Soprano Emma Matthews remains just as beloved as she’s always been, if the sustained, warm applause that greeted her last Thursday was any indication. Now based in Perth as WAAPA’s Head of Classical Voice and Opera Studies, and largely absent from Opera Australia’s stages for the past few seasons, this was a highly welcome return to Sydney.

Emma Matthews. Photo © Carolyn Mackay Clark

After all, few singers can tease so much pleasure and pathos from an evening of well-worn Mozart arias. Partnered by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Umberto Clerici, its Principal Cellist, Matthews did that and more, creating mini dramas where most recitalists would offer up generalised emotion.

Vocally, the soprano was in fine if imperfect form, sometimes struggling to cut through moments of denser orchestration. Some of the more difficult passagework was also dispatched less fluently than she has shown herself capable of in the past. But no matter – Matthews brought oodles of personality to the stage, drawing from a wide palette of emotion and colour.

Voi avete un cor fedele showed off the richness of her middle voice, which has retained all of its creamy lustre. An insertion aria written...