For Richard Bonynge, London in 1950 was a most delightful place.
But he was not as effusive about his studies at the Royal College of Music. The attraction of the piano as a solo instrument had faded as he became increasingly drawn to operatic music and the magic of the human voice.
Thus he gave up his music scholarship at the College and, while continuing his piano studies privately, became a coach to singers. One of them was the newly-arrived Joan Sutherland, whom he had accompanied back in Sydney, and now escorted in the cultural maze that was London. It did not take very long for their relationship to strengthen – from coaching to marriage and an inviolable professional partnership. An expert in the music of the human voice, he understood the Sutherland voice best of all.
His performances with Joan Sutherland were for a time confined to recitals. Then in 1962, at a sold-out Sutherland concert of operatic rarities in Rome, the conductor for the occasion fell ill, the replacement conductor was hit by a car, and there was no other but Bonynge (by then a recognized scholar of bel canto) who knew the repertoire well enough to take over. He did, and Joan Sutherland rather liked the arrangement. Not long after, she decided in favor of a total partnership – Richard Bonynge, in her own estimation the ‘architect’ of her career, would henceforth conduct all her performances.
And so he did, for which he took a great deal of flak. Critics decried his lack of formal training in conducting. But he could take potshots – hadn’t some of them labeled him Svengali to Sutherland’s Trilby? But he took it all in stride, worked hard “on-the-job” and did his utmost best, confident that his total education in music would serve him well, and that audiences would be the better judge–and time the best of all.
Indeed! He has stood tall through the decades as the unquestioned Master of bel canto and his fabled musical partnership with Dame Joan Sutherland the most solid of all.
[Note: But Maestro Bonynge's conducting repertoire goes beyond bel canto; verismo and French opera are very much his forte as well. He is also well-known for his long-standing associations with other opera stars, e.g., the legendary Renata Tebaldi, the Korean soprano Sumi Jo, and of course Luciano Pavarotti, and for his outstanding recordings of ballet music.]
LISTEN to MAESTRO RICHARD BONYNGE - excerpts from an interview conducted in 2010 by MOFFATT OXENBOULD, Artistic Director of Opera Australia from 1984 to 1999, on the eve of the Maestro’s 80th birthday shortly before the passing of Dame Joan Sutherland. The commentaries are often insterpersed with excerpts from selected recordings relevant to the topic of discussion.
||On his association with:
Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti,
Renata Tebaldi & Huguette Torangeau
||On Sumi Jo|
||Beyond Bel Canto||
||On his fascination with Massenet|
||On His Passion for Ballet Music|