, who came to international stardom with her Lucia di Lammermoor
at Covent Garden
in the 1950s, and which remained her best-known role. Throughout her career she has worked very closely with her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge
. She became known as La Stupenda
and "the voice of the century".
Born in Sydney on 7th November 1926, she won free singing lessons at the age of 19, and debuted in 1946. In 1951 she created the title role in Eugene Goossens's Judith, won a leading vocal competition, and later that year sailed to London to audition. Her first London role was in The Magic Flute in 1952. She married Bonynge, who had often been her accompanist in Sydney, in 1954, when he was at the Royal College of Music.
After much training with him and singing at Covent Garden she gained her star role of Lucia in 1959. This legendary production was conducted by Tullio Serafin and produced by Zeffirelli. This sensational performance is justifiably what made her stupendous: recordings of her early voice show an immense sweetness and power. Later her voice hardened somewhat, and I don't find the later Joan Sutherland as appealing, but the young Lucia years are truly miraculous. She did Lucia for her Paris debut in 1960, and La Scala and the Metropolitan in 1961.
In a wide range of roles in her career, some of her best roles were Handel's Alcina, Violetta in La Traviata, and Bellini's Norma. Although early on she had ambitions to be a Wagnerian grand soprano, it became apparent that she was better suited for bel canto, the nineteenth-century Italian flamboyance of composers like Donizetti. Her most prominent leading man was Luciano Pavarotti.
She was made a Dame in 1979, and was granted the additional honour of OM in 1991, after her retirement in 1990.
Designers of record covers have a teency weency problem with putting her face on them because she looks sort of, well, horsey, and has this great big jaw that looks out of place for many of the more delicate roles.