How did a girl from Point Piper grow up to conquer the opera world and be dubbed the “voice of the century”?

The year is 1931, and a plump, happy-go-lucky four-year-old is singing to herself in the garden, when a neighbour calls out to relay devastating news from the wireless: the great Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba has died. It is a sunny February morning in the Sydney suburb of Point Piper, far from the extravagant world of grand opera in Europe.

And that child, Joan Sutherland, could not have dreamt that she would follow in the footsteps of Dame Nellie, Australia’s most famous export (apart from wool), setting sail to London and securing the fervent adulation of her public in the role of Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden; the same role, on the same stage, with which Melba made her London debut.

Joan’s sensational 1959 Covent Garden Lucia
 made her a household name. And yet later in life, even as one of the two most iconic women of opera (the other being Maria Callas), the intimidatingly titled “Dame Joan Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE” never forgot that she started out as just plain Joan from Woollahra. Before she was...

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