1st read
Thursday, 27 May 2021

Dainty Diva: Book Review

Written by
One of the principal objectives of Theatre Heritage Australia is to document Australian theatre history—and we are delighted to be able to provide our readers with access to a new biography written by Cathy Koning on the Australian soprano Dorothy Rudder (1893-1940), titled Dainty Diva.

Cover 2Dainty Diva by Cathy Koning

THIS IS THE FIRST BIOGRAPHY of Australian soprano and variety theatre artist Dorothy Rudder, unheralded today but well-known in the 1920s and 30s.

Cathy Koning became interested in Dorothy Rudder when her husband inherited an old battered suitcase belonging to his great aunt. The many treasures discovered within the suitcase revealled the story of a courageous woman with a wonderful voice who was compelled to perform no matter what life threw her way.

Drawing on letters, documents, photographs and newspaper reports, Koning traces Rudder’s career from community concert appearances in rural New South Wales to the hallowed halls of the Covent Garden Opera House in London.

As Koning discovers, it was not an easy path and the peripatetic life of the theatre often meant grabbing what opportunities you could. For years Rudder was diverted into vaudeville and musical comedy, before landing her first opera engagement with J.C. Williamson's Grand Opera Company in 1932.

Along the way economic depression and two world wars contributed to her changing fortune, as did a brief marriage that ended in a sensational and very public divorce. But throughout she remained positive—and though largely on her own—she received the support of a devoted sister and wide circle of women friends and theatrical contacts.

As Frank Van Straten notes in the book’s forward: “With its treasure trove of fascinating illustrations, Dainty Diva is an invaluable exploration of a now largely forgotten world of Australian and international show business.”

Dainty Diva may be accessed or downloaded from the THA Digital Collection at


Read 691 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 June 2022
Elisabeth Kumm

Elisabeth is a founding member of the Victoria Theatres Trust. Her series Pets of the Public was a regular feature of On Stage from 1999 to 2005, looking at “forgotten” nineteenth century performers. She continues to contribute articles for the THA website, and from 2018 has been editor of the THA Newsletter. As a theatrical historian and biographer she assisted Viola Tait with her book on pantomime – Dames, Principal Boys…and All That (published by Macmillan in 2001) and also worked with her on her memoirs I Have a Song to Sing (published by THA in 2018). Elisabeth has also undertaken research for the Riley/Hailes Scrapbook and JCW Scene Books projects. Most recently she has been working on the Falk Studios album project including acting as editor of The Falk Studios book (published by THA in 2021). 

More in this category: « The very best of… Double-Act »