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Florence Austral

Florence Austral

(26 April 1892 – 15 May 1968)

Click here for recordings and performances by Florence Austral.

Florence Austral was an Australian operatic dramatic soprano renowned for her interpretation of the most demanding Wagnerian female roles.

Regrettably she never had an opportunity to appear at either the Bayreuth Festival or the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Born Florence Mary Wilson she adopted the professional surname Austral in 1921 to honour her homeland of Australia.

In the pantheon of great Wagnerian sopranos it is considered that she had few equals in sheer vocal quality and has her place alongside greats like Kirsten Flagstad who came later in the 1930's.

Never renowned for her acting abilities, it was always her voice front and centre that made her so extraordinary.

Starting out in church choirs she won a scholarship to study in America which led to her being offered a contract to sing at the Met- but she declined.

She was hoping to gain more experience in London first. She went to London and made her debut at the Royal Opera in May 1922 as Brünnhilde in Wagner's Die Walküre, and later appeared in the same role in Siegfried.

Sharing this role with the great Frida Leider, she failed to garner the acclaim that was due to her simply because Leider had vastly superior acting skills.

Florence Austral went on to perform other roles there- Aida and Isolde in which she was much acclaimed.

Dame Nellie Melba recognised her compatriot's extraordinary talents and dubbed her "One of the wonder voices of the world" and praised the purity of her tone and the gleaming power present in her high notes.

Regrettably in the 20's, conductor Bruno Walter reputedly was ambivalent about Florence Austral and she ended up singing more with the less prestigious British National Opera than she did at Covent Garden.

At this time however she did nonetheless make the first of many recordings for HMV which are still revered by music collectors today.

Among these recordings are some of the first English language excerpts from The Ring Cycle.

Florence Austral went on to tour America, Europe and Australia and she often sang in the Ring cycle operas but regrettably she did not appear at either Bayreuth or the Vienna State Opera.

There were some negotiations over appearances at Vienna but these did not materialise although she did become a principal singer with the esteemed Berlin State Opera in 1930.

In this same year, during a performance of Die Walkure she first showed signs of the debilitating disease, multiple sclerosis.

Despite its advancing effects she was still able for a time to perform in concerts and recitals and even developed a large lieder repertoire and performed in a series of concerts and performances throughout Australia. She toured with Walter Widdop in 1934-35.

In 1939 she returned to Britain and appeared in many benefit concerts but her illness forced her to retire in 1940.

She returned to Australia in 1946 now almost compleletley paralysed by the illness.

For an income she taught singing at what is now the University of Newcastle as the royalties from her recordings had almost dried up.

She died in a Church home for the aged in 1968 and even today is remembered by many as one of the finest dramatic sopranos Australia has ever produced.

The recordings she made are available today on CD and attest to the fact that she was indeed a major talent with an extraordinary voice.

Click here for recordings and performances by Florence Austral.

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