A young successor to Dame Joan takes on the soprano role La Stupenda sang nine times.

She’s the young Australian soprano who sang in Dame Joan Sutherland’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey last year. By all accounts, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as 28-year-old Valda Wilson performed Fauré’s Pie Jesu and the Alleluia from Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate to an audience of more than 2,000 gathered to pay their respects. 

Now, again at the invitation of Dame Joan’s widower, maestro Richard Bonynge, Dresden-based Wilson returns to Sydney to sing in Handel’s Rodelinda — the title role that Sutherland herself took on nine times. 

“I first heard Valda in a concert in London and I was very, very taken with her,” recalls the conductor. “Then they wanted someone to sing in Westminster Abbey and they asked me what I thought about it, and I said it’s a young voice, she’s Australian, she’s ultra-promising. She was so controlled and so lovely on the day. Everybody was really quite bowled over with her.” 

Wilson says she’s looking forward to singing the opera in concert this week for its first Australian performance. “This role is an absolute gift! Elegant, noble, exciting music, a rich orchestration, and Rodelinda herself dramatically about as far from a wilting feminine victim as one could imagine.”

“Joan really enjoyed singing it very much and we did it in London and Amsterdam and all over the place,” adds Bonynge. “It’s nice to get to my age and do it again.” 

The 82-year-old and his wife introduced Handel to Australian operagoers with Alcina, one of the first Baroque works to be performed by the national company. But he’s not surprised this is Rodelinda’s professional premiere here. “So many of the operas haven’t made it to Australia yet – there’s still a lot of them to come. Now I think Australia’s become very interested and Handel-minded. 

Rodelinda is definitely my favourite after Alcina. It’s full of the most wonderful melodies that Handel ever wrote; it’s a good drama, and I’m so happy to be able to do it in Sydney. People here should get the chance to hear it.” 

The Sydney Lyric Orchestra will feature solo flautist Jane Rutter who, according to Bonynge, “hasn’t played in an orchestra for years, but she does it as a favour to us.” 

His handpicked, all-Australian cast includes Fiona Janes in the castrato role and tenor John Longmuir, who won last year’s inaugural Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Bel Canto Award scholarship. 

Bonynge is adamant that “Handel’s very good for young singers. Rather than put them in things that are too heavy for them and they have to yell and shriek, Handel is medicine for the voice. It’s very difficult music to sing and requires technique.” 

Wilson says “it is an enormous privilege to work on such a magnificent role with maestro Bonynge. When I think that the last soprano he coached on this role was probably Dame Joan Sutherland, I feel extremely honoured to be entrusted with this part.” 

The Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Opera Foundation presents Handel’s Rodelinda in concert at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, on October 20. View event details here.