House debates

Monday, 18 October 2010

Dame Joan Sutherland

2:05 pm

Photo of Julia GillardJulia Gillard (Lalor, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

On indulgence: I ask leave of the House to make some remarks on the passing of Dame Joan Sutherland. She was of course La Stupenda, the ‘voice of the century’, ‘our Joan’, and she helped define Australia’s post war cultural landscape like few others.

Joan Sutherland’s magnificent career began with victory in the two leading musical competitions of the day, the Sun Aria Competition in Sydney in 1949, and the Mobil Quest in Melbourne in 1950. In fact the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 September 1950 reported that Joan had a four-leaf clover in her glove when she stepped onto the stage for the Mobil Quest Competition.

From that day on, over four extraordinary decades, that four-leaf clover never let her down. She sang all the great roles on all the great stages of the world. She made recordings that will be treasured and studied for decades to come. She provided indelible memories in the minds and hearts of all who were privileged to hear her sing. Now, after a long and brilliant life, her matchless voice has finally come to a rest.

Today, of course, our thoughts are with her family—her husband and musical collaborator, Richard; her son, Adam; her daughter-in-law, Helen; and her two grandchildren—and a wide circle of friends that lay beyond that immediate family circle. With them, we remember a grand and gracious lady who was a prima donna on the stage but never off it. We remember Dame Joan’s easy dignity, her earthy sense of humour and her immense stamina and strength of will that carried her through the 40 years of her demanding performances. We recall also the boldness and self-knowledge that saw her tackle the hardest roles in the 1950s and 1960s but that also told her it was time to leave the stage, her voice and reputation intact.

It is truly extraordinary that our country, this small country, gave the world two of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, Melba and Sutherland. I do not know why that is; I think that is for others to try and explain, but we should all be very proud of it. With the whole Australian community, I celebrate the extraordinary life and works of Dame Joan. I honour her greatness, the greatness of her voice and the greatness of her spirit and character. I mourn her passing, and I take this opportunity to convey my and I am sure the parliament’s condolences to her family and friends on her loss.

Honourable Members:

Hear, hear!

2:08 pm

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

On indulgence: in this place, where people are so fond of the sound of their own voices, it is appropriate to reflect on the passing of the most extraordinary voice our country has produced. Dame Joan Sutherland was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. As the Prime Minister has just reminded us, a generation of music critics fought to outdo each other finding superlatives in praise of the woman the Italians called ‘La Stupenda’. And yet, for all the praise she received, she was a remarkably down-to-earth woman. The former secretary from Sydney took on the world of music and triumphed while retaining that down-to-earth quality which we like to think is part of our Australian national character.

It is important to remember that Dame Joan’s career was the product of a great partnership. Dame Joan and her husband, Richard Bonynge, have had a remarkable impact on Australian music. They were devoted partners who worked together at what they loved and strived to create an environment where opera could flourish in their native land. From the heights of international stardom, Sutherland and Bonynge returned to Australia in the mid-1970s to develop what is now Opera Australia. They helped to develop not just an opera company but an audience and a place for opera here in this country. Thanks to their work, audiences in this country lost their belief that Australian art and music had to be second-rate.

Dame Joan’s voice lives on in her magnificent recordings, and her influence lives on in the work of Opera Australia. We rejoice in her life, we mourn her passing and we send our sympathies and condolences to her husband and family.

Honourable Members:

Hear, hear!