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Women in History of Scots Descent
Dame Joan Sutherland


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 Regiment".

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 1991.

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.

Dame Joan Sutherland


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