A final goodbye to La Stupenda

BY VINCENT PLUSH

Born 7th November 1926 (Sydney, Australia) – Died 10th October 2010 (Montreux, Switzerland)

 

Dame Joan Sutherland, signed love from Joan xxx

The National Film and Sound Archive joins the musical world and all Australians in mourning the death of Dame Joan Sutherland who died in Switzerland last month at the age of 83.

In a state memorial service today at the Sydney Opera House, over 2000 people celebrated the life and career of the Australian operatic legend. The Sydney-born singer, universally known as La Stupenda, was dubbed ‘the voice of the 20th century’ by her longtime collaborator Luciano Pavarotti. Over her 40-year career she sang in 48 operas and recorded over 60 albums, many of which are in the NFSA collection.

The NFSA collection also reveals a little-known dimension of the career of this most un-diva-like diva.

At various stages of her life, Dame Joan tried her hand at film acting.

When she was in Italy in 1959, Federico Fellini wanted to cast her in his movie La Dolce Vita, sight (and sound) unseen. Her friend Franco Zeffirelli, the Italian film director who launched her international career with the Covent Garden performance of Lucia di Lammermoor that same year, urged her to resist the lure of the silver screen. So it was that Fellini cast Anita Ekberg in the unforgettable role of Sylvia, the voluptuous movie star who cavorts in the Trevi fountain with Marcello Mastroianni.

In later years, Dame Joan regretted not having pursed a career in film as a singer-actor. In 1994, Anthony Buckley persuaded her to play Mother Rudd in Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (1995) — directed by George Whaley and starring alongside another great Australian of the international stage, the actor Leo McKern.

The NFSA collection has extensive holdings of this production, including trailers, promos, cast photographs and scripts signed by the cast, including Dame Joan herself.