La Stupenda’s spectacular original costumes are on display in London’s Royal Opera House.

Costumes, headdresses and jewellery worn by Dame Joan Sutherland in productions at Covent Garden are on display as part of a new exhibition at the opera house.

The selection spans one of her earliest ROH appearances in 1952 (as Clotilde in Norma, with Maria Callas in the title role) to her last full-length production at Covent Garden, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in 1988.

Sutherland started out with the company in 1952 on a salary of £10 a week. It wasn’t until Franco Zeffirelli cast her as Lucia di Lammermoor in 1959 that she was rocketed to fame and in demand the world over; Covent Garden, however, always remained close to her heart.

Several Zeffirelli costumes, including the lavish dress designed for La Traviata, are featured in the exhibition. The Royal Opera House’s Exhibitions and Heritage Publications Manager, Cristina Franchi, describes Sutherland’s work with the director as “a very happy partnership.” 

“He realised that she felt physically unconfident,” Franchi told BBC News, “so he designed her costumes to really make her look beautiful.”

Other costume designers whose work for Sutherland is on display include Michael Stennett, who created the jewel-studded, fur-lined dress she wore in Lucrezia Borgia. The garment is so heavy, says Franchi, that “it took three of us to lift it onto the mannequin.”

The exhibition includes programs and rare photographs capturing the breadth of Sutherland’s long and fruitful career at Covent Garden. It is open to the public as a tour from now until February 2012.

To mark one year since the legendary Australian soprano’s death on October 10, 2010, Limelight has made her the cover star of the December issue, available now from the online store. In Dame Joan: The True Story, her widower and greatest collaborator Richard Bonynge reflects on his first meeting with Joan, her performance highs and lows, her final days and, of course, that incredible voice.