Dame Joan Sutherland was appointed as a Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire on 30 December 1978 for services to the performing arts. She was also appointed to the Order of Merit in 1991 for Services to opera and singing. In 1983 she was described as, 'quite simply, the greatest and most beloved singer in the world today'. She is known universally, and accurately, as 'La Stupenda'.
7 November 1926
Born: Daughter of McDonald and Muriel Alston Sutherland
12 October 1946
Married: Richard Bonynge.
Debut as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (Sydney)
Moved to London
Joined Covent Garden and remained resident soprano for seven years
Won international fame with debut as Lucia di Lammermoor (Convent Garden)
Published: The Joan Sutherland Album (w. R Bonynge)
Published: A Prima Donna's Progress : the autobiography of Joan Sutherland
View the full record at
Australian Women's Register
Dame Joan Sutherland, one of the greatest opera singers of the twentieth century, enjoyed immense success in all the world's major opera houses as a leading exponent of bel canto for over forty years. She also left an unsurpassed recording legacy, and her concert and recital repertoire was extensive.
Educated at St Catherine's School, Waverley, Sutherland first studied singing in Sydney at home with her mother, a mezzo-soprano, and later trained formally with John and Aida Dickens. In 1947 she made her concert debut as the tragic heroine of Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. In 1950 she won Australia's most distinguished prize for singing, the Sun Aria Competition, and sang the world premiere of Eugene Goossens' Judith at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music in 1951.
Only months later, Sutherland won a scholarship and moved to London to study with Clive Carey at the Royal College of Music. She joined the company of Covent Garden, making her Royal Opera debut on October 28, 1952, as the First Lady in Mozart's The Magic Flute. At first, Sutherland sang roles across the repertoire, often far from what would later become her domain. She was Helmwige in Wagner's Die Walkure, the Overseer in Richard Strauss' Elektra, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera and even the title role of Verdi's Aida, as well as Jennifer in the world premiere of Sir Michael Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage.
In 1954, Sutherland married fellow Australian Richard Bonynge, then a brilliant young pianist and accompanist. Under his guidance, Sutherland began to specialise in bel canto operas of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. International recognition of her full vocal stature came with her appearance at Covent Garden in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in February 1959, conducted by Tullio Serafin. Bonynge later became her regular conductor.
Audiences and critics alike were awed by a voice of Wagnerian proportions producing the coloratura fireworks that the bel canto repertory demands. In Venice, after a performance of Handel's Alcina, she was hailed as "La Stupenda".
Sutherland enjoyed immense success worldwide with her expanding repertoire. This included Bellini roles of Amina and Elvira (both 1960), Beatrice di Tenda (1961) and Norma (1963), and reviving Rossini's Semiramide (1962), Donizetti's La fille du regiment (1966), Maria Stuarda (1971), Lucrezia Borgia (1972) and Anna Bolena (1984). Among her Verdi roles were Violetta (1960), Leonora in Il trovatore (1975) and Amalia in I masnadieri (1980). Her Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare was considered outstanding. She also distinguished herself in French operas including Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots (1962), Faust (1965), Delibes' Lakme (1967) and Massenet's Esclarmonde (1974).
In 1965 Sutherland brought her own company to Australia, the Sutherland-Williamson International Grand Opera Co., with Bonynge as musical director. She returned in 1974 to sing Les contes d'Hoffman with the Australian Opera. From 1976 she returned regularly to the Australian Opera in many of her greatest roles.
Sutherland sang her last opera in 1990 in her home town, Sydney. At the end of the performance of Les Huguenots she stood before a background of fireworks spelling out "Farewell", festooned in streamers thrown by an enraptured audience. On New Year's Eve 1990 she made a surprise appearance at Covent Garden singing Home Sweet Home in the party scene of a televised performance of Die Fledermaus.
In her retirement, Sutherland made a film appearance as Mum in On Our Selection, worked with young singers as a master teacher, and adjudicated singing competitions all over the world.
Sutherland and Bonynge lived all over the world throughout their careers. They resided mostly in Chalet Monet, their home beside Lake Geneva, Switzerland, during their retirement.