When you first began singing opera, you regarded yourself as a mezzo. How did you discover the top of your voice?

Richard Bonynge and Joan took an interest in the London Opera Centre where I was a student – there were occasional master classes which they attended. My singing teacher in New Zealand, Dame Sister Mary Leo, had apparently (so I was later told) wondered if my mezzo might develop into a soprano. But Richard Bonynge was quite definite about it. To be honest, it was a bit of a surprise. I had already sung the role of Carmen in two productions. But the next time I was in Carmen… it was as Micaëla.

How important were Sutherland and Bonygne to you as a young singer?

You can’t even estimate how important they were. They were generous in every way to all young singers – as well as advice, they created opportunities to sing with them. They were standards
to aspire to.

You once said one of the reasons you’ve avoided singing Handel was because it is so strongly associated with Sutherland. How do you think you’ve made your mark in opera? What roles would you like to be remembered for?

In my earlier...