The Voice of the Century, declared the great Luciano Pavorotti of the late Dame Joan Sutherland.
With Dame Nellie Melba she was Australia’s most formidable opera singer. Her passing in Switzerland has been reported widely, with lavish tributes in the world’s leading newspapers.
A sentence from an Associated Press report captured in words what I had heard so often “Her radiant soprano stretched effortlessly over more than three octaves, with a purity of tone that made her one of the most celebrated opera singers of all time.”Acclaimed "La Stupenda," — "the Stupendous One" — she dominated the world’s leading opera houses during her long career.
I remember a concert in Sydney where she appeared with Luciano Pavototti and under the baton of her husband Richard Bonynge, a great conductor of superb taste and elegant style. Senator Ryan whispered to me in the foyer that this was the concert of the century, which it could well have been.
And on 9 November, from the Sydney Opera House, with flags flying at half mast, the nation paid tribute to Dame Joan.
…the sin of not being a republican…
When at a lunch arranged by Lloyd Waddy for ACM in 1994 she declared her unswerving support for the Crown, her dominance of the world of music did not stop the more vicious elements among the republicans from ridiculing and attacking her.
I would not have mentioned this but for the fact that the republican movement has just revived this, and disgracefully so. Its site even refers to a “darker side to her character rarely revealed to the public.”
Now for good reason Dame Joan lived in Europe. That is after all where the world of music is centred. But the republican site suggests she live dthere because of the tax laws.
The 1994 lunch was a delightful occasion. Rather than making a speech, Dame Joan answered questions, most about her career and her music. There was an excitement in the room as fans learned more about Dame Joan, her life, her art and her times.
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There was one question about her passport. In the course of her answer she told how she had to make several trips to a Sydney post office to renew her passport. On each occasion she was instructed by an obviously foreign born person to identify herself. Asked to produce her driving licence, she explained she did not drive. She was sent away each time to produce yet more identification.
Looking across in my direction, she said mischievously, “I'm only a teensy–weensy bit racist —but I find it ludicrous, when I've had a passport for 40 years.”
…disgraceful behaviour …
It was a light hearted, deliberately politically incorrect comment. Of course she wasn’t racist in the slightest way. But this politically incorrect comment from among a string of fascinating answers – most about singing, her work with other singers and directors, the many roles she had taken –was seized by the press.
And why was this? Dame Joan had committed what was a mortal sin in the eyes of the elites. She was a constitutional monarchist. A mischievous comment offered in answer to this one question provided the ammunition. It was taken out of context and blown out of all proportion.
There were so many fascinating anecdotes and comments about her experience which could have formed the theme of any report.
To their eternal shame, the nation’s broadsheets led a vicious attack in their news pages. Republicans rushed to make their miserable attacks on a great Australian in their letter pages. The campaign went on for about ten days. It was nasty and it was petty. It was a disgrace.
..a forgotten incident , but for ….
Understandably there was not a word about this in any of the media obituaries. The editors of the broadsheets are clearly embarrassed by the behaviour of their predecessors during the republican debate. Not so long ago one admitted this at a function.
I would not have mentioned this appalling incident but for the fact that the republican movement has revived it on one of their websites in a piece written by someone who wasn’t there.
This was the tactic used by some republicans in Australia in the nineties. If you came out as a monarchist you would be punished. Work would dry up, especially in the arts. Even barristers found they were no longer briefed by some firms or by government.
The people who committed this outrage are forgotten; Dame Joan will never be. She lives on in the hearts and minds of Australians and music lovers across the world.