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Sylvia Gwendoline Fisher (1910–1996)

With the death of Sylvia Fisher, another link in the operatic chain stretching back to Dame Nellie Melba has been broken. Together with Florence Austral and Dame Joan Hammond, Fisher was a member of the triumvirate of Australian sopranos who thrilled audiences worldwide.

As Kirsten Flagstad's successor at the Royal Opera House, she reigned unchallenged in the great soprano repertoire of Wagner and Strauss while distinguishing herself as a definitive performer of the operas of Benjamin Britten.

Born in South Melbourne, Fisher was educated at Kilmore by the Sisters of Mercy and studied at the Melba Conservatorium. In 1936 she won the Sun Aria but had made her operatic debut in Melbourne four years previously, in Lully's Cadmus and Hermione.

In 1947 she left for London. Following her debut with the Royal Opera in 1948 as Leonora in Beethoven's Fidelio, critics were enthusiastic and she joined the company. After further roles in the Mozart repertoire, she was directed towards Wagner.

On Flagstad's retirement from the stage, Fisher assumed most of her roles and performed them with vocal brilliance and intelligence. In the 1950 Ring season her Sieglinde in Die WalkuEre was hailed as "the greatest since Lotte Lehmann".

After working with Frieda Leider, Fisher gave her first performance in 1953 as Isolde, a role she had a particular affinity with, and in 1957 she became the first British singer since Dame Eva Turner's historic interpretation to perform BruEnnhilde in Wagner's Ring cycle. Apart from the Ring and Tristan, she also included the leading soprano roles in TannhaEuser, Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman and Die Meistersinger in her regular repertoire — in fact almost the entire Wagnerian corpus.

Fisher was particularly remembered for her portrayal of the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier — a role she sang with another fine Australian soprano, Jennifer Eddy.

In opera or recital, her art was based on a great integrity of approach for the music and an instinctive gift for finding the truth in the words she was singing. Her live or recorded performances of the Ring attest to the stunning power of her voice and the emotion and soul of her singing.

Fisher, whose marriage produced no children, retired to Melbourne, to be close to family and friends. In 1994 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. A person of great Christian faith, she often assisted young Australian singers, and many tales survive of her kindness to younger colleagues.

Fisher was a shy, almost recessive personality, but one who, in a colleague's words, "switched on like electricity when she began to perform".

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Citation details

'Fisher, Sylvia Gwendoline (1910–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gardini, Sylvia Gwendoline

18 April, 1910
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


25 August, 1996 (aged 86)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.