Richard Mills’ Tribute

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Published: 19th January, 2017

Richard Sydney Divall (1945 – 2017)

Richard Divall’s great contribution to opera was in Melbourne, and Victoria generally. Fellow conductor, Richard Mills, the Artistic Director of Victorian Opera, sums up the legacy of a much-loved musician with a passion for opera …

“Richard Divall is a seminal figure in the history of opera in Australia. He raised the Victorian State Opera to a position of international reputation and provided outstanding artistic leadership for some 25 years. He had a repertoire of 151 operas and had outstanding success with landmark Australian performances of Lohengrin, Berlioz’s Les Troyens and a memorable Maria Stuarda with the legendary cast of June Bronhill and Nance Grant. He also released a DVD of Handel’s Alcina with Joan Sutherland during his years at Opera Australia.

Richard was an active musicologist for his entire working life – most recently completing important critical editions of the complete sacred music and operas of Nicolas Isouard and Michael Festing and working on editions of Girolamo Abos and Michaelangelo Vella.

He was a keen student of history, indeed his library held many treasures of historical research from the crusades, the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century Spain, France and Italy. His broad culture informed his performances which were characterised by scrupulous attention to detail, textual accuracy and sense of style. He was held in esteem and affection by the many distinguished singers he worked with over many years. He was always ready to assist young singers, often helping with financial resources to enable further study and career development. In the last few years, he was able to contribute to the progress of several promising young singers at Victorian Opera. He was always a friend of our company and even a source of advice, encouragement and support when called upon.

Richard was also a pioneer in the editing and performing of early Australian music – and his editions and arrangements of material ranging from the Eluard Quadrilles to the music of Septimus Kelly have found their place in our national narrative.

I fondly remember his CD of Federation music made with Orchestra Victoria which contained gems like the Lola Montez Polka: his discovery and dissemination of these works was always informed by his mischievous and quirky humour.

His passing signals the end of an era – the times of the ABC Orchestras, the likes of Joseph Port and John Hopkins, the sense of discovery of both the European avant-garde of the 60’s and the performing traditions of the Baroque and Classical periods. (Divall was a student of Harnoncourt, long before he reached international fame). The sense of adventure and discovery of those formative years of the 60’s and 70’s – where the importance of cultural assets was largely taken for granted and so much seemed, and indeed, was possible, was part of Divall’s formation. This same spirit and adventure lived on in his work to his final years. Richard leaves a prodigious legacy of scholarship, performance, artistic leadership and personal philanthropy. He was a great Australian and a great son of Melbourne. Vale.”

Classic Melbourne thanks Victorian Opera, and particularly Artistic Director, Richard Mills, for this tribute.