Even as a child…
an opera singer.
Stories of her childhood years paint a picture of a cheerful, chubby child, curled up under the piano as she listened to her mother’s beautiful singing. Indeed mother Muriel was, by all accounts, a wonderful mezzo-soprano who had a passion for bel canto. She was her first voice teacher and until Joan was 18 she had no other. And until then, neither mother nor daughter never doubted that Joan’s was the voice of a mezzo-soprano.
Thus, one could assume that Joan Sutherland, having received a sustained infusion of bel canto into her young subconscious, would almost by instinct embrace the bel canto repertory as she began her singing career. But at 18 she won a singing competition that awarded her a 2-year scholarship, and with it a teacher who detected in the young voice that was trained to sing low the makings of a dramatic soprano – a judgment that initially elicited protestations that eventually dissolved into acquiescence. And so the process of lifting the voice began – she learned the dramatic arias of Verdi and Wagner and, now modelling her voice after Kirsten Flagstad’s, she dreamt of one day becoming a Wagnerian soprano – perhaps even singing Brünnhilde on stage, in full regalia!
In 1946 Joan Sutherland made her public debut singing from the chorus. This was soon followed by concert performances and solo recitals. On many of these occasions, her accompanist was a talented young pianist by the name of Richard Bonynge. He left for London a few years later on a scholarship to the Royal College of Music as the young Joan Sutherland was setting her sights on a modest career at . . . Covent Garden.
Photo courtesy of Maestro Bonynge