Born in Sydney, Australia, singing studies were undertaken with Helen Langton, Roland Foster OBE and Elizabeth Todd OAM; in London with Gustav Sacher; Munich with Ken Neate; and Vienna with Frau Prosenc. During my professional career, it was my privilege to give over four thousand classical and semi-classical concert, theatre, radio and television performances, with principal roles in oratoria, operas, musical comedies, and operettas. Dad played the saxophone and banjo, with Mum as his pianist.
My brother Garth was a talented musician, a drummer able to play any instrument he cared to pick up, my Grandmother, Jessie Rattray was a Queensland singer known as the Cairns Nightingale – singing at soirees only, because it was not considered ‘respectable’ to go ‘on the stage’ in those days – and my Aunt, Clarice Rattray had a beautiful contralto voice. My sister Betty was a great listener! Unfortunately, they have all passed on now.
My family shared the joy of making music. In her day, my grandmother, Jessie Rattray was a singer known as the Cairns Nightingale – singing at soirees only, because it was ‘not respectable’ to go on the stage. Although Dad was Freight Manager with the Wil Wilhelmsen shipping company, he also had a band for years that performed at venues including the Sydney Trocadero. Dad played the saxophone and banjo, Mum was his pianist, and several musician friends made up the group. Mum was an excellent jazz pianist in her own right, often performing in Sydney. My brother Garth was a talented musician, able to play any instrument he cared to pick up, and frequently joining bands as their drummer. My aunt, Clarice Rattray had a beautiful contralto voice, and my sister Betty was a great listener! Throughout my childhood, friends sang and played their instruments around our piano once a week, and this nurtured my own deep love of singing.
At fifteen, my parents took me to Manila, Hong Kong and Japan where I broadcast over capital cities radios. In later years I sang in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand and America. Concerts in England included London’s Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Australia House and St. Martins-in-the-Field.
Theatre was my great love from the age of nine, when I sat on the steps and threw rosebuds to the two Gondoliers during the Savoyeurs’ amateur performances directed by, and starring my first sining teacher, Helen Langton.
I graduated to minor roles, then principal roles with Miss Langton, and branched out into other amateur productions. I left school at the age of fifteen in second year high school after winning a scholarship for a year to the Commonwealth Typist-in-Training School.
For the next eighteen months I worked as a stenographer to fulfil my bond. My radio career began at twelve years of age, with broadcasts as a singer and actress for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), 2SM and other Sydney radio stations, in shows like The Argonauts, with Mac and his entourage. Engagements with the ABC Education Department’s ‘Singing Together’ with Terry Hunt and Jeff Rushton continued for over twenty years.
At seventeen my parents arranged for visiting English director Lionel Harris to advise them about my future as a singer. He surprised them by engaging me to understudy Moyra Redmond at the Philip Street Theatre in ‘The Duenna’, which also starred the incomparable Ruth Chracknell and Gordon Chater. This was followed by Jill in ‘Jack and Jill’ with Nina Cook as ‘Jack’ at the Tivoli. I stayed for another season at the Tivoli as a featured soloist in the ice-skating spectacular, ‘Spice and Ice’, starring Adele Inge.
J. C. Williamson Theatre’s Managing Director, Sir Frank Tate heard me sing at a garden party when I was eighteen, and offered the juvenile principal roles in the forthcoming D’Oyly Carte-Williamson Gilbert and Sullivan opera season. This starred Graeme Clifford, Muriel Brunskill (later Evelyn Gardiner), Helen Roberts, Eric Thornton, Terence O’Donoghue, Jane Martin, Richard Watson, Kevin Foote and Richard Walker (also the Director) with Music Director Leo Packer. We toured Australian and New Zealand capital cities for nearly two years.
