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Dame Joan Sutherland, c. 1977

Robert Hannaford

oil on board (frame: 105.0 cm x 82.0 cm)

Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE (1926–2010) was one of the world’s greatest operatic divas. After winning the Mobil Song Quest 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 forty years, during which her distinctive voice, immense vocal range and wide repertoire earned her the title ‘La Stupenda’. 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, on which that honour has been bestowed. 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 Living National Treasure. Sutherland lived in Switzerland for many years. When she died, it had been more than twenty years since the night on which she last performed, at Covent Garden. She was the first Australian to be given a memorial service in Westminster Abbey since Sir Robert Menzies died in 1978.

Robert Hannaford (b. 1944), commissioned to paint Sutherland by the Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1977, produced several portraits of the diva. The portrait sittings took place at Potts Point, Sydney, over a two- week period during which Sutherland was performing at the Opera House. Hannaford recalls that she would not sit on the days of performances, and that during portrait sittings she sang along to tapes provided by Richard Bonynge.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of William Bowmore AO OBE 2003
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2003.85

Currently on display: Gallery Five (John Schaeffer Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Robert Hannaford (age 33 in 1977)

Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE (age 51 in 1977)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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