A vast crowd besieged Westminster Abbey on February 15 for a service of thanksgiving for the life of Dame Joan Sutherland, La Stupenda. Recordings of her singing Let the Bright Seraphim and Casta Diva sounded thrillingly round the Abbey. Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House were there to play us to our seats (amusingly, playing music inspired by operas about prostitutes – Massenet's Thaïs and Verdi's La traviata, the Abbey is broadminded these days). Dame Joan's conductor, mentor and husband Richard Bonynge read a lesson, so did biographer Dame Norma Major. Bonynge had chosen a Sydney soprano, Valda Wilson, as a fine representative of young Australia to provide the only live solo singing in the service. With great courage she sang Pie Jesu from the Requiem by Fauré and Mozart's Alleluia. She sang beautifully and touchingly with a pure tone, bang in tune.
Sir John Tooley, director at Covent Garden for many years where Dame Joan was a star, gave the Address. The Abbey Choir sang, the organ played and the bells pealed for the great Diva whose singing enriched the lives of all who heard her.