Sutherland/Bonynge bel canto award keeps the art alive.

Sydney is a city that loves its singers, and it is not too bold an assertion that Australia has produced more solo singers who perform here and overseas, than instrumentalists. (Opinions welcome!). 

There is an exciting new event on the music calendar that adds a different edge to nurturing vocal talent and is sure to be keenly contested in the years to come. The inaugural Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award has been conducting its preliminary rounds and heads towards its closing stage with the final at the end of September in the presence of Her Excellency, Prof. Marie Bashir, AC CVO, Governor of NSW.

 The award was established in memory of the late Dame Joan Sutherland OM, AC, DBE. Though her place in  the history of music performance, may never be equalled or surpassed, the award aims to keep alive the treasured style that is bel canto, ensuring that the skill and its operas never again languish as a lost art. Maestro  Richard Bonynge husband of the late soprano comments: “Beautiful singing is the basis of bel canto. It’s more than just singing, it’s creating living, dramatic characters who sing gloriously” . 

Competing for prizes worth over $50,000 will be 6 finalists: Sydney sopranos Angela Brun,  Amy Corkery, Naomi Johns and Eva Kong, with tenors John Longmuir also from Sydney and Darren Pene Pati from Auckland, all accompanied at the piano by Sharolyn Kimmorley. Although the Australian contingent is solely from NSW, the competition is open to singers between 20-30 years from Australia and New Zealand.

 Mezzo-soprano Fiona Janes is the General Manager of the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Opera Foundation, which along with the Joan Sutherland Society has established this competition. She believes it is vitally important to keep the bel canto tradition alive in Australia. “We have stressed that competitors must sing in the bel canto style. It makes singers sing more beautifully and with technical correctness. The bel canto voice is never pushed or forced. It always creates a rich, round, luscious sound and is even from top to bottom – like molasses” she says.

 Confronting the task of choosing a winner are Richard Bonynge himself with Joan Carden AO OBE, Anson Austin OAM, and Bernadette Cullen. There will be no crystal ball nor astrological charts on the adjudicators table from which they may divine the worthiest of the six. They will have to draw on their own experience, judgement and instinct as professional singers to select a winner – one who can demonstrate the right mix of progress to date with potential for the future.

 Janes says “The bottom line is that you listen for a beautiful voice – an innate sound, a gift of nature that cannot be changed, but one that is on the way to being technically mastered”. Bel canto  and technique apart, the adjudicators are seeking an understanding of style, innate musicality and finesse – attributes that defy quantification and which are best described as that ‘X factor’ or ‘The Right Stuff”. She cautions that winning a competition is no guarantee of a career – it simply opens opportunities and increases choices. 

The candidate with these barely tangible qualities, who in addition, has demonstrated a solid career plan and work ethic will win $30,000 to be directed specifically towards furthering  their vocal career. They will also attend the 2012 summer school at the Solti Te Kanawa Accademia Bel Canto in Tuscany – a placement that is worth $10,000. Place winners will also win cash and there are other awards in the form of coaching and historic CD collections.

In a parallel with the Sutherland/Bonynge Bel Canto Award, the Solti Te Kanawa Accademia di Bel Canto in the Tuscan seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia, was also established in memory of another legendary musician, Sir George Solti, by his surviving spouse. Dame Joan Sutherland was Patron of the academy and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa joined the enterprise 5 years ago. In collaboration with some of the most respected music academies in the world – the Royal Academy in London, the Juillard  and Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute,  the academy has specialised in the training of singers and repetiteurs in the music of Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini and the other bel canto masters, under the guidance of luminaries like Bonynge, Te Kanawa, Mirella Freni and Thomas Allen. Joining Dame Kiri on the staff for 2012 are Angela Gheorghiu and Dennis O’Neill.

 The exponents of  bel cantowere indeed aware that  learning this style endows the voice and the technique  with something  unique. The Accademia recognises this in offering its training in Italy to non-Italians: ‘Passing on these unique techniques to non-Italian singers is a fundamental contribution to the preservation of the bel canto tradition’. Dame Kiri elaborates: “This programme is about teaching the singers how to own their voices. This is a philosophy close to Solti’s heart and it is the intention of the Accademia to foster this self-discovery in support of the next generation’s top talent”.

 One of the most valuable aspects of entering Sutherland/Bonynge Bel Canto Award is that it offers individual feedback to all its participants. Janes quotes one participant who described the process as one of the ‘friendliest and most constructive’ she had experienced.

 The most heartening words come from Solti himself: “My life is the clearest proof that if you have talent, determination and luck you will make it in the end: never give up!”

See post on the Gala Dinner to be held on Thursday September 15th with Guest Performer soprano Emma Matthews and fabulous raffle prizes. A stunning oil on canvas portrait of Dame Joan will be auctioned. More details in our separate posting.


Tel: 9817 4919 Email: Web:

For further information contact:

Fiona Janes – General Manager

The Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Opera Foundation

M: 0402 02 4118 | T/F: 61 2 4861 2440

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