The distinguished Australian opera conductor Frà Professor Richard Divall AO OBE has died at the age of 71. The scholar and composer, who specialised in Maltese sacred music and early Australian music, was known for his long tenure as Music Director of Victoria State Opera.

“Richard Divall was a wonderfully enthusiastic, inquisitive and passionate human being whose drive and talent turned the small Victorian Opera into the highly acclaimed Victoria State Opera,” said Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini.

Divall was born in Sydney in 1945 and attended Manly Boys’ High School before going on to study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He later studied overseas with Sir Charles Mackerras, Wolfgang Wagner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sir Reginald Goodall.

Divall worked as a music producer for ABC radio before his appointment as Music Director at Queensland Opera Company in 1971. The following year he was appointed Music Director of Victoria State Opera – a position he held until 1996.

“The VSO became a company of national importance under Richard’s direction and provided opportunities for many Australian artists to launch their careers as well as for established artists to extend their repertoire,” said Terracini. “He also made a significant contribution to music and culture at Opera Australia where he was Principal Resident Conductor between 1996-2001.”

Divall was awarded honorary doctorates by both Monash University and the Australian Catholic University and received his PhD in 18th-century sacred music from the University of Divinity, Melbourne. He was appointed an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Divinity, a Visiting Professor of Music at King’s College, London, Associate Professor of Music at The University of Melbourne and a Visiting Professor at The University of Malta. Divall worked in a number of fields at Monash University and was on the committee for the construction of the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music.

The highly decorated professor was a Knight of Malta in Solemn Religious Profession, he was named an Officer of the British Empire in 1981 and Officer of the Order of Australia in 2009, to name just a few of his honours.

Divall undertook charitable works with medical research, particularly in palliative care, and was involved in the operation of a school for Somali and Sudanese refugees in Melbourne. In 2002 Divall donated his music collection to the National Library of Australia, where it occupies 14 metres of shelving.

“Richard was a friend to me and to many in the arts industry and was constantly finding new scores and operas that he was keen to perform from previously unheard composers. He also championed contemporary Australian music,” said Terracini. “On behalf of my colleagues, we salute you Richard and we honour your enormous contribution.”