Newsletter Signup

Become a ABC Music VIP Newsletter subscriber for all the latest ABC Music artist and label news!

Dame Joan farewelled at Westminster Abbey


The voice of Dame Joan Sutherland has flooded London's Westminster Abbey during a thanksgiving service for the late opera great.

The Australian diva died at the age of 83 in her Switzerland home in October last year.

On a cold, grey and miserable winter's day, more than 2,000 fans, family and dignitaries, including Prince Charles, packed the famous church for one last performance.

The former Royal Opera House director, Sir John Tooley, spoke of a shy ungainly girl who ended up, as Luciano Pavarotti described her, the "voice of the century".

More than two decades since her final bow, recordings of the Australian's breath-taking renditions of Casta Diva from Norma and Let The Bright Seraphim from Samson were played out during the emotional ceremony.

It is a tremendous and rare honour to be farewelled at Westminster Abbey. Its last memorial service for an Australian was for former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies in 1978.

Her family was involved in the ceremony, with her husband of 56 years, Richard Bonynge, composing himself for a reading, while her grandson, Vanya Bonynge touchingly walked up the aisle carrying her honour medals on a cushion.

Dame Joan made her name just a walk away from the Abbey at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, propelling herself to international acclaim in the production of Lucia di Lammermoor in 1959.

'Cream of the music world'

Young Sydney-born soprano Valda Wilson was the soloist for the ceremony and joked that she feared she would have a heart attack during one of her performances.

"The sense of occasion and the people in the room, it was the cream of the music world. I was a bit worried I was going to have a cardiac [arrest]," said the former recipient of a study grant from the Joan Sutherland Society.

"I sat down after one of the songs and my heart was going da-dum, da-dum, da-dum."

Ms Wilson said she had never met Dame Joan, not wanting to "annoy" her when she had the chance at her 80th birthday celebrations.

The 28-year-old said that despite Dame Joan having not sung in public for 21 years, she remained an inspiration for young Australian opera singers.

"There are a lot coming through, I am not quite sure what it is," she said.

"Maybe it is something to do with the wide open spaces but we seem to produce a lot of big, clear voices, which is great for opera."


Country star Jody Direen’s brush with cyber hackers

Music fans bought $7.3 million worth of music and merch on Friday

Music fans have put over $7.3 million (US$4.3 million) directly into artists' pockets around the world via online music platform Bandcamp's

Global vinyl production threatened by massive production plant fire

A California-based production plant that supplies the lacquer formula used for making master vinyl discs has been destroyed by fire, casting fears about vinyl rec

Four Indigenous artists that you need in your musical rotation

You might know Deadly Hearts as the album collection that features some of the best Indigenous artists Australia has to offer.

triple j Hottest 100 winners that shocked a nation

Nary a Hottest 100 can go by without some kind of countdown calamity.

ABC Music Golden Guitar 2019 Winners

The Australian music industry celebrated the 47

Justine Clarke Wins ARIA Award for Best Children's Album

Justine Clarke has won the award for Best Children’s Album at the 2018 ARIA Awards, held at The Star on Wednesday, November 28.


ABC Classics wins at the 2017 ARIA Awards

At a ceremony on Tuesday 10 October at the Art Gallery of NSW, ABC Classics & Jazz were announced winners of the 2017 ARIA Awards for Best Classical, Best Jazz, Best Original Soundtrack and Bes

Recording the Piano Music of the Baltics

Tamara-Anna Cislowska launches her new album 'Into Silence', recorded in Hobart and Sydney in early 2017 with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

Restoring a 200 year old instrument to record an album

When Erin Helyard came to ABC Classics to record his new solo harpsichord album, we immediately took to Australian harpsichord maker Carey Beebe to find the perfect instrument for the task.