Dame Joan and memorisation: she put in the hours!

Dame Joan and memorisation: she put in the hours!

Me with Dame Joan

Richard Bonynge remembers his late wife Dame Joan Sutherland (La Stupenda) in a recent article on Limelight.

It’s a very lovely piece, and shows Dame Joan as a really down-to-earth person. What really surprised me was his admission that Dame Joan struggled with memory:

“Joan didn’t care about being in the public eye all the time; she just loved to sing. That was the main thing in her life: she adored singing and was very serious about it. She would

be sitting up in bed – she didn’t sleep a lot – at 6am studying her texts, which she needed to do because she didn’t have a great memory. By God, she put in the hours!

“I don’t know too many singers today who put in that amount of time: they just want to be famous yesterday. I hear so many young singers who have lovely voices, but they don’t put in the hours. So you get all these big bel canto roles – Rossini, Verdi, Donizetti – which are sung well, but they’re not perfect: you can’t hear every single note. Singers take the easy way out – and that makes the difference between great and just good.”


Memory is one of my fears – it’s the part of my work that I trust the least, perhaps largely due to my own laziness as a student. It’s certainly inspiring to see that even the greatest of singers struggled with things like this, and it’s a challenge to rise to the discipline required.

I’ve read a number of things dealing with the self-talk to do with things like fear of forgetting words, and it does help. However, the point is that reminding yourself that you don’t need to worry only really works if one has put in the effort and hard work. The work gives the basis for security.

What tips or strategies do you have for memorising and / or getting over the fear of memory lapse in performance?

What do you think?