Douglas and Estelle de Niese: World-Class Singing Duo in the Mid-20th Century

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Douglas and Estelle de Niese

Douglas and Estelle, singing duo affectionately referred to as the Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy of Sri Lanka, met while entertaining the troops during the Second World War. 

Born into artistic families, Estelle is the daughter of the late Esme Joseph nee Van Twest, Sri Lanka’s leading soprano of the 1920s to the 1950s; Douglas was the son of the late George de Niese one of Sri Lanka’s prominent portrait and landscape artists.
As duettists Estelle’s rich vibrant, effortlessly produced crystalline voice blended beautifully with Douglas’ Baritone voice of immense power and nobility. This vocal duo provided joy, entertainment and happiness to thousands of people. Specialising in the Western Art Music repertoire they sang German Lieder, solo and duo arias from the Orotorios of Handel and Bach and the Operas of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi. The combination dominated the radio waves and concert stage of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  They sang on Radio Ceylon and Radio SEAC and were often beamed to All India Radio to Asian listeners.  *3
As music pedagogues Douglas and, in particular, Estelle and her mother Esme were responsible for teaching Western Art Music and  singing to countless pupils in prominent Girls Schools in Colombo.
Douglas and Estelle migrated with their large family of eleven children to Australia in 1972. In Melbourne they formed a family choir. Their sons Alan and George sang Bass and played organ respectively. Their daughters Valerie and Marion sang the Soprano and Alto parts respectively. Douglas sang tenor while Estelle sang the Soprano/Descant line. The choir sang at numerous weddings around Melbourne.
Douglas and Estelle further contributed to the cultural life of Melbourne by joining the choir of St Francis’ Church located in the heart of Melbourne City. For many years Douglas was their soloist/cantor through the 1970s and 80s.
Having inherited the musical/artistic gene Douglas and Estelle in turn passed it down to their children and grandchildren. Among their eleven children and thirty grand-children the following have become professionals. Their sixth son, George, is a classical pianist and music pedagogue. Grand-daughters: Danielle de Niese is an international opera singer of renown. Kylie de Niese is a music pedagogue and classical flautist. Leah de Niese is an actress in Australian Film and TV and sometime classical ‘cellist too. Grandson,Composer/Singer/Guitarist, David Gallagher is a founding member of the Rock band, ‘Wunderlust’ in which his brother Caleb plays guitar.

The Obituary for ESTELLE DE NIESE ….


Filed under art & allure bewitching, Colombo and Its Spaces, cultural transmission, ethnicity, female empowerment, heritage, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, performance, sri lankan society, unusual people, world events & processes

2 responses to “Douglas and Estelle de Niese: World-Class Singing Duo in the Mid-20th Century

  1. Rex Oegasegarem

    They were good friends of my late uncle , Lionel Olegasegarem , featuring with him on many Musicale in those years

  2. Anton Perera

    Estelle de Niese sang a solo at St. Mary’s church, Dehiwela for our wedding in July 1964. She was just great!
    Anton & Ranee Perera
    Toronto, Canada.

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