June Bronhill

Crystal-clear coloratura soprano
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The Independent Online

June Gough (June Bronhill), singer: born Broken Hill, New South Wales 26 June 1929; OBE 1976; married Richard Finney (one daughter); died Sydney, New South Wales 25 January 2005.

The Australian coloratura soprano June Bronhill came to London in the 1950s and sang for a decade at Sadler's Wells Opera (which later became English National Opera).

Although small in build she had a perfectly focused voice that could fill any opera house, while her projection of dialogue in the many operetta roles that she sang was exemplary. A magnificent Queen of Night in The Magic Flute and a Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos who sang her fiendishly difficult aria with the greatest of ease, Bronhill was perhaps best known as Hanna Glawari in Lehár's The Merry Widow, which she sang over 200 times.

She was born June Gough in Broken Hill, New South Wales, in 1930. She won the Sydney Sun Aria contest in 1950, and two years later set off to study further in Britain. As the town of her birth contributed generously to her expenses, she changed her name to a contraction of the town's name - Bronhill.

In 1954 she was engaged by Sadler's Wells Opera. During the next six years she sang a great many roles, including Adele in Die Fledermaus, Gilda in Rigoletto, Norina in Don Pasquale and the Queen of Night.

The title role of Flotow's Martha provided Bronhill with a very sympathetic part, as did Leila in Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, while Lucy in Menotti's two-hand one-acter The Telephone was a frothy trifle of the sort she could do so well.

In 1959 Bronhill made her début with the Covent Garden Company on tour, singing the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and the following season sang Lucia at the Royal Opera House, winning great praise for her crystal-clear coloratura. In 1961 she was back in London for two of the finest performances she ever gave at Sadler's Wells, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Vixen Sharpears in the British premiere of Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen.

Bronhill returned to Australia in 1962 to sing Maria in a long run of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. By 1964 she was back in London, and sang Saffi in Johann Strauss's The Gypsy Baron. In October at the Lyric Theatre she opened in Robert and Elizabeth, a musical based on the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, with music by Ron Grainer, in which she sang Elizabeth Barrett and Keith Michel played Robert Browning. The show, directed by her husband Richard Finney, ran for 948 performances.

She did not return to London again until 1974, by which time Sadler's Wells Opera had moved to the Coliseum. She sang Hanna Glawari in the much bigger theatre with no difficulty, but the translation and the production of The Merry Widow were different from those she knew. Bronhill was more at home at Sadler's Wells Theatre itself, singing Magda in a production by the English Opera Group of Puccini's La rondine, not heard in London for many years.

Elizabeth Forbes

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