Her white gown spattered with blood, the beautiful new bride stands before the wedding guests in the castle's hall like an escapee from a B-grade horror movie. But there's nothing B-grade about the opalescent melodies gliding past her lips.
This is, after all, the celebrated Mad Scene from Donizetti's 1835 opera Lucia di Lammermoor, based on Sir Walter Scott's 1819 tragic novel The Bride of Lammermoor, and arguably the apogee of the bel canto, or beautiful singing, style.
"I love mad scenes," says multi-Helpmann Award-winning Australian soprano Emma Matthews, who returns to Perth to sing the title role for WA Opera next month.
"They just show every colour of the voice. This scene in particular has some beautiful, amazing writing and for me to sing it is the ultimate really. And it's devastating what happens to this woman - she's not a strong person at all and her brother forces her to marry somebody else."
The WAAPA-trained Matthews, who was last in Perth to perform in Richard Mills' The Love of the Nightingale in 2007, says there should be an extra scene inserted where Lucia "punches up her brother."
"She's so weak-willed," Matthews says. "It's frustrating playing somebody who just can't stand up for herself. Sometimes I want to go 'Just bloody well listen to me, will you'."
It's safe to say this isn't a feel-good opera, with star-crossed lovers from two feuding Scottish families destined to be united only in death. But the music is unfailingly beautiful.
"It falls squarely in that range where opera seems to work, where there's a little bit of love and a whole lot of tragedy," says American tenor Garrett Sorenson, who sings the role of Lucia's lover Edgardo, Laird of Ravenswood, and the sworn enemy of Lucia's brother, Enrico Ashton, Laird of Lammermoor (sung here by WA Opera stalwart James Clayton).
"It's right up there with Romeo and Juliet," says Sorenson, who has sung with major opera companies across the US, including the San Francisco Opera and Houston Grand Opera.
But - and here's the payoff - the music is unfailingly beautiful, indeed some of the most ravishing ever written, which means - and this is one of the opera's main strengths - there's often a tension between the beauty of the music and the ugliness of the drama.
Taking the Mad Scene alone, which comprises choruses, a recitative and double aria, many of the melodies first heard in the opera's earlier, happier moments are rendered almost grotesque by their new context.
For many years Lucia di Lammermoor was seen merely as a vehicle for a soprano's vocal display, with the Mad Scene as the centrepiece. Dramatically gifted sopranos such as Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland, who died last year, changed all that. Matthews was fortunate to have known Sutherland, and the latter's husband, legendary opera conductor Sir Richard Bonynge, continues to be one of her mentors.
"Richard Bonynge is terrific," says Matthews, who has sung Lucia under Bonynge for Opera Australia in the same classic production in which Sutherland sang and which WA Opera will present in revised form. "He's a fabulous mentor to me. He knows my voice really well and he knows what he wants from me.
"It's really tough sometimes but in the end he knows what's best for me and so I do what I'm told - with a little bit of whinging along the way."
"But Dame Joan had a huge influence on me, and it was devastating when she died, it was like an aunt passing away. We all loved her very much. But we're very lucky to have all her amazing recordings and I don't think there's a week goes by when I'm not listening to something with her in it."
In March this year Matthews sang Violetta on a massive floating stage on Sydney Harbour in Opera Australia's production of Verdi's La Traviata. In September she'll sing Lucia again for Opera Australia, this time in a dazzling new production. Despite her business, she insists singing isn't her first job.
Born in the UK but raised in Fiji and Perth, Matthews now lives in Sydney with her singer-turned-set-designer husband Stephen Matthews,and their two children. "Before I met my husband I planned to conquer the world," Matthews says.
"But I didn't realise you could be so happy with a family and children and for me that's the most important thing. Now my boys are eight and 10 and they need me here. And I need them.
"That is my greatest love: being a mum and being a wife. Singing is an absolute bonus. It's my escape and fantasy time. I feel really privileged that I can do both, and to come home after doing a show like Lucia and kiss my boys is just wonderful."
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