Emma Matthews has many career highlights – Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata on the Harbour, Almirena in Rinaldo and Lulu, to name a few. Yet it is her latest role that caused Emma Matthews to tear up as she spoke about it, because this work is very special; The Space Between was written for her by Paul Grabowsky and Steve Vizard.
“It’s such a huge honour! To have someone like Paul Grabowsky write something like this for me is just amazing!” said an emotional Emma Matthews.
Emma Matthews and Paul Grabowksy knew of each other and had “vaguely met”, but when they were sitting in a green room together for three hours, in lock down for a G20 Summit at which they were both performing, the conversation started. Matthews asked Grabowsky why he hadn’t written anything for her.
“We started talking and I said, ‘What about a jazz saxophone and classical voice?’ I guess we planted the seed then, and about a year later he and Steve Vizard were both rehearsing with Victorian Opera at the same time as me, and they approached me and said, ‘We want to do it. We want to do a piece for you.’ It sort of went from there,” explained Matthews.
The work is called The Space Between and it crosses a number of music genres.
“I think it brings all of the areas together really. It’s a totally new way of making music … It’s amazing! It’s really very different. It’s very challenging and rewarding and beautiful – so beautiful!” exclaimed Matthews.
Matthews said there’s nothing that can be compared to The Space Between.
“It’s very intense, but delicious!’
The Space Between explores elements of madness, the universe, life, love, loss, and an artist towards the end of her career with choices and decisions to be made.
“It’s about anyone who’s got to this part of her career – like I have – and there’s little stories of mine interwoven throughout the text Steve’s put in. It’s really hard to talk about it. It’s so different and so personal because it’s been written for me, and yet it’s not personal. It’s everyone’s story as well,” explained Matthews.
“Initially, it was going to be my story, but then we found there was so much more to say. Plus, I didn’t want my personal thing to be out there in public so much, so there are elements and there are innuendos, but it’s more about me being an artist – being a little speck in the universe, but how important one of us can be to the whole of everything,” Matthews commented.
Emma Matthews may be just “a little speck” in the universe, but this little speck with the incredible soprano voice has won seven Helpmann Awards.
“I’m a mighty fine little speck!” she laughed.
Matthews knew from a very young age she would be a performer. Growing up in Vanuatu, and without television, she would entertain herself by singing, but it wasn’t until her teenage years, when she was granted a choral scholarship to Perth Modern Music School, that she really acknowledged the special quality of her voice.
“I started into musical theatre at WAAPA and then I swapped over into opera half way through my first year, because it was just so obvious, even thought I have a musical theatre personality, I am a classical singer and that’s my voice. Once I accepted that, and realised I wasn’t going to be Julie Andrews, I was going to be Emma Matthews, then it was okay.”
Emma Matthews continued to attend the musical theatre acting and improvisation classes when she swapped into opera at WAAPA.
“So I got that extra acting work and I think that was really important. Music theatre gave me the understanding of holding an audience and intensity and delivery of text and the importance of really knowing your character. I learnt to be somebody else,” said Matthews.
Upon graduating, Matthews was given small and one line roles with Opera Australia which ultimately grew into leading roles.
“Opera Australia really looked after me,” said Matthews.
Emma Matthews believes opera is relevant for all ages.
“Opera is the ultimate! Paul will argue that jazz is the ultimate, but opera is the ultimate. Definitely!” Emma Matthews laughed mischievously.
Matthews can still recall her first experience of watching opera and the heightened emotions and performances of the genre.
“I’m such an over the top person I thought, ‘Well this is where I’m going to head for sure!’”
Emma Matthews now resides in Perth and is the Head of Classical Voice at WAAPA, teaching and guiding singers at the beginning of their careers. She also plans to evolve the course “to have more acting and stagecraft and the musical framing that’s needed.”
It means she has limited opportunities to perform.
“I’m still doing things, but I’m just being picky about what I do.”
Emma Matthews invites anyone who has never experienced opera to come along to The Space Between and experience this one act, modern opera. In particular, she hopes singing students will come along and take advantage of the special under 30’s price of $35.
“All of you that haven’t seen opera, come and hear all these different elements coming together – it’s just incredibly beautiful! This is a new take on things – it’s bringing tradition into the modern world – and beautifully I think. I’m very proud to be doing this, I’m so proud of it.”
The Space Between is playing at the Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre, Melbourne until Sunday 23rd September.
For more information and tickets: CLICK HERE