Miss Joan Carden, AO, OBE, D.Univ (SUT), D. Univ (ACU)
Joan Carden was born in Melbourne in 1937 on the anniversary of the great composer Giuseppe Verdi’s birth.
After understudying June Bronhill in Australia as ‘The Merry Widow’ in 1960, inspired by witnessing such expertise, Joan Carden sought tuition in London from 1961 with her major musical influence, London-trained and based, West Australian-born, multi-lingual, expatriate vocal coach, Vida Harford.
Joan Carden appeared in opera and concerts in Europe before initially joining The Australian Opera (TAO) in concerts in 1970. The following year marked her stage debut with TAO as ‘Liu’ in Turandot and ‘Marguerite’ in Faust.
After much acclaim in Australia as ‘Gilda’ in Rigoletto under the baton of Mark Elder, she was invited by conductor Edward Downes to repeat the role at Covent Garden in 1974. Engagements ensued throughout the United Kingdom and United States.
At Glyndebourne Festival in 1977, she appeared as ‘Donna Anna’ in Sir Peter Hall’s production of Don Giovanni, conducted by John Pritchard, followed by her American debut as ‘Amenaide’ with Houston Grand Opera with Marilyn Horne in Rossini’s Tancredi.
In 1978 she toured the US with Metropolitan Opera as ‘Donna Anna’, conducted by (Sir) John Pritchard, after appearances in UK with Scottish Opera as ‘Constanza’ in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio.
Also in 1978, she returned to Australia for her role debut as ‘Madama Butterfly’ under the baton of Carlo Felice Cillario, for TAO, said to mark one of the high points of her career as a major interpreter of Puccini heroines.
1980 marked Miss Carden’s debut with both Washington D.C. National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Centre, and Britain’s Opera North, appearing in the 4 demanding soprano roles in Tales of Hofmann in English later in French for TAO.
In 1982 she appeared with Greater Miami Opera as ‘Amelia’ in Simon Boccanegra with Cornell McNeill, conducted by Nicola Rescigno.
Joan Carden has sung virtually all the Mozart heroines. Her performance of ‘Violetta’ in Verdi’s La Traviata has been noted for the moving interpretation. Her voice in ‘Violetta’s’ famous aria, is on the sound track of the film Priscilla, Queen of The Desert.
She has sung more than 50 major roles from the 18th century through to contemporary works , including: ‘Desdemona’ (Otello); ‘Leonora’ in both Il Trovatore and La Forza del Destino; ‘Elisabetta’ (both Don Carlos and Maria Stuarda); ‘Rosalinde’ in Die Fledermaus, ‘Feldmarschallin’ (Der Rosenkavalier) and ‘Ellen Orford’ (Peter Grimes); ‘Tatyana’ (Yevgeny Onyegin)- in Russian and English. Other title roles include Alcina, Lakme, and Adriana Lecouvreur.
In 1995, four months after a sextuple heart artery bypass, she added the title roles of Tosca , then Medee.
Joan Carden has appeared with all major Australian opera companies. In 1989, Victoria State Opera featured her role debut as ‘Musetta’(La Boheme) with friend from London Opera Centre, Dame Kiri te Kanawa as ‘Mimi’. This was telecast nationally, as was her ‘Desdemona’ and ‘Violetta’ for TAO.
Numerous concerts in Australia include Australia’s Bi-Centenary Celebration of a Nation with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, telecast internationally. Other performances were with Opera Australia: New Year’s Eve 1999 Gala at Sydney Opera House, Tosca in Sydney and Melbourne, and ‘Countess Almaviva’ in The Marriage of Figaro in Melbourne.
Moya Henderson’s Jubilee Mass, celebrating the founding bi-centenary of the Society of Sisters of the Sacred Heart, was composed for Joan Carden to sing at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in June, 2000, and repeated in 2002 for that Order’s Australian Bi-centenary.
Other credits include concerts with numerous symphony orchestras (the BBC, Melbourne, Sydney, plus I Solisti Veneti [Italy], Hunter and Australian Chamber, Sydney Philharmonia) and concerts with jazzman James Morrison at Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Sydney Opera House and Parliament House, Canberra in honour of U.S. President George Bush’s visit.
