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Bonynge was born in Epping, a suburb of Sydney, and educated at Sydney Boys' High School before studying piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and gaining a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where his piano teacher was Herbert Fryer. He gave up his music scholarship, continuing his private piano studies, and became a coach for singers. One of these was Joan Sutherland, whom he had accompanied in Australia. They married in 1954 and became a duo, performing operatic recitals until 1962. When the scheduled conductor for a recital of operatic arias became ill and the replacement conductor was involved in a car accident, Bonynge stepped in and, from that time on, he conducted virtually all of his wife's performances.
His debut as an opera conductor took place in 1963 in Vancouver, where he conducted Faust. The same year, also in Vancouver, he conducted Norma for the first time, starring Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. He also conducted the English Chamber Orchestra in many recordings.
Bonynge made his Metropolitan Opera debut on 12 December 1966, and his last performance there was on 6 April 1991. Most of those performances he conducted there between 1966 and 1987 were with Sutherland singing. From the 1960s until the early 1970s, his speciality was music of 18th and early 19th century, mostly in bel canto repertoire of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Bonynge then gradually added also middle Verdi (La traviata, Rigoletto, Il trovatore), Offenbach (Les Contes d'Hoffmann), then also Massenet (Esclarmonde and Werther).
By doing some research and reading up on Massenet and Italian bel canto composers, Bonynge discovered Massenet's own statement about his opera Esclarmonde being his "best achievement." This filled Bonynge with curiosity, even more because Esclarmonde had sunk into almost total oblivion and had hardly been performed at all since the end of the 19th century. He obtained a tattered vocal score of it in Paris, and subsequently bought the full orchestral score from an auction in New York City. Although Sutherland was initially skeptical about Esclarmonde, Bonynge became an enthusiast of the work and eventually convinced her that she should perform the role of Esclarmonde herself. The San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera premieres of Esclarmonde took place in 1974 and 1976 respectively.
In 1977 he was the founding Music Director of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, when he conducted Le roi de Lahore staged there (in which his wife also took part).
Bonynge was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to music in 1977. In 1983, he was made Officer of the Order of Australia, and in 1989 a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2009, Bonynge was awarded the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award.
Commencing in 2007, he has conducted a series of performances in a few opera houses around the U.S. (Florida Grand Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre), and now is mostly involved with the Opera Australia company (Lucia di Lammermoor in August 2008, and in 2006 for Opera Queensland; I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Melbourne and Sydney in middle of 2009).
On 26 January 2012, Bonynge was promoted within the Order of Australia to Companion, for "eminent service to the performing arts as an acclaimed conductor and musical scholar, to classical singing and the promotion of opera, and through the collection and preservation of operatic manuscripts."
Currently, Richard Bonynge is 90 years old. Richard Bonynge will celebrate 91st birthday on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. Below we countdown to Richard Bonynge upcoming birthday.
Richard Bonynge 90th Birthday Gala Concert – September 29th
Gala Concert Celebrating the 90th Birthday of Maestro Richard Bonynge AC CBE Introducing the new book Chalet Monet Courtesy of the Australian High Commissioner Artistic Director: Rosemary Tuck Ballet Artistic Director: Leanne Benjamin AM OBE The concert is financially supported by Tait Friend, Elspeth Turner Laing The Tait sincerely thanks all of the artists involved in this celebratory concert for giving their services freely to honour Maestro Richard Bonynge AC CBE Support the new Richard Bonynge Award Fund by purchasing your ticket along with a copy of Richard Bonynge's book Chalet Monet direct from this site. Make a combined ticket purchase and donation of £250 or more** and receive your copy of the book signed by Richard himself. Learn about the book here. Special Guests include: John Copley CBE, theatre and opera producer and director David Mellor QC, broadcaster, barrister, and former politician Guest Artists include: The concert features outstanding performing artists from Australia and New Zealand who have been personally selected by Richard Bonynge: (in order of appearance) Yvonne Kenny AM, soprano Rosemary Tuck, piano Emma Matthews, soprano Anna Sleptsova, piano Fumi Kaneko, ballet ** Reece Clarke, ballet ** Helena Dix, soprano Chad Vindin, piano Benson Wilson*, baritone Filipe Manu*, tenor Calvin Richardson, ballet* & ** Valda Wilson*, soprano Hermina Szabó, violin Andreas Bittl, accordion Catherine Carby*, mezzo-soprano Waynne Kwon*, cello Jeffrey Black, baritone * Tait Awardee ** Soloist Royal Ballet The Tait celebrates the 90th birthday of Australian international conductor/pianist, Maestro Richard Bonynge AC CBE in a gala concert specially curated by Australian concert pianist, Rosemary Tuck, with a cast of Australian and New Zealand international artists in a programme which will include excerpts from Norma, I Capuleti ed I Montecchi, the Pearlfishers and Die Fledermaus. Dancers from The Royal Ballet artistically directed by retired Royal Ballet principal dancer, Leanne Benjamin AM OBE will perform excerpts from ballets that Richard has conducted, and in some cases discovered, during his career. We thank The Royal Ballet and its Director, Kevin O’Hare most sincerely for their support. The event will include special guest appearances by internationally acclaimed opera producer and director, John Copley CBE, and retired politician, broadcaster and lawyer, David Mellor QC. We are sincerely grateful that the Australian High Commissioner, HE the Hon George Brandis QC has permitted us to record in