Help the performing arts recover

20 August, 2020

 

Dame Joan Sutherland has been described as the voice of the 20th century and the greatest soprano of her generation.

With a career spanning over 40 years, she was an operatic phenomenon and indisputably, one of Australia’s greatest artistic exports. In 1960, she was crowned ‘La Stupenda’ – the stupendous one – after a remarkable performance in the title role of Alcina at Teatro La Fenice, in Venice.

 

Joan Sutherland in the title role of Lakmé

 

Joan Sutherland in the title role of ‘Lakmé’, The Australian Opera, 1976
Photograph by William Moseley
Courtesy of Opera Australia Archives
Australian Performing Arts, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Joan sang in the most celebrated theatres and venues around the globe – from Covent Garden to The Met, La Scala to The Royal Opera House.

In 1985, Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre was graced by her performance in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. This was closely followed by a performance on the same stage in the same year, with her conductor husband, Richard Bonynge and famed mezzo-soprano/Joan’s lifelong duettist, Marilyn Horne.

Making memories

Joan had appeared in Melbourne before the Arts Centre was constructed, but the State Theatre and Hamer Hall showcased her remarkable coloratura voice in all its glory.

One of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Stage Left supporters, Brian Hartung, was the Business Manager at Arts Centre Melbourne in the 1980s. A performer himself, in 1989 he fulfilled what would be any artist’s dream - sharing the Hamer Hall stage with Joan as a chorus member in An Evening to Remember. Joan was the star of the concert in Hamer Hall, supported by the Australian Pops Orchestra, and, at age 62, it turned out to be her final appearance in her homeland.

 

Brian Hartung

 

Brian Hartung
Business Manager at Arts Centre Melbourne in 1980s and ‘Stage Left’ supporter at Arts Centre Melbourne

 

“It was a unique experience,” Brian says. “A one-off. I recall Joan had this profound ability to remember entire sheets of music; as if they were pictures in her head. The conductor would say, ‘let’s go back to bar 22’, for example, and she would know exactly where that was – even when it was mid-word – without having to look... Her professionalism and skill was unbelievable.”

Joan’s performance continues through our Collection

Thanks to Joan’s stellar career and special connection to Arts Centre Melbourne, Opera Australia donated 30 complete costumes worn by Dame Joan to the Australian Performing Arts Collection (APAC) in 2019.

“You don’t see costumes like this every day,” says Margot Anderson, APAC’s Curator for Dance and Opera.

“Joan Sutherland understood the value of a well-made costume. She worked closely with leading international designers such as Jose Varona and Michael Stennett, as well as celebrated Australian designers including Kristian Fredrikson and John Truscott, to ensure the best outcome for the role, as well as her own comfort.”

 

Costume worn by Joan Sutherland as Marguerite de Valois

 

Costume worn by Joan Sutherland as Marguerite de Valois, ‘Les Huguenots’, The Australian Opera, 1981
Gift of Opera Australia, 2019
Australian Performing Arts, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Up close and personal

To showcase a few of these dazzling costumes, our Collections team has launched Grand: Costumes from the Dame Joan Sutherland Collection – an online exhibition using ground-breaking photographic and scanning techniques. Thanks to 3D scanning and macro photography, the collection can be viewed in exquisite detail in a way that is not possible in person. No longer limited to viewing items in a glass case, the online nature of the exhibition means it can be accessed by audiences from the comfort of their own homes.

“The aim of the Opera Australia Digital Project was to acquire, preserve and document a selection of Joan’s costumes,” says Samantha Hamilton, APAC’s Head of Collections, Preservation and Access.

“The development and delivery of Grand is an innovative example of how Arts Centre Melbourne has had to adapt to current circumstances, in the COVID-19 pandemic, by making this glorious collection accessible in exciting and diverse ways. We will continue to deliver engaging and interactive digital content to our audiences now that we have established this digital platform.”

 

Four costume details from four operas

 

Clockwise from top left: Costume detail, ‘Semiramide’ 1965
Head dress detail, ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’ 1974
Costume detail, ‘Lakmé’ 1976
Costume detail, ‘Lucrezia Borgia’ 1977
Australian Performing Arts, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

We encourage you to explore the digital exhibition Grand to fully discover more on the exceptional life, performances and history behind one of the world’s most internationally renowned opera stars.

The acquisition of Dame Joan’s costumes and the delivery of Grand to online audiences is of vital significance, adding key pieces worn by the great prima donna to our 730,000-strong collection of performing arts material.

It reinforces the importance of maintaining, funding and showcasing the Australian Performing Arts Collection for generations to come.

The APAC has been developed to reflect Australian performing arts history. We have been building the collection since 1970 - acquiring, preserving and protecting to share with future audiences, the arts industry and society.

Grand: Costumes from the Dame Joan Sutherland Collection has all the ingredients of a grand opera - history, drama, technical mastery, beauty and majesty. It serves as a continuing reminder of ‘La Stupenda’s breathtaking performances, angelic voice and opulent costumes to fans and opera-lovers worldwide.

 

Helen Beeby
Philanthropy Executive
Gifts in Wills

 

Detail of crown worn by Joan Sutherland as Marguerite de Valois

 

Detail of crown worn by Joan Sutherland as Marguerite de Valois, ‘Les Huguenots’, The Australian Opera, 1981
Gift of Opera Australia, 2019
Australian Performing Arts, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

The Opera Australia Documentation Project required $175,000 of investment, which is why funding from our supporters is so vital, valued and necessary to the Australian Performing Arts Collection’s work. Preservation is needed for all the Dame Joan costumes acquired from Opera Australia so we can continue to document and exhibit them for audiences to enjoy.

If you would like to support this important work please visit our donation page.

 

Australian Performing Arts Collection logo

 

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