Venice, 1960 and a young Australian dramatic coloratura soprano named Joan Sutherland stunned audiences in the performance of Handel’s Alcina that would earn her the title “La Stupenda”.
Dame Joan Sutherland OM, AC, DBE as she later became known possessed a voice of such agility, she would become the first Australian to win a Grammy award. Today, she is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest opera singers.
It seems fitting, as the National Opera prepares to present its latest production of Alcina, that a tribute be made in honour of this great woman, and her husband, National Opera patron Richard Bonynge.
Entry to the Dame Joan Sutherland exhibition comes as part of a ticket to Alcina, which hits Llewellyn Hall on 8 and 10 December.
The exhibition will showcase 20 items of memorabilia from Dame Joan’s performances as Alcina, in Australia and overseas, including several of her concert dresses she wore.
National Opera general manager Stephanie McAlister said the exhibition would provide an exciting point of interest for opera-goers.
“The dresses in particular are absolutely exquisite, it’ll be a real treat to be able to view them up close,” she said.
“They’ve never been on display before. They’re from Richard Bonynge’s private collection, which he gifted to our artistic director, Peter Coleman-Wright.”
Of the four concert dresses exhibited, two were designed by American Barbara Matera, one by Royal Warrant holder as designer to the Queen Hardie Armies of Seville Row, and one by Italian Heinz Riva.
The exhibition will also include a number of prints of Dame Joan Sutherland from Opera Australia and the National Library plus programs from her performances as Alcina in London and in the 1983 Opera Australia production.
Other special items on display will include a selection of Australia Post stamps featuring Dame Joan from the 80s.
Guests will also be able to listen to the original 1963 Decca record of her singing Alcina, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Bonynge.
“It’s a very challenging role to sing,” Stephanie said.
“It’s a chance for people to hear it for themselves, La Stupenda in the role that won her the title.
“She was one of, if not, the most prolific opera singer Australia has ever had. We’re very happy to be dedicating this season of Alcina to her and to Maestro Bonynge.”
Named after its protagonist, Alcina tells the story of a powerful sorceress who rules over a mystical island and uses magic to seduce any man who lands there.
In its second collaboration with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, National Opera’s production features Emma Matthews in the title role with Rachelle Durkin, both of whom are coming to Canberra for the first time.
They will be accompanied by Russell Harcourt, Sally-Anne Russell, John Longmuir, Jud Arthur and Canberran Katrina Wiseman, who will be making her professional debut under the baton of Handel specialist Graham Abbott.
Richard Bonynge will also attend the 8 December performance.
Stephanie said the exhibition and Alcina production gave everyone the chance to get a little closer to Dame Joan Sutherland’s legacy.
“We want to invite everyone to come along to this very special production, which stars world-class singers,” she said.
“While there, they’ll get a peek into the incredible career of one of Australia’s great treasures.”
The Dame Joan Sutherland exhibition will be on display at Llewellyn Hall on 8 December and 10 December for Alcina ticket holders. For more information, visit the National Opera webpage.