His debut on the podium in 1962 was sudden: the conductor of the Saint Cecilia Orchestra in Rome canceled due to illness and his replacement was struck by an automobile, leaving only Bonynge to take the podium. He began, still without formal training, to conduct Sutherland's performances, beginning with Gounod
's Faust in Vancouver and Bellini
's La Sonnambula in San Francisco, both in 1963. After his Covent Garden debut in 1964 with a performance of Bellini
's I Puritani, Bonynge and his wife returned to Australia the next year. There he assumed the position of music director of the Sutherland-Williamson International Grand Opera Company.
In 1966, Bonynge had his Metropolitan Opera debut with Sutherland performing the title role in Donizetti
's Lucia di Lammermoor. As his reputation and career blossomed, the conductor enjoyed continued success when he was named artistic director of the Vancouver Opera, a position he held from 1974-1978. Concurrently, Bonynge acted as music director of the Australian Opera from 1975-1986. In 1977, he was awarded the Commander of the British Empire. In 1983 he was given the same honor in his native Australia, and in 1989 the French government gave him the rank of Commandeur de l'Ordre National de Mérite.
Bonynge championed a revival of the vocal ornamentation that had been customary during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This period was dear to Bonynge, who has carefully studied the operas of Bellini
as well as French opera of the period, and has composed cadenzas used by many singers (including Sutherland). One of the world's premiere opera conductors, Bonynge has directed the masterpieces of the genre at the leading opera houses worldwide. His list of recorded operas is no less impressive and includes many works (including a number of nineteenth century ballet scores) previously not familiar to opera connoisseurs, such as those by Delibes
, Graun, and Massenet
. Most of these recordings feature Sutherland.
At Joan Sutherland
's last performances, Bonynge conducted in front of audiences in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia. After she had left the stage for the last time, Bonynge continued his acclaimed career without pause. He remains one of opera's most important figures and is an important supporter of Australian singers and of the young artists' program at the Australian Opera, established during his tenure as music director. With unquestionable devotion, Richard Bonynge gives his full attention to the world of opera. He has said, "I did not choose music, music chose me." One might observe, then, that opera chose a tireless and devoted champion.