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22 January, 2004

Joan Sutherland’s 50th wedding anniversary - any excuse for a party!

Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House

22 Jan 2004

Dear Colleagues,

We were privileged to share the Bonynge / Sutherland Golden Wedding anniversary in a concert by Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House, Thursday 22nd January 2004. The evening consisted of duets, trios and quartets from a variety of operas and operettas (and far too many of the latter for my liking, being 9 out of 20 items). There were no solos for some unstated reason. Would it have been bad luck and spelled divorce?

The program more than made up for the light Austro-Hungarian pieces by including wonderful selections from La Giaconda, Linda di Chamounix, Crispino e la Comare, I Lombardi, Attila, Lakmé, Semiramide, Martha and La Sonnambula. We heard excellent singing from Yvonne Kenny, David Hobson, Cheryl Barker, Peter Coleman-Wright, Joanna Cole, Deborah Riedel, Amelia Farrugia, Deborah Humble, John Pringle, Anson Austin, Jennifer McGregor and others who performed with the Opera and Ballet Orchestra under Mæstro Richard Bonynge.

Joan Sutherland was in the audience and made a short thank-you speech on stage at the end. She was presented with an award by the postal service who are honouring her with personalised postage stamps as an ‘Australian legend’. The presentation ceremony was more than made up for by a short video clip in which Sutherland sang about 15 successive E flats in various roles from the 50s to the 80s. Then we had her final ‘Home sweet home’ footage, followed by indoors ticker-tape and streamers for a ?final time.

Highlights for me were the pieces from I Lombardi, Gioconda and Semiramide (Serbami ognor). Verdi’s early crusades opera has an inspired section taking the form of a violin concerto, then becoming a vocal trio of great moment and drama. The Gioconda "Ecco la barca" trio is also a rare and fine piece of vocal theatre. Deborah Humble as Arsace to Joanna Cole’s Semiramide showed a new side to her voice as a true contralto which we hear so rarely these days. Each selection was performed to perfection. David Hobson was in excellent voice, especially in the Bellini, and one wonders why he is not a more regular member of the company. Two other strong tenors showing great promise are Mr Ding Yi and Mr Jaiwoo Kim. Suffice it to say that all of the others sang very well and the orchestra played brilliantly (they came on stage for their acclaim). There was no chorus, no Mozart, no Wagner and no Puccini - yet a surfeit of Kalman, Lehar and Leo Fall. Maybe that was just what the Diva ‘demanded’ for her anniversary!

comments by Andrew Byrne ..