In 1993 Joan Carden sang under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras with Jose Carreras at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for The Australian Music Foundation and the tenor’s own Leukaemia Research Foundation. The Carden Leukaemia Research Fellowship, instituted by Miss Carden’s great uncle (1935 Melbourne City Councillor, George F. Carden) funded Dr. Donald Metcalfe’s ground-breaking research over many years, culminating in his discovery of the C Factor saving the life of Jose Carreras and countless other sufferers.
In 2000, engagements included the state occasion consecrating the new precinct at St. Mary’s Cathedral and lighting of the new spire, Opera in the Vineyards at Wyndham Estate, and, for OA’s New Year’s Eve Verdi Gala at the Sydney Opera House.
2001 saw Miss Carden repeat her acclaimed ‘Ellen Orford’ in Britten’s Peter Grimes, and singing the scena written by Nigel Butterley with her in mind, The Owl, conducted by Simone Young. She also appeared as Mother Abbess in Gordon/ Frost Organisation’s The Sound of Music in Adelaide, following an earlier last minute dash to that city, to save the premiere of South Australian Opera’s Tosca at a few hours notice, when scheduled soprano, Deborah Riedel, suffered a relapse of the condition that ultimately took her life.
Due to local policies, Joan Carden announced that her Tosca in OA’s 2002 season would be her last in a major role. She was awarded the Opera Australia trophy at Sydney Opera House, featured on national television.
In 2003, she took on a last role for Opera Australia—‘Public Opinion’ based on controversial political figure, Pauline Hanson, in Jonathan Biggins and Philip Scott’s satirical new version of Orpheus in the Underworld.
On June 2nd 2003, Joan Carden sang at a ceremony in Melbourne Town Hall to launch Australia Post’s new series of stamps for the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.
LPs – ‘Stars of Australian Opera Sing Verdi’ (cond,Eric Clapham); ‘Joan Carden Sings Mozart’ (cond. John Harding), later an ABC CD compilation of Mozart Arias; Nigel Butterley’s 23 minute scena The Owl commissioned for her by Stuart Challender/The Seymour Group; TAO’s ‘Mozart Bicentennial Celebration’; CD- ‘Italian Opera Arias’ for ABC Classics and Walsingham Classics’ ‘Great Opera Heroines—Joan Carden’, ABC Classics 2013 compilation CD ‘Nessun Dorma’ features her ‘Sempre libera’ from La Traviata. A biographical feature film of Miss Carden’s life, The People’s Diva, was telecast nationally in 1990.
La Traviata, ‘Australian Opera Favourites’ and ‘Celebration of a Nation’.
In June, 2000 a film telecast nationally depicting preparation and presentation of Opera Australia’s 1999 John Copley production of Puccini’s Tosca, featured Miss Carden in the title role, creating great interest at both Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals.
1983 – Order of the British Empire, (OBE)
1987 – Dame Joan Hammond Award for Operatic Excellence
1988 – Officer in the Order of Australia (AO)
1993 – Australian Artists’ Creative Fellowship
1991 – Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, conferred on her a Doctorate of the University, D.Univ (SUT); later the Australian Catholic University conferred an honoris causa, D.Univ (ACU)
Miss Carden has also received the Australian Government’s Centenary Medal.
Since 2005. Sydney University Graduates Choir has sponsored The Joan Carden Award for aspiring singers.
The Australian media dubbed Joan Carden ‘The People’s Diva’.
In March 2013, ABC Classic FM radio broadcast, in a series commemorating Australian operatic history, two interviews with Miss Carden.
In London, 1962, Joan Carden married British steeplechase coach/businessman, William Coyne (died Melbourne, 2014). Divorced in 1980, they had two daughters:
1) Vida Carden-Coyne, B.A. (Fine Arts) born London, 1962, arts administrator, divorced, with a daughter born 2006 and a son born in 2008
2) Dr. Ana Carden-Coyne, born Watford , Herts. 1969 (cultural historian). Her son was born in the UK in 2012. Dr Carden-Coyne is currently Professor of History at the University of Manchester and Director of the Centre for the Cultural History of War.