'La Stupenda' enchants Brisbane (50th anniversary)

On October 11, 1965, a packed house at Brisbane's Her Majesty's Theatre showered Australia's world-famous soprano Joan Sutherland with floral tributes following her performance in Donizetti's 'Lucia di Lammermoor'. It was the first performance of the Brisbane leg of the Sutherland-Williamson International Grand Opera Company's national tour, and ticket-holders dressed to the nines for the occasion.

Two programs (and original newspaper clipping) for the Brisbane season of the Sutherland Williamson International Grand Opera Company in 1965 (State Library of Queensland collection)

"Rarely has Brisbane seen so many sparkling new gowns, beads, jewels, ribbons and furs as it did last night", The Courier-Mail reported. A reviewer for the same paper was impressed by Sutherland's performance but directed criticism at the acoustics of Her Majesty's Theatre. "... it was all too easy for the orchestra to drown the voices", she wrote, adding that a couple of scenes "tended to degenerate into sheer noise". The audience was not so picky. The Telegraph reported the cast made 32 curtain calls throughout the performance, around seven of those exclusively for Sutherland.

It was the draw of the famous soprano herself that saw the theatre fully booked for each of her Brisbane shows. Nights she did not appear had lacklustre ticket sales. Such was her appeal, two graziers from Longreach flew down in a light aircraft for the pleasure of hearing her sing.

The tour was also noted for the performances of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who celebrated his 30th birthday in Brisbane with the company arranging a surprise party with champagne and sponge cake (reportedly his favourites). Brisbane-born soprano Margreta Elkins was also in the company, returning home in triumph after nine years abroad.

State Library of Queensland holds a large collection of theatre programs, which includes the 1965 tour of the Sutherland-Williamson International Grand Opera Company at Her Majesty's Theatre. One of these programs also contains original newspaper clippings from the day.

Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

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