This paper explores the extent of expressive tempo modifications as a function of textual content in four operatic arias recorded by Adelina Patti between 1905 and 1906. Their analysis made it possible to determine to what extent significant tempo modifications coincide with those moments in the music, in which special emphasis is demanded by the lyrics. A twofold approach was adopted: the paradigms of historical musicology provided the conceptual tools necessary to define the context, reconstruct the vocal practice, and understand the relationship between the lyrics and the compositional solutions underpinning them; the degree of tempo variability for each aria was determined by empirically measuring the crotchet beat lengths and by calculating the value of mean, mode, standard deviation and coefficient of variation. Results show that Patti’s renditions of the four arias present tempo modifications which are instrumental to the expression of their dramatic content, as recommended by the singing methods and treatises which appeared in the course of the nineteenth century. Most crucially, they challenge the assumption that interpreters trained in the late romantic culture abused the composer’s intentions and indulged in tasteless, exaggerated interpretive choices.