During this time I played Mabel in ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, Yum Yum in ‘The Mikado’, Casilda in ‘The Gondoliers’, the Bride in ‘Trial by Jury’, Rose Maybud in ‘Ruddigore’, Kate in ‘Yeomen of the Guard’, and Phyllis in ‘Iolanthe’. Williamsons then engaged me to play Cinderella in Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’ with Dig Richards as Prince Charming, and Gwen Plumb and John Meillon as the Ugly Sisters!
Resi in ‘The Great Waltz’ followed, with Keith Nilson and Joy Mammon, then ‘Nimue’ for the long-running ‘Camelot’ for Williamsons. Jacqueline MacEver and Paul Daneman starred, and when Jacqi was taken ill on stage, just after the curtain went up, I had to go on to play Guenevere. as I was her understudy. When she eventually returned to America to fulfil contracts there, Ray Westwell, the Director insisted that I play Guenevere for the Sydney season.
Hayes Gordon offered me Fiona in ‘Brigadoon’ and Helen in ‘Out of this World’ at Menzies Theatre Restaurant, and I later sang in ‘The Tempest’ for the Queensland Theatre Company. I moved to England for three years and played two seasons at London’s Westminster Theatre in principle roles. A season at the Theatre Royal, Bath, was followed by two seasons at the Players’ Theatre, London.
The highlight of my stay in England was to sing the role of Adele in the Strauss operetta ‘Die Fledermaus’ for Sadlers Wells on two tours of England and a season at the London ColiseumI’m seen here with Leo Wockner in a Brisbane Light Opera performance.. When the ABC offered me a Celebrity Artist tour of capital cities with the Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland, Tasmanian, South Australian and Victorian Symphony Orchestras, I returned to Australia. Many concert engagements for Music Clubs and the Council for the Arts throughout Australia followed, and it was a privilege to be chosen as a soloist for the Australian Federated Music Clubs’ concert during the opening festivities of the Sydney Opera House. It was also an honour to sing to twenty-two thousand people at the 1987 Lord Mayor’s Christmas Concerts at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and to sing the voice of Melba for three ABC productions, including the televised ‘A Toast to Melba’.
Opera roles included Lisette in Puccini’s ‘La Rondine’ for ABC television, and Lauretta in Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicci’. Mozart operas included Despina in ‘Cosi fan Tutte’, Susanna in ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and Zerlina in ‘Don Giovanni’ with Serpina in Pergolesi’s ‘La Serva Padrona’,
Miss Honey in Hopkins’ ‘Three’s Company’, and Lucy in Menotti’s ‘The Telephone’. I was privileged to be cast opposite singers like David Parker, David Grey, Ereach Reilly, John Ferris, and Gino Zanchanaro.Oratorio performances as soprano soloist included Haydn’s ‘The Creation’, ‘The Passion of Christ’, ‘Mass in Time of War’, and ‘The St. Matthew Passion’; Handel’s ‘The Messiah’ and ‘Jephtha’; Brahms’ ‘Requiem’; Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’; Berlioz’ ‘The Childhood of Christ’, and Faure’s ‘Requiem’.
Australian television provided opportunities for regular appearances on programmes such as ‘The Commonwealth Bank Hour’ and ‘The Bobby Limb Show’, and as compere of an ABC children’s programme.In 1974 I married Clifford (Rod) Wells – Founder of Somerset College on the Gold Coast and also Cannon Hill College, Brisbane, headmaster, organist/choirmaster and composer. With his encouragement, I began my research career as Roslyn Wells. ( It later became less confusing to call myself Dunbar-Wells
After my marriage I ‘settled down’ and concentrated on my Australian concert career, adding teaching, writing reviews and articles. When I semi-retired I concentrated on studying to gain a BA from the University of Queensland (double major in psychology and a single in English Communication Studies).
In 1993 I was offered two scholarships to study voice teaching and communication methods at the University of Reading, England, and in 1997 earned my PhD (Music Education).
In 2003 Rod and I moved to Gold coast , where I re-established the Dunbar-Wells Voice Studio. Sadly Rod passed away after a long illness on August 14, 2013