Last night, soprano Sally Matthews gave an aria recital at the Cadogan Hall: tonight she'll be back there, alongside Sir Thomas Allen and the Southbank Sinfonia, singing Strauss's Four Last Songs to promote a new competition for young singers wanting experience in holding their solo vocal line against a full orchestra. There could be no better youthful advocate: now 33, but still radiating that glow that ravished the critics when she burst on to the scene at Covent Garden as a stand-in for Verdi's Nanetta, Matthews has unique charisma and a fabulous sound.
It's an old cliché, which singers often trade on, to say that motherhood alters a voice, but when Matthews adduces this as the reason her voice changed five years ago, it seems worth asking exactly how and why. "The bottom of my voice has matured, it's got bigger – which must be because, by having a baby, you've made such space inside yourself," she says. "But it's also to do with the emotional side, which for me has changed completely. There's nothing quite like becoming a mother for putting you in touch with emotions you've not known before, and for putting you in connection with the earth – that may sound a bit hippie, but it's true.
"When you've been in labour for 40 hours, as I was, you learn from that as well – that was the biggest performance I've ever given. It puts things in proportion. And because your singing is no longer the central focus of your life, that actually benefits too."
She regards the competition she's launching tonight as being crucial in helping young singers kick-start their careers. Meanwhile, her own career is in overdrive. Having starred in David Alden's Technicolor, circus-style production of Cavalli's La Calisto in Munich, she's due to come to Covent Garden with it in September, and she's gearing up to sing Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in the same house in July. "It will be nice to be back there," she says. For us as well.
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