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Monday, October 11, 2010

Oct. 11: Legendary opera coloratura soprano Dame Joan Sutherland died this past Sunday.


She passed away at her home near Montreux, Switzerland. She was 83 years-old.

(Follow links below to view You Tube Videos of Dame Joan Sutherland:)

 -- Bellini's "I Puritani" (First time performed on TV)
-- "Casta diva" (from "Norma")


According to her obituary in the New York Times, after her Ms. Sutherland’s Italian debut in Venice in 1960, "...the country’s notoriously picky critics dubbed her “La Stupenda” (“The Stupendous One”). For 40 years the name endured with opera lovers around the world. She was a major force in the revitalization of early-19th-century Italian opera of the bel canto school." She performed from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.


Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE has been described as a plain-spoken and ordinary person, who enjoyed needlepoint and playing with her grandchildren. Though she knew who she was, she was quick to poke fun at her prima donna persona.


Born in Sydney, Australia, her mother was a mezzo-soprano who had studied with Mathilde Marchesi, the teacher of the Australian soprano Nellie Melba. Though her mother never performed on a stage, she did vocal exercises every day and was her daughter’s principal teacher throughout her adolescence.

At 16, Joan completed a secretarial course and took office jobs, while keeping up her vocal studies. She began musical lessons in Sydney with Aida Dickens, who convinced her that she was a soprano - possibly a dramatic soprano. Ms. Sutherland began singing oratorios and radio broadcasts, and made a notable debut in 1947 as Purcell’s "Dido" in Sydney when she was 21 years old.

In 1951, using money she won from a prestigious vocal competition, she and her mother moved to London, where Joan enrolled at the opera school of the Royal Conservatory. The next year, after three previous unsuccessful auditions, she was accepted into the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and made her debut as the First Lady in Mozart’s “Zauberflote.”

In the company’s 1952 production of Bellini’s “Norma,” starring Maria Callas, Sutherland sang the small role of Clotilde, Norma’s confidante. Sutherland  said Callas had advised her at the time to  "...Look after your voice. We’re going to hear great things of you.”

Joan wanted to perform as Norma but it took her ten years before she thought she was ready. In 1955 she created the lead role of Judith in Michael Tippett’s “Midsummer Marriage.” Immediately after her breakthrough performances as Lucia in 1959, Ms. Sutherland underwent sinus surgery to correct persistent problems with nasal passages that were chronically prone to becoming clogged. Though it was a risky operation for a singer, it was deemed successful.

In the early 1960s, using a home in southern Switzerland as a base, Ms. Sutherland sang in international opera houses, and formed a close association with the Met, where she sang 223 performances. This included an acclaimed new production of “Norma” in 1970 with the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, in her Met debut, singing Adalgisa, and Mr. Bonynge conducting. There was also a hugely popular 1972 production of Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment,” with Luciano Pavarotti singing the role of Tonio.

Sutherland has received many honors in her career. In 1961, she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). That year she was also named the Australian of the Year.

In the Queen's Birthday Honours of 9 June 1975, she was in the first group of people to be named Companions of the Order of Australia (AC). She was elevated within the Order of the British Empire from Commander to Dame Commander (DBE) in the New Year's Honours of 1979.

On 29 November 1991, the Queen bestowed on Dame Joan the Order of Merit (OM). In January 2004 she received the Australia Post Australian Legends Award which honors Australians who have contributed to the Australian identity and culture. That same year, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for her outstanding achievement throughout her career.

HIGHLY Recommended (Links to Amazon):


Puccini - Turandot / Sutherland · Pavarotti · Caball√© · Ghiaurov · Krause · Pears · LPO · MehtaSutherland-Pavarotti-Bonynge Gala Concert, Opera AustraliaDonizetti: La Fille du RegimentAlcina


Sutherland House and the Dame Joan Sutherland Centre, both at St Catherine's School, Sydney, and The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (JSPAC), Penrith, are all named in her honor.


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