Richard Bonynge, CBE (last name pronounced “bonning”), (born 29 September 1930) is an Australian conductor and pianist.
He was born in Sydney and educated at Sydney Boys High School before studying piano at the Royal College of Music in London. He gave up his music scholarship, continuing his private piano studies, and became a coach for singers. One of these was Joan Sutherland, whom he had accompanied in Australia. They soon married and became a duo, first (until 1962) doing recitals. When the current conductor for a recital of operatic arias became ill, Bonynge stepped in and, from that time on, he conducted virtually all of his wife’s performances. His debut as staged opera conductor took place in 1963 in Vancouver, BC, where he conducted Faust. The same year, also in Vancouver, he conducted for the first time Norma, starring Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. He also conducted the English Chamber Orchestra in many recordings.
By doing some research since early 1950s and reading on Massenet and Italian bel canto composers, Richard Bonynge found Massenet’s statement about his Esclarmonde, that Massenet branded it as being his “best achievement.” That made Mr. Bonynge curious enough, more so that by that time Esclarmonde had sunken almost in total oblivion and was hardly performed at all since end of 19th century. He obtained some shuttered vocal score of it in Paris, and subsequently bought full orchestral score from some occasional auction in New York City. Although his wife, initially, was skeptical about it, Richard Bonynge became big enthusiast and eventually convinced her that she should perform as Esclarmonde herself. And thus the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera premieres of it took place in 1974 and 1976 respectively.
Bonynge was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to music in 1977.
In 1977 he was the founding Music Director of Vancouver Opera Orchestra (at its creation), when he conducted Le roi de Lahore staged there (in which also his wife took part).
He made his Metropolitan Opera debut on 12 December, 1966, and his last performance there was on 6 April, 1991. Most of those performances he conducted there between 1966 and 1987 were with his wife singing. In the beginning his speciality (until early 1970s) was music of 18th and early 19th century, mostly in bel canto repertoire (Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti), then gradually added also middle Verdi (La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore), Offenbach’s (Les Contes d’Hoffmann), then also Massenet’s (Esclarmonde and Werther.
Since 2007, he conducted a series of performances in a few opera houses around the U.S. (Miami, Detroit), and now mostly is involved with the Opera Australia company (performances ofLucia di Lammermoor in August 2008, planned performances of I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Melbourne and Sydney in middle of 2009).