Tuesday, November 9, 2010


There were costumes from some of the famous roles (Lucia, Merry Widow, Huguenots) in the foyer. People were being hurried in to be seated. VIPs and pollies had yet to arrive, and it was going to air on National Television. The Concert Hall was full, as usual for Joan, it was never anything but full for Joan. Programmes in Joan Green on each seat. The lighting was quite beautiful - generally low level, a dappled violet blue over the concert platform and orchestra (Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra), with the chorus, together with past company members, in civvies, in the front of the choir stalls.

A large screen dominated the space. White flowers decorated the front edge of the concert platform with two star bursts either side, with adjacent Australian flags. A single bunch of red roses sat to one side at the tops of the steps. Not sure about the flags, although there would be repeated mention of her 'Australianness' throughout the morning. I don't think we needed the flags, placed for the cameras as they were.

After the prelude to La Traviata and a welcome by Adrian Collette, a rousing first stanza of the National Anthem filled the Hall, the chorus leading the way. Joan then sang the 'Bell Song' from Lakme filmed at the Opera House in 1976. The Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke well, of achieving success as one thing, sustaining it another.

Pavarotti joined her for 'Parigi, o cara' from the 1983 Sydney Gala Concert. I found this very moving, more so than ever before. The Governor of New South Wales Marie Bashir spoke as a friend and music lover, recalling Dido (which she sang here before leaving for London) - Remember me, Remember me. The Lucia mad scene (1980s) was met with an ovation as if she were live, still. Whatever else, it was, is, and will be, her fetish role.

Moffat Oxenbould was warm, affectionate, with stories and praise going back to the great Sutherland Willamson Grand Opera Tour of 1965, when jaws dropped not only in awe of the technique, the brilliance, but the beauty, the sheer beauty of tone, and what those who heard her live would forever know, the ability to connect to one's deepest inner emotional core.

After 'Era desso il figlio mio' came il figlio mio. Adam Bonynge, present with wife Helen, Richard unable to attend, spoke of his mother. He let us into their family, a tiny chink. Of dishwashers (only one way to load a dishwasher - her way), ironing, suitcases perfectly packed, the best ever scones, breakfast tables set by nine the night before, for coffee and surgically dissected grapefruit.

The chorus sang 'Va, pensiero' and Joan sang 'Home Sweet Home'.

FAREWELL filled the big screen.

What didn't go to air is Natasha Bonynge's poem to her 'Mimi':


Shut the doors,
Turn out the lights,
Pull the curtain to a close.

Put away your tickets,
Pack up the chairs,
Silence those who shout 'the show must go on'.

Quieten the piano,
Hush violins,
Soften your voices and let the mourners in.

Today we remember.

Not the diva, La Stupenda, the soprano, the dame.
But our grandmother, our mother, our one true love, our family, our friend.


Shut the doors,
Turn out the lights,
Pull the curtain to a close.

And remember.

Peace be with you my darling grandmother.
You will be in our hearts until the end of days.

Natasha Bonynge

No comments: