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Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE

1926 – 2010

Dame Joan Sutherland (1926–2010) was one of the world’s greatest operatic divas. After winning the Mobil Song Contest in 1950, Sutherland left Australia to study at the Royal College of Music in London, making her debut at Covent Garden in 1952 in The Magic Flute. Within a few weeks she was appearing there in Norma, with Maria Callas in the title role.

In London a fellow expatriate, conductor Richard Bonynge, became her mentor and later her husband. He encouraged her to abandon the heavier vocal roles she favoured and to become a coloratura soprano; the transformation was key to her success. Sutherland’s 1959 performance in Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden launched an international career that spanned nearly 40 years, during which her distinctive voice, immense vocal range and wide repertoire earned her the title ‘La Stupenda’. Luciano Pavarotti described her voice as ‘certainly the greatest voice this century’.

She was Australian of the Year in 1961, the second year the title was awarded. Thirty years later she received the Order of Merit, one of a mere handful of Australians – and the only Australian woman – to be accorded that honour. In 1974, Sutherland and Bonynge returned to Australia, and over the next decade they lent their star power to the Australian Opera. In the years following, she was designated a National Living Treasure. Sutherland lived in Switzerland for many years. When she died, it had been more than 20 years since the night of her last performance, at Covent Garden. She was the first Australian to have been given a memorial service at Westminster Abbey since that of Sir Robert Menzies in 1978.

Updated 2018