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This beautifully illustrated book (with fabulous pictures by Dominique Bersier), doesn’t just give readers a glimpse of Chalet Monet, the enchanting Swiss home of Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge since the early 1960s. It takes you on a joyous, intimate journey through the lives of two of the past century’s most important couples in the operatic world.

Their welcoming home, cosy despite its size, oozes joy from every room, wall, shelf and window sill, all of which brim with collectibles – Staffordshire figurines, coloured glass, antique furniture and books, paintings, photos and memorabilia of past singers (Maria Malibran, Jenny Lind, Nellie Melba and several others), dancers and actresses, all passionately assembled over the years by Richard Bonynge, a compulsive collector. ‘I have always said I have been incredibly lucky in my life, and to have lived and worked with Joan in this beautiful part of Switzerland is like the icing on the cake,’ he writes, still sprightly and incredibly good looking at 90.

The glorious garden, on the other hand, with its stunning views down to Lake Geneva, was Dame Joan’s domain and passion. ‘I have been lucky in this way,’ she told me when I interviewed her for my book Diva: Sopranos and Mezzos discuss their Art. ‘Richard and I have a relationship where we perfectly understand one another and respect each other’s need to be quiet.’ This is illustrated in this book with views of their stunning separate apartments. ‘He does crossword puzzles and I do my gardening and we have been very happy over the years, even though we still have our differences and plenty of squabbles and huffs’. As Bonynge explains in the vividly chatty and entertaining manner he uses throughout the book, one of the squabbles was about replacing the chalet’s small windows with large glass panes offering unending views over Lake Geneva. He gave in and admits – that Dame Joan was right

Sir Noel Coward lived in a chalet just below and was destined to become not just a neighbour but one of their closest friends. It was Coward suggested that Bonynge and Sutherland buy Chalet Monet. Originally the couple had rented a house on Lake Maggiore, in Ticino (the Italian part of Switzerland) in 1960 and were about to buy it at a reasonable price when the owner died and the sale fell through because of the heirs’ greed.

Luck would have it that on the crossing from England to New York on which they embarked soon after, one of the fellow passengers was Noel Coward. They became friends and he advised that, because of the constant travel involved in their international careers, it was wiser to seek a home closer either to Geneva or Zurich airports.

After their return from New York he invited them to stay at his own home at Les Avants, a sunny hilltop village above Montreux. On their last day there, having looked at and turned down at least a dozen properties, Sir Noel remembered that an elderly English gentleman who lived in a chalet just above his, wanted to sell and return to spend his last years at home in England. He sold it at such a reasonable price, because he considered it dishonest to charge more than what he had bought it for decades ago (do such people still exist now?!) which left them with sufficient funds for thorough and extensive renovations over the following two years.

Having spent their first few weeks in the laundry room while the floors and windows were being finished, they spent the rest of their lives there, very happily. Their son Adam such an important stabilising factor in their lives, according to Franco Zeffirelli, was born there and lives in a chalet just opposite with his wife, children and grand children.

The colours prevalent throughout the chalet are green and red –‘Covent Garden red’, to be precise, reminiscent of the ROH’s opulent curtain – as these ‘are my favourite colours and I’m happiest when surrounded by them.’

Helena Matheopoulos Read the full review on Agora Classica

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