First singer in the Opera House was from Bundaberg
THE first person to sing in the Sydney Opera House was a tenor who came from Bundaberg.
But going by his early life in the region Donald Smith was an unlikely opera singer.
Smith was born in Bundaberg on July 27, 1920.
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When he was about 10 his parents took him out of school to help on the family's milk run and dairy property.
Around the age of 12 he was sentenced to the Westbrook Farm Home for Boys, where he spent seven months for allegedly stealing and joyriding in a car.
During his early teenage years Smith worked as a sugarcane cutter on properties in the Bundaberg area.
When he was 18, Smith met Thelma Joyce (Joy) Lovett, who was 16 at the time.
They were married in Bundaberg on September 13, 1941.
The couple remained together for 57 years until Smith died in 1998 at the Pleasantville Nursing Home in Brisbane.
After his marriage Smith worked as a sugar chemist for Bundaberg Sugar's Millaquin Mill.
He began his singing career on radio station 4BU Bundaberg, mainly country and western songs.
His first singing teacher in Bundaberg was Kate Gratehead, who helped him refine his musical ability and vocal technique for his tenor voice.
Smith and his wife later moved to Brisbane where he started appearing in operas.
In 1952 he began two years of study at London's National School of Opera, after winning the Mobil Quest singing competition.
He later returned to Australia, and sang with an Italian touring company in 1955.
Smith made his Sadler's Wells debut in England in 1962, where he performed in many Verdi operas.
He also sang at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and made his career in England for six years, returning in 1967 to sing with the Australian Opera.
In 1968, the first opera telecast in Australia, Tosca, featured Marie Collier in the title role, Smith as Cavaradossi and Tito Gobbi as "Scarpia".
On January 21, 1973 Smith was the first voice to sing in the Sydney Opera House, when he appeared in the first test concert in the Opera Theatre.
Smith's last performance for the Australian Opera was in Verdi's I masnadieri with Joan Sutherland, the only time the two sang a complete opera together.
In 1981 he retired from professional singing and later became a singing teacher in Brisbane at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.
Smith made many individual recordings both in England with the Sadler's Wells Opera Company and in Australia with EMI records and other recording companies.