The Australian conductor and pianist, Richard Bonynge, was educated at Sydney Boys High School and the NSW Conservatory of Music 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.
Richard Bonynge's extensive career includes innumerable performances with his wife, Dame Joan Sutherland, culminating in her farewell engagements in opera and recital throughout the world. The two artists also toured the United States with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in celebration of Australia's Bicentennial, with concerts at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the United Nations.
Richard Bonynge served as Music Director of the Sutherland-Williamson Grand Opera Company in 1965 (Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane), as Artistic Director of the Vancouver Opera from 1974 to 1977 and Music Director of The Australian Opera from 1976 to 1986. 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).
By doing some research since early 1950's 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 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 tattered 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.
In the beginning his speciality (until early 1970's) was music of 18th and early 19th century, mostly in bel canto repertoire (Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti), for which he has received world-wide acclaim as a scholar. He is celebrated for leading the renaissance of this music, such as Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer), Semiramide, Sigismondo (Rossini), La Fille du Régiment, Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti), Esclarmonde, Le Roi de Lahore, Thérèse (Massenet), Medea (Pacini), Orfeo (Haydn), I Masnadieri (Verdi). He then gradually added also middle Verdi (La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore), Offenbach's (Les Contes d'Hoffmann), then also Massenet's (Werther).
Throughout his illustrious career, Richard Bonynge has conducted in the world's leading opera houses in Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand as well as the Far East. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut on December 12, 1966, and his last performance there was on April 6, 1991. Most of those performances he conducted there between 1966 and 1987 were with his wife singing.
In recent seasons Richard Bonynge led performances of La Traviata in Athens, I Capuleti ed I Montecchi in London, Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Scala di Seta, Signor Bruschino, Roméo & Juliette in Sydney, Lucia, Norma and Faust in the USA, La Favorite in Barcelona, I Lombardi in Buenos Aires and Semiramide (Meyerbeer) at the Wildbad Festival, Germany. Since 2007, he conducted a series of performances in a few opera houses around the USA (Miami, Detroit), and now mostly is involved with the Opera Australia company (performances of Lucia di Lammermoor in August 2008, planned performances of I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Melbourne and Sydney in middle of 2009).
His discography reflects the eclecticism of his music interests. He has recorded over 50 complete operas as well as the three Tchaikovsky ballets, three Delibes ballets and numerous lesser known ballets by Adam, Minkus, Burgmuller, Auber, Drigo, Offenbach. He recorded several recital discs with Sumi Jo, Jerry Hadley, Deborah Riedel, Rosamund Illing, Cheryl Barker and Elizabeth Whitehouse. His recent recordings are Le Domino Noir (Auber), Le Toréador (Adam), Der Czarevich, Das Land des Lächelns, Paganini, Giuditta (Lehar), Cendrillon (Nicolo), Orfeo (Haydn), Die Herzogin von Chicago and Die Czardasfürstin (Kálmán), British Opera Arias (Balfe, Wallace, Sullivan), Sacred and Profane Arias (Massenet), Puccini Arias (Puccini), La Somnambula (Hérold), Verismo Arias and Tchaikovsky & Grieg piano concertos with Simon Tedeschi and the Queensland Orchestra. Video recordings include Les Huguenots, La Fille du Régiment, Adriana Lecouvreur, Die Lustige Witwe, Les Dialogues des Carmélites, Norma, Die Fledermaus, Lucrezia Borgia, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lakmé, Il Trovatore, Die Zauberflöte and Die Czardasfürstin.
Richard Bonynge's accomplishments as conductor and musical scholar were recognised when Queen Elizabeth II, during her Silver Jubilee Celebration in 1977, made him a Commander of the British Empire for his services to music. In the summer of 1989, the French government honoured him with the rank of "Commandeur de l'Ordre National des Arts et des