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Emma Matthews made her debut with Opera Australia in 1993 and has sung many leading roles with the company such as Leila (The Pearl Fishers), Pamina (The Magic Flute) and the title roles from Lucia di Lammermoor, Lakmé and The Cunning Little Vixen. She has performed with companies around Australia and overseas and appeared in concert performances with major symphony orchestras and the world’s leading conductors. Emma is now Senior Lecturer and the Head of Classical Voice and Opera Studies, at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

In May 2020, during lockdown, Curator Margot Anderson spoke with Emma about her costumes in the Australian Performing Arts Collection and the experience of wearing them in significant productions with Opera Australia.

In this Defining Moments series, Emma reflects on important early roles in her career, such as Marie in La Fille du Regiment (1997), Almirena in Rinaldo (1999), the title role in Lulu (2003) and Juliette in Romeo and Juliette (2005). She talks about how she prepared, what happened on stage and the impact each role had on her development as a performer.

La Fille du Regiment

Emma Matthews recalls the thrills and spills of her first leading role with Opera Australia and how she faced the realities of what she still had to learn. She talks about taking direction, the physical demands of performance and the surprising benefits of a very fitted corset.

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews in La Fille du Regiment, Opera Australia

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews as Marie in ‘La Fille du Regiment’, Opera Australia, 1997
Designed by Michael Stennett
Purchased with funds donated by Jeremy Vincent, 2017
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Here, Emma recalls performing the role of Marie in La Fille du Regiment in 1997. The costumes for this production were designed by Michael Stennett and had been originally created for Joan Sutherland’s performance with the company in 1986. Under the direction of Joseph Ward, Emma’s interpretation of the role was very physical and required changes to Stennett’s original designs to allow for extra movement.

 

Rinaldo

Emma Matthews reflects on an important role in the early stages of her career. What it took to prepare, how it felt to perform and why this costume required expert handling on stage.

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews as Almirena in Rinaldo, Opera Australia

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews as Almirena in 'Rinaldo', Opera Australia, 1999
Designed by Michael Wilkinson
Purchased with funds donated by Jeremy Vincent, 2017
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Here, Emma recalls the role of Almirena in Rinaldo. The costumes for this production were designed by Michael Wilkinson to evoke the opulence of the opera’s baroque score. Almirena’s angelic qualities are illuminated through the golden sheen of her floor length gown and the sweeping lengths of pale blue silk in her hooded cloak.

 

Lulu

Emma Matthews reflects on one of her most challenging roles with Opera Australia and how it coincided with the birth of her first child. She recalls “the mathematics” of learning the role, her deep immersion in the character and how grateful she was to have a costume at all.

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews in Lulu, Opera Australia

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews in the title role of ‘Lulu’, Opera Australia, 2003
Designed by Stephen Curtis
Purchased with funds donated by Jeremy Vincent, 2017
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Here, Emma recalls performing the title role of Lulu in 2003. Designed by Stephen Curtis, the costumes for this production reflected the rise and fall of Lulu as an object of desire. Working closely with conductor Simone Young and director Simon Phillips, Emma took on the troubled character whole-heartedly which meant wearing very little at times. Although free of long trains and fitted bodices, it was the revealing nature of this costume that made it the most difficult to wear.

 

Romeo and Juliette

Emma Matthews remembers her heart-wrenching performance in one of Opera Australia’s most beautiful productions. She looks back on the generosity of special mentors and shares her own insights on the “never-ending quest” for the perfect voice.

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews in Romeo and Juliette, Opera Australia

 

Costume worn by Emma Matthews as Juliette in ‘Romeo and Juliette’, Opera Australia, 2005
Designed by Jennifer Irwin
Purchased with funds donated by Jeremy Vincent, 2017
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Here, Emma recalls performing the role of Juliette in 2005. She remembers how beautiful Jennifer Irwin’s costumes made her feel on stage and how this helped make her portrayal of a love-struck teenager more effective. She describes the process of working with conductor Richard Bonynge and how his vision spanned every detail of the production including the way her wig was styled.

 

 

These are only some of 40 costumes the Australian Performing Arts Collection acquired with the generous support of donors from Opera Australia’s auction in 2017. This collection captures over five decades of Opera Australia’s history and showcases the performers, designers, directors and the repertoire that has helped define opera as an art form for generations of Australian audiences.

 

Discover more about the Opera Australia Collection

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