This morning, on a cold, grey and miserable winter’s day, the haunting sounds from the late opera great filled the famous church with a crowd of about 2,200 crammed in for the celebration of her life.
More than two decades since her final bow, recordings of the Australian’s breath-taking renditions of Casta Diva from Norma and Let The Bright Seraphim from Samson were played out during an emotional ceremony. The fact the service was held at Westminster Abbey is a measure of the esteem with which Dame Joan is held.
She is believed to be the first Australian afforded the honour of a memorial service at the regal church since the nation’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, 33 years ago.
Dame Joan made her name just a walk away from the Abbey at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, propelling herself to international acclaim in the production of Lucia di Lammermoor in 1959.
Her family was involved in today’s ceremony, her husband of 56 years, Richard Bonynge, composed himself for a reading while her grandson Vanya Bonynge touchingly walked up the aisle carrying her honour medals on a cushion.
Prince Charles represented the British royal family alongside the cream of the opera world as they came to show their respects four months after her passing at her home near Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 83.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.