Joan Sutherland continues to be revered as one of the most renowned Australian and international singers. She is remembered through The Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Foundation established to support and encourage young singers. One mode through which this is accomplished is the annual Bel Canto Award competition for young singers which gives cash awards and scholarships. As the Foundation itself reports, it has assisted financially more than 130 singers since 1979, surely a wonderful achievement.

It was a great privilege, then for the St Judeís Music Association in conjunction with the Southern Highlands Opera Appreciation Group to present, Sunday 9 March in the afternoon, a Bel Canto Award Winners Concert. The two performers were the 2013 winner, Naomi Johns, a soprano, and John Longmuir, tenor and winner of the 2011 inaugural Bel Canto Award. They were accompanied by well known, versatile local artist Glenn Amer, who as an accomplished tenor as well as pianist, accompanied, sang himself and joined Johns and Longmuir in some of the pieces sung.

The program itself was in two parts. The first was classical with mostly arias from various operas, including from G Bizet, The Pearl Fishers, Gounod, Faust and Verdi, Rigoletto. These arias were interspersed with pieces such as Liszt, Liebestraum, played by Glenn Amer. All these were beautifully presented yet perhaps the qualification might be that the manner of singing might have needed a larger venue than the more intimate St Judeís church.

The second half of the program could be described as pieces from show music and certainly were not classical. It may be that these pieces inherently were more amenable to an intimate style rather than the operatic pieces which seemed to require a strong presentation. Thus we heard Longmuir and Johns present Make Believe from Kernís Show Boat; Longmuir Race you to the top of the morning from L Simon, The Secret Garden; Johns Smile by C Chaplin; and Amer Before the Parade Passes by from J Hermanís Hullo Dolly.

The contrast between the two halves of the program showed the range and versatility of the three artists, thus we were privileged to enjoy a wonderful program. These singers, then, Naomi Johns and John Longmuir, are a testament to the effectiveness of The Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Foundation. We can but hope that the Foundation is able to continue this great work and that we have further opportunity to hear such wonderful award winners.

Stanley Croker
13 March 2014