the Exhibition Hall and will be present at the recording. To learn more about the concert click here The ultimate goal of the concert is to raise a substantial sum which will be added to our new Richard Bonynge Award for a young Australian or New Zealand conductor or pianist. We will also be introducing a new book Chalet Monet: Inside the Home of Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, recently published by Melbourne Books this lavish coffee table book has over 1000 photographs which brings to life the home of two of Australia’s greatest cultural icons and will have it available to sale via our box office. More about the book here The concert is financially supported by Tait Friend, Elspeth Turner Laing who we thank most sincerely for her very generous support. About Richard Bonynge AC CBE Throughout his illustrious career, Richard Bonynge has conducted in the world’s leading opera houses in Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand and Asia. He has received world-wide acclaim as a scholar of bel canto opera and is celebrated for leading the renaissance of eighteenth and early-nineteenth century musical theater, such as Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer), Semiramide, Sigismondo (Rossini), La Fille du Régiment, Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti), Esclarmonde, Le Roi de Lahore, Thérèse (Massenet), Medea (Pacini), Orfeo (Haydn), I Masnadieri (Verdi). In recent seasons he led performances of La Traviata in Athens, I Capuleti ed I Montecchi in London, Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Scala di Seta, Signor Bruschino, Roméo & Juliette in Sydney, Lucia, Norma and Faust in the United States, La Favorite in Barcelona, I Lombardi in Buenos Aires and Semiramide (Meyerbeer) at the Wildbad Festival, Germany. Mr. Bonynge’s extensive career includes innumerable performances with his wife, Dame Joan Sutherland, culminating in her farewell engagements in opera and recital throughout the world. The two artists also toured the United States with the Sydney Symphony in celebration of Australia’s Bicentennial, with concerts at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the United Nations. Chairman of The Tait Memorial Trust, Isla Baring OAM writes: My Father, Sir Frank Tait managed the iconic JC Williamsons Ltd, which were the largest theatrical Producers in Australia and at one time the largest in the world. 'The Firm' owned theatres all over Australia and it became my father's ambition to present Joan Sutherland to the Australian public as a return home after her international acclaim and becoming La Stupenda. Thus in 1965 The Sutherland Williamson Grand Opera Company opened to huge success in Melbourne with Lucia di Lammermoor. I will never forget the now legendary 40min ovation at the end of this performance. With Richard Bonynge as Artistic Director and Conductor, Joan Sutherland in the title role and an unknown tenor Luciano Pavarotti had changed the operatic landscape in Melbourne forever. Just as the Taits had celebrated the return of Dame Nellie Melba in the early 1930's they were now celebrating the future of opera. We are thrilled that now 55years on, we are able to continue our lifelong association with Maestro Richard Bonynge in celebration of his 90th Birthday Isla Baring, Chairman, Tait Memorial Trust. Programme Richard Bonynge 90th Birthday Concert Yvonne Kenny – By Strauss (The Show is On) George Gershwin Rosemary Tuck: Liszt - Venezia e Napoli : Gondoliera Emma Matthews: Bellini : O quante volte from i Capuleti e i Montecchi Ballet- Sleeping Beauty : Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke Helena Dix: Bellini - Norma : Casta Diva David Mellor talking with John Copley and Yvonne Kenny about Richard, productions etc. Benson Wilson and Filipe Manu: Bizet : Pearl Fishers duo Au Fond du Temple Saint Ballet – Dying Swan (with cellist) : Calvin Richardson & Waynne Kwon Valda Wilson: Lehar - Meine Lippen, die küssen so heiß Catherine Carby (with cellist) : Massenet : Élégie, no 5 from 10 Pièces de genre Op. 10 Jeffrey Black – Happy Birthday! about the book - chalet monet “Chalet Monet is a house with a thousand stories. It is living history, theatrical, a beautiful home with enormous spirit like its owners. It radiates grandeur yet intimacy with places to sit and contemplate, views to linger over, books to be read, paintings to admire and music to listen to. It is a treasure trove for the senses where many a story has been told or begun. Only its walls and its owners remember the decades of music making here and possibly the odd neighbour and the cows on the grassy slopes”. Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation This September, Richard Bonynge and the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation will launch this stunning new book in honour of Richard Bonynge’s 90th birthday and his lifelong partnership with Dame Joan Sutherland. The Tait Memorial Trust has been fortunate to obtain a limited number of copies for sale as part of Richard Bonynge’s London birthday celebrations. We are proud to announce that the proceeds from the sale of these books will go toward forming a new Tait Award in Richard’s name. We are thankful to Melbourne Books for donating books in support of this initiative. The Tait Memorial Trust has 10 copies personally signed by Richard to award to the first 10 people who donate £250 or more to the new Tait Memorial Trust award set up in honour of Richard Bonynge. This is a great opportunity to become the owner of one of these special books, or to give to a friend as a very special gift, and in doing so to support young musical artists. The profit from books sold on behalf of the TMT at the usual price of £70 plus P&P will also include a donation to this new award, and if bought in conjunction with the concert ticket on the 29th September- the actual day of Richard Bonynge’s birthday- gives a reduced ticket price. Inside its 344 pages, over 1000 photographs bring to life the lavish home of the greatest international cultural icons in opera, Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE and her husband, Maestro Richard Bonynge AC CBE. The book will be available from mid-October. Richard Bonynge 90th Birthday Gala Concert Committee Dr Margaret Mayston AM (Chairman) Isla Baring OAM Leanne Benjamin AM OBE Rosemary Tuck James Hancock past concerts [products category=Past Concerts Limit=3 orderby=date]