“When Richard Bonynge gave me a list of a handful of artists whose voices he would like to hear in his 90th birthday concert I hadn’t expected every one of them to jump on board so freely. But jump they did! The result is both spectacular and overwhelming,” says Australian concert pianist Rosemary Tuck, the Artistic Director of the gala concert celebrating Richard Bonynge 90th birthday.
Presented by the Tait Memorial Trust in London, the concert features a cast of Australian and New Zealand artists including Yvonne Kenny, Helena Dix and Emma Matthews. It was recorded on 18 September in the Exhibition Hall at Australia House in London – which the Australian High Commission allowed the Trust to use for free. Two items were filmed in Australia and one in Germany, and then included in the mix. The resulting film, which includes photographs of the maestro himself before each item, will be streamed on Bonynge’s birthday on 29 September and will then be available on demand for six months.
Yvonne Kenny performing at the gala concert. Photograph © Hannan Images
“Richard is looking forward to watching it tremendously from his home in Switzerland. He was involved in choosing the artists (hence the wish list) and I ran everything by him, including the speakers. There is a real sense of anticipation,” says Tuck.
The creative and production team, which includes Leanne Benjamin as Ballet Director, had been working on the concert for a year when COVID-19 struck. “Originally it was going to be a big gala concert with a sit-down dinner,” says Tuck. But the pandemic crisis called for a quick pivot to an online concert.
“We all played to an empty room, although Valda Wilson filmed outside in Munich and she got a great reaction from the people watching,” says Tuck. “Jeffrey Black is seen singing Happy Birthday in front of the Sydney Opera House, but it is a clever backdrop.”
Discussing the concert line-up, Tuck says: “The great Yvonne Kenny dusted off her vocal cords especially to come out of retirement and pay tribute (accompanied by pianist Chad Vindin). Helena Dix, still recovering from her bout with COVID, performed a heart-rending Casta Diva from Norma, one of Dame Joan’s greatest roles, and Emma Matthews, all the way from Perth, sent her exquisite O quante volte by Bellini, a role she had worked on with the great man himself.”
“Two superb young singers from New Zealand, Benson Wilson and Filipe Manu, delivered a stunning Pearl Fishers duet. Valda Wilson, from Munich, contributed with very lively Lehar – Meine Lippen, die küssen so heiß”. Catherine Carby and Waynne Kwon on cello performed Massenet’s glorious Élégie, and I contributed with Liszt’s beautiful Gondoliera, a postcard from Venice – Richard’s favourite city of all.”
“And this is not to mention two fabulous ballets,” adds Tuck. “Stars from the Royal Opera House performed the wedding pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, and Calvin Richardson performed his own magical choreography to Saint-Saёn’s emotive The Dying Swan.”
Helena Dix performing at the gala concert, accompanied by Chad Vindin. Photograph © Hannan Images
The concert included guest appearances by opera producer and director John Copley, and retired political, broadcaster and lawyer David Mellor. The Hon. George Brandis, High Commissioner for Australia to the United Kingdom, was also in attendance and delivered a message celebrating Maestro Bonynge’s career.
“With David Mellor, Yvonne Kenny, John Copley and Isla Baring [Chairman of The Tait Memorial Trust] passionately underlining Richard’s considerable contribution to the world of music in a proms-like interview at interval, the event offers a rare and candid glimpse into Richard’s varied and unique role in front of and behind the scenes,” says Tuck.
The concert also saw the launch of Chalet Monet, a sumptuous new coffee table book, which takes readers inside the lavish Swiss home of Bonynge and his late wife Dame Joan Sutherland. The book is available through the Tait Memorial Trust and the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Foundation, with 10 numbered signed copies available.
The money received from ticket sales and Chalet Monet will go to the Trust and will be used to create a new scholarship in the maestro’s name.
“All the musicians felt extremely honoured to be part of the event – they sang their hearts out for Richard,” says Tuck. “There was a real sense of something very special taking shape.”
The Richard Bonynge 90th Birthday Gala Concert will live stream on 29 September at 9pm AEST | 8pm NZST | 7pm BST | 8pm USA EDT | 8pm USA PDT. It will then be available on demand for six months.