in 1992 I remember I actually turned round and looked over my shoulder and thought ‘I have to come back here one day’,” Matthews told Limelight. “It’s always been a plan of mine that when I was getting towards my 50s I would stop doing opera and move into the teaching side of things. It’s something I’m really passionate about, and it’s happening a little bit earlier than I’d originally thought, but when this job came up I thought ‘I really have to go for this’.”
Although on paper Matthews’ removal to WA might come as a blow to her fans across the rest of Australia, the singer is confident that this doesn’t mean the end of her performing career. “I’m not going to stop singing,” she says, “and WAAPA have been very supportive of my continuing to have performing opportunities. There probably will be less of me on the stage, but I’m planning on doing a lot of recording and concert work, and I hope to tour. I had to pull out of a contract with Opera Australia next year in order to do this job, which was a hard decision to make. Any opera engagements that work within my schedule with WAAPA, of course I will do, but I will be giving 100% to my students and making them my priority.”
Matthews will fill the vacancy left by WAAPA’s outgoing Head of Classical Voice Patricia Price and the university couldn’t be more delighted to have secured the services of such a prestigious vocalist. “Finding the right person to continue Patricia Price’s legacy was never going to be easy, but in Emma we have found a truly worthy successor,” said Associate Dean of Music Stewart Smith. “Emma is an outstanding artist, a gifted teacher and someone with big plans and a clear vision for the future. She is also the warmest of people and I am greatly looking forward to working with her in this important position. Emma brings 25 years worth of knowledge and experience through singing at the highest international levels. This will be invaluable, not only to the Classical Vocal students, but to the institution as a whole.”
In fact Price, who has been Head of Voice for the last 11 years, will be on hand to show Matthews the ropes and offer guidance during her first year in the role, and her colleague speaks effusively of her “incredible generosity” in passing on information. Smith too pays tribute, acknowledging Price’s outstanding and sustained contribution. “Not only do Patricia’s graduates regularly win scholarships to the major American and British academies,” he says, “they are also to be found in many of the world’s opera houses.”
“My time at WAAPA has been challenging, exciting and most of all very rewarding and I am delighted to welcome Emma Matthews to take over the reins,” said Price in return. “I know she will be very happy in the WAAPA family and will continue to gain worldwide recognition for the classical voice courses. I shall be happy to support her vision for the future in every way that I can and I know that her great experience will be of tremendous benefit to our wonderful students.”
Matthews herself has plans to focus on vocal technique. “I want to create a vocal school that has a beginning, a middle and an end for the students within their technical journeys,” she explained to Limelight. “As an adjudicator and in my work with the Australian Singing Competition I’ve found that there are perhaps some gaps because people want to rush through things. That’s nothing against the teaching at the institutions, it’s young singers being too eager. Sometimes brakes need to be put on and steps gone through so that they end up vocally healthy and ready for the world outside of the Conservatorium.”
As a singer, Matthews herself grew up studying the famous Marchesi Technique, the method taught by Madame Mathilde Marchesi in Paris to many of the greatest singers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and most famously provided the groundwork for the career of Dame Nellie Melba. It’s a teaching method that Matthews herself uses today.
“I’ve had such an incredible performing career, but this is the rest of my life and it is my chance to give back some of what I’ve learned, “ Matthews says. “I’m playing Nellie Melba at the moment [for Sydney’s Hayes Theatre] and as we go through the scenes with her teacher it feels like all my worlds are coming together at the right time.”
Applications to study at WAAPA are open until September 30.