From Melba to Sutherland: 110 years of amazing Australian singers

October 21, 2016

From Melba to Sutherland—Australian Singers on Record  

Rate: 4.5 / 5 


Australia has always been famous for its sporting achievements, but did you know that since the early 20th century we have produced an amazing number of world-class classical singers who made their mark here and overseas?

This new four-CD release showcases 80 superb classical singers from the earliest days of sound recording to the 21st century.

Most people have heard of Dames Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland, and they are well represented in this collection. But the fascination is in the 78 other singers who made it in a precarious career.

The collection is a tour of our musical history that transports listeners to the theatres and concert halls of the past, and includes a detailed booklet with excellent biographies and photos.

Two early recordings in this collection are stand-outs for me; the earliest recording of an Australian singer, soprano Syria Lamonte (1869-1935), singing one of Melba’s signature folk songs, ‘Comin’ Thru The Rye’. Through the static one can hear this clear soprano, the first female singer to be recorded in London in 1898. The other is Melba singing the ‘Jewel Song’ from Gounod’s Faust, from 1905. Despite the static, you can hear the remarkable soaring and trilling that were Melba trademarks. And 55 years later there is a beautiful recording of the ‘Jewel Song’ from Dame Joan Sutherland. 

Lighter music is also covered, with ‘Our Glad’, Gladys Moncrieff, well represented, while baritone Clement Q. Williams sings a 1934 recording of ‘Let’s Take a Trip to Melbourne’—with lyrics still relevant today.

I love the biographical curiosities–Wagnerian sopranos Elsa Stralia and Florence Austral were Elsie Fischer and Florence Wilson before they changed their names to reflect their origins, as Melba did, and June Bronhill followed some decades later. Ballarat soprano Elsie Morison made her mark, then married conductor Rafael Kubelik, with whom she toured Australia in the 1960s. Another Ballarat soprano Marie Collier was successful in London before her tragic death at 44. Victorian country girl Marjorie Lawrence made it as a Wagnerian before illness curtailed her singing, but she returned to the stage in a wheelchair and reignited her career.

Other early singers in the recording are basses Richard Watson and Malcolm McEachern, Peter Dawson, Amy Castles, John Brownlee, Browning Mummery, Gertrude Johnson, Neil Warren-Smith, Harold Blair, Essie Ackland, Florence Austral, Glenda Raymond and many more.

Later 20th century singers are well represented, with all the Joans—Sutherland, Hammond and Carden—and 21st century sopranos Yvonne Kenny and Emma Matthews.

A notable omission is great Australian bass Donald Shanks, but a birthdate of 1940 meant he missed the cut-off date of being born before 1934 for the Melba to Sutherland section, though he might have been included in the bonus tracks of more recent singers.

Recording techniques improved greatly after WW1 so post-war recordings are superior, but those early recordings have great charm.

From Melba To Sutherland would be a treat for lovers of classical vocal music, especially those who can’t attend live performances, and I can see many a long car trip being made more fun with these five hours of great singers and songs. 

Highlight: Discovering little-known singers in early recordings

Red flag: None


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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