She was born in Sydney,
Australia on 7 November 1926; of Australian Scots ancestry. Her mother taught her
until she was nineteen, when she trained formally in Sydney with John and Aida Dickens.
She sang in concerts, oratorios and broadcasts throughout Australia and in August 1947
made a significant concert debut in Sydney as Purcell's Dido. In 1951 she sang the title
role in the world premiere of Eugene Goosen's Judith at the Sydney Conservatiorium. The
same year, having won Australia's foremost vocal competition, she came to London and
studied with Clive Carey at the Opera School of the RCM. She then joined the Covent Garden
company where she made her debut on 28 October 1952, as the First Lady in Die Zauberflote.
As a company soprano at Covent Garden, Sutherland sang of
roles encompassing a broad range of the repertoire from Weber (Agathe in Der Freischutz)
and Wagner to Tippett by way of Offenbach, Bizet, Mozart and Verdi. Her career was
influenced from this time by her collaboration with (and marriage to) Richard Bonynge, who
was convinced that her future lay in the coloratura repertoire. Her long apprenticeship
(something that she feels many singers today could benefit from) came to fruition in the
famous production of Lucia di Lammermoor in 1959; conducted by the veteran Italian Tullio
Serafin and produced by Franco Zeffirelli.
Her international career was launched as she embarked upon a
series of triumphant debuts at the world's leading opera houses singing Lucia; (Paris -
April 1960; La Scala - May 1961, and the Metropolitan - November 1961). A worthy exponent
of Handel, she sang the title role in Alcina for her debut at La Fenice, Venice in
February 1960 and at Dallas in November 1960 (her US debut)
Her repertoire of roles continued to grow throughout her
career. She sang Amina (La Sonnambula) , Violetta(La Traviata) and Elvira (I Puritani)
alongside Semiramide, Marguerite de Valois (Les Huguenots), Marguerite (Faust), Lakme,
Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare) and Norma. Amongst her other roles, a great favourite for
herself and the public was Marie, the tomboy soldier in "The Daughter of the
Later in her career, she added roles such as Tales of
Hoffmann (singing all four roles), Lucrezia Borgia, Anna Bolena , Esclarmonde and Adriana
Lecouvreur. Her final performances were in Sydney (1990) as Marguerite de Valois in Les
Huguenots. Her final Covent Garden appearance was as guest performer in the New Year's Eve
performance of The Merry Widow in 1990, when she sang duets with Luciano Pavarotti and
Marilyn Horne, as well as"Home, Sweet Home", a favourite encore item (as it was
of Dame Nellie Melba).
She received many international honours, among them , the
award of Dame of the British Empire in 1979 and the much prized Order of Merit (limited in
number, and very rarely awarded to musicians; Edward Elgar was a previous recipient) in
In retirement, she has been in demand as an adjudicator at
major singing competitons, together with Marilyn Horne, she is a regular member of the
panel at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.