First published on 3 Oct 2011. Updated on 9 Oct 2011.
“I don’t like opera, but it’s great that you do it” is an all too familiar reaction when Opera Australia’s Dominica Matthews reveals her professionto strangers. Unfortunately, judgment of her chosen career is not always based on familiarity. Matthews believes that the impulse to deny an interest in opera is based on misconception. Initially the assumption is that because most operas are in foreign languages and set in days of yore, there won’t be any way of identifying with the story.
Melbourne audiences ready to challenge their preconceptions will have an easy time of it with the exciting, fast paced and clear storyline of La Traviata. Along with stable mates Madame Butterfly and La Boheme, La Traviata is one of the three most performed popular operas.
The principal artist reasons that La Traviata is an audience favourite primarily due to the sublime music. Uninitiated opera goers will probably recognise some of the arias from various advertising campaigns. For the narrative aficionados she adds that, “Everybody loves a good love story especially when it’s such a dramatic escape from the real world.“ Those with a visual bent won’t miss out either, as the set and costumes provide a real sense of old world glamour. “It’s really quite a fantastic spectacle,” Matthews says.
This production at the State Theatre marks the third time the Helpmann Award-winning mezzo-soprano has played Flora - reprising the role she made her own in 2007 and 2010. This time she performs alongside Russian soprano Elvira Fatykhova, who portrays Violetta. The 2011-model opera singers are much more than just stupendous voices, with most being the infamous triple threat performers of the musical theatre world.
Unsurpisingly, Matthews has become rather attached to Flora. "Any experience that you have in your own life you bring to the role," she notes. "Flora’s a good, fun character with a jealous streak. She really likes to have the centre of attention firmly on her.” Matthews herself is more likely, she admits, to be found chatting on the sidelines of any party, rather than jostling for attention, but she adds cheekily: “Most opera singers probably want to be the centre of attention!”