Soprano Emma Matthews has won Limelight’s Australian Artist of the Year 2016.

The public have spoken… We asked you, our readers, to vote for a pair of Limelight 2016 Artists of the Year. Combined with our critics’ votes, this is who you chose…

I feel like I’m in my absolute prime at the moment. listening to the recording, I think it shows that I’m in a place where I can experiment vocally and take risks. The disc isn’t only about the voice, but drama – drama in my interpretation, and real theatre in the orchestral playing. – Emma Matthews

Those lucky enough to see soprano Emma Matthews in action will know that she lights up the stage. Her glorious, agile voice and perfect diction is invariably matched by tons of charisma and real dramatic nous.

She has great comedic timing, a point she brought home spectacularly as Fiorella in Rossini’s The Turk In Italy, for this reviewer the highlight of Opera Australia’s 2014 season, when she played superbly off Italian buffo baritone supremo Paolo Bordogna.

Her Lucia a few seasons back was riveting and visceral. Compare her extraordinary and moving handling of the mad scene with the YouTube of the great Dame Joan Sutherland and you’ll get some idea of the impact she makes. Or there’s her vulnerability as Violetta in La Traviata where the impending tragedy always lurks behind the flirtatious exterior.

These theatrical skills add immensely to her modest but impressive discography. Her Mozart album of 2014 was to die for and this year she released the second of her bel canto collections, Agony and Ecstasy. If you were impressed with the Monte Carlo release on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label, this new one will knock you out. Featuring the MSO under Andrea Molino, it is arguably her best recording so far. It offers interconnected moments from La Traviata, Il Turco and a brace each from Bellini’s La Sonnambula and I Puritani.

Matthews wrote recently in Limelight: “It’s the challenge of finding the balance between singing something technically and making it feel genuinely emotional as well.” It’s a challenge to which she is more than equal.

Another side of this versatile soprano is shown in two other recordings – Copland’s Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson with Benjamin Northey and the MSO, and her delightful performance of the childlike Das Himmlische Leben in the last movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the SSO.

The good news is that Matthews reckons she has another bel canto album in her and from there, who knows? The world is her oyster, although the lass from Manchester has been content to put her Sydney-based family before an international career so far.

Australian audiences can catch her next year in Melbourne Recital Hall’s Great Performers series; in Bizet’s The Pearlfishers for Opera Queensland; and reprising the role of Violetta in Sydney for Opera Australia’s production of La Traviata. – Steve Moffat


Our interview with Emma Matthews