The conductor joins his late wife Dame Joan Sutherland as Companion of the Order of Australia.

Maestro Richard Bonynge has been named Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2012 Australia Day Honours list, in recognition of his “eminent service to the performing arts as an acclaimed conductor and music scholar”.

The 81-year-old was previously appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in The Queen’s Silver Jubilee and Birthday 1977 Honours List, then became an Officer of the Order of Australia in The Queen’s Birthday 1983 Honours.

Bonynge’s late wife, soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, received the country’s highest honour in 1975. The pair was opera’s power couple for more than three decades and he acted as vocal coach and mentor to Dame Joan in the early stages of her career, helping to shape her uniquely powerful and agile instrument.

“I am not so young anymore, but not so old that I cannot feel an immense thrill to have been awarded this highest honour by my own country,” Bonynge reflected on the accolade from his home in Switzerland. “Music has been and continues to be my life and has brought me extraordinary happiness and fulfillment.

“It is a great honour to have received the award for the work I have tried to do in the world of music. It may have taken a while but I have caught up with my darling wife and I am sure she is smiling.”

In a recent interview with Limelight commemorating the one-year anniversary of her death, Bonynge spoke candidly about his life shared with Dame Joan in music.

“The whole of the 1970s and the ’80s were exciting times for us in Australia”, he recalled of his time as musical director of the then Australian Opera. “We loved it and I think the public were really with us. Australia was very lucky to hear her in so many different roles. They even got her in Suor Angelica, which no one else in the world heard.”

After launching brilliant careers that took them to Covent Garden and the New York Metropolitan Opera, they returned to Australia in 1974. “I enjoyed working for the company,” said Bonynge of the Australian Opera. “It was more than a company; it was a family.”

Bonynge, who still conducts, has recorded more than 50 complete operas, many with his wife, whose legacy he describes as “enormous.” Together they founded the Sutherland-Bonynge Bel Canto Foundation to award a scholarship to a young singer annually.