The Australia Council notes with great sadness the death of Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, AC DBE, hailed throughout the world as “La Stupenda”, and “The Voice of the Century”.
Dame Joan’s stellar career rivaled that of Australia’s other legendary operatic soprano, Dame Nellie Melba. Like Melba, Dame Joan’s down-to-earth demeanor and extraordinary talents made her a household name in her own country, while her many appearances at key opera institutions such as Royal Opera, Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Opera guaranteed sell-out houses.
Australia Council Chief Executive Officer, Kathy Keele, today hailed Dame Joan’s achievements in bringing opera to millions throughout the world, and her pivotal role in the development of professional opera in Australia.
‘Dame Joan, together with her partner and artistic associate Richard Bonynge, revitalised opera in Australia when they toured the nation in 1965, heading the now legendary Sutherland/Williamson Opera Company,’ said Ms Keele.
’The tour marked the return to Australia of many of the nation’s greatest operatic artists, most of whom had been forced to leave their homeland to make careers overseas, due to then lack of a professional opera company in Australia.’
‘The Sutherland/Williamson tour demonstrated that Australians were more than ready to embrace opera as an exciting and vibrant artform. As a result, the Elizabethan Trust Opera Company was formed, laying the basis for the healthy opera sector we now celebrate in Australia.’
‘Dame Joan’s subsequent annual appearances with Opera Australia from 1974 provided new benchmarks for our nation’s operatic artists. Without her contribution, it is unlikely that we would have operatic performance in this country of the standard we see today,’ said Ms Keele.
Dame Joan’s presence meant that the operatic artform was embraced as never before by Australians. A 1982 television simulcast from the Sydney Opera House of Dame Joan live in concert with Luciano Pavarotti was viewed by six million Australians and re- defined the ABC’s attitude to the arts on television.
In the following years, opera lovers in Australia and throughout the world were able to enjoy televised performances of Dame Joan in some of her most memorable roles, including Lucia di Lammermoor, Norma, Leonora in Il Trovatore and Marie in The Daughter of the Regiment.
After her retirement, Dame Joan continued to be actively involved in the operatic world as a judge of vocal competitions. Her rare and often frighteningly honest masterclasses remain the stuff of legend.
The Australia Council extends its deepest sympathy to Dame Joan’s family.