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Suzanne Steele was one of the stars of the early years of the Victoria State Opera. She was a crossover artist before the term had been invented. Miss Steele was a well known celebrity to most Australians mainly due to her numerous television and stage appearances in the 60’s and 70’s.
She first appeared on stage as a teenager in England at the Old Vic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann. The company toured America and performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. On returning to England, Steele joined the chorus of the Sadlers Wells Opera Company and was soon promoted to principal soprano. It was with this company that she first came to Australia in 1963, singing the lead role in both Orpheus in the Underworld and. During this time she also starred in the ABC’s television series World of Operetta and World of Song.
Steele returned to the UK and performed for the BBC and made numerous concert and cabaret appearances. Then in 1967 J. C. Williamson Theatre Company (JCW) brought her back to Australia to play Aldonza in Man of La Mancha. Over a number of seasons, Steele performed this emotional role at least 1000 times – more than any other singer in the world. Famous too due to shows like Say it with Music, her appearances with the Australian Opera. especially in, The Merry Widow and her many open air performances at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl and other venues all over the country.
With the VSO her most well remembered roles were in La Belle Helene, Orpheus in the Underworld, Isolier in Count Ory, Siebel in the 81 Faust and the VSO Iolanthe in late 1982.
Suzanne Steele passed away on December 13th 1986 after a long battle with Cancer. She became a naturalised Australian citizen a few years before her death. Poignantly her final public performance was singing for Pope John Paul on November 27 1986, weeks before her death, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a crowd over 100,000.
Below is a typically charming interview she gave before a season of The Merry Widow with the Australian Opera in Canberra 1973
Housemaid to opera singer
Suzanne Steele was 14 when she left home to seek happiness and a new life in the service of a London household. And she still keeps in touch with her employer who sent her to singing lessons on her time off from household duties and was indirectly behind the beginning of her career as an operatic singer.
Miss Steele has spent most of her life in England but was born in South Africa of a French Spanish mother and a German father. And while she says her mother was olive-skinned and dark-haired and her father blond she is a vivacious red-head and claims an even temper and happy disposition.
From the outset she worked bard at her singing and soon found the need to move from the house where she was employed to a small room and work as a waitress to pay for her singing lessons.
“I was 16 when I toured America in ‘with the — really much too young to appreciate it”, she said in Canberra yesterday.
She will play the title role in The Merry Widow which has its opening performance during the Australian Opera season at the Canberra Theatre tonight.
She has been in Australia on this occasion, for 21 years after making several trips here during the past 10 years.
“1 got my best and biggest breaks here”, she said, but her experience in Europe includes work with Sadler’s Wells Opera Company and appearances at Covent Garden.
“Australia is new and vital and I think I like it more than Europe. People mean more to me than the surroundings I am in and I find Australians outgoing, free and natural. But I wish they wouldn’t knock them selves”; .
“They always seem to think somewhere else things are that much better”.
Her contentment with Australia shows in the purchase of a house in Melbourne which she is refurbishing without destroying its Victorian atmosphere and where her Persian cat .Santuzza lives. Her Sydney silky pup Turridu travels with her on tour and when at home fights with the cat, taking after their name sakes from the opera ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’.
She hopes to be able to take every opportunity to visit Brisbane and take lessons from her teacher there. “Good teachers are so hard to find and you get into bad habits”, she said. “When I was playing in ‘Man of La Mancha’ each performance was like a lesson. I think if for any reason I had to give up singing I would like to act”.
Suzanne Steele, who plays the title role in ‘The Merry Widow* opening at the Canberra Theatre tonight.
Trove. National Library of Australia
- LIFE STYLE PEOPLE Housemaid to opera singer
- The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Wednesday 27 June 1973 p 20 Article Illustrated
- … Housemaid to opera singer SUZANNE Steele was 14′ when she left home to seek happiness and a new life in the service of a London household. And she still keeps in touch with her employer who sent her … act”. Suzanne Steele, who plays the title role in ‘The Merry Widow* opening at the Canberra Theatre … 463 words
- Victoria State Opera – 1977 Season. (victoriastateopera.wordpress.com)