Joan Sutherland

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE (7 November 1926 – 10 October 2010[1]) was an Australian dramatic coloratura soprano noted for her contribution in the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire from the late 1950s through to the 1980s. She died in Switzerland on 10th October 2010.

One of the most remarkable female opera singers of the 20th century, she was dubbed La Stupenda by a La Fenice audience in 1960 after a performance as Alcina. She possessed a voice of beauty and power, combining extraordinary agility, accurate intonation, “pin point staccatos,[2] a splendid trill and a tremendous upper register, although music critics often complained about the imprecision of her diction. Her friend Luciano Pavarotti once called Sutherland the “Voice of the Century“, while Montserrat Caballé described the Australian’s voice as being like “heaven”. Her highest note was a high F sharp in altissimo.[3]

The Great Joan Sutherland

Joan Sutherland was born in Sydney, Australia, of Scots parents, where she attended St Catherine’s School. As a child, she listened to and copied the singing exercises of her mother, a mezzo-soprano who had studied but never considered making a career. Sutherland was 18 when she started studying voice seriously with John and Aida Dickens. She made her concert debut in Sydney, as Dido in Purcell‘s Dido and Aeneas, in 1947. In 1951, she made her stage debut in Eugene Goossens‘s Judith. In 1951, after winning Australia’s most important competition, the Sun Aria, she went to London to further her studies at the Opera School of the Royal College of Music with Clive Carey. She was engaged by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as a utility soprano, and made her debut there on 28 October 1952, as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, followed in November by a few performances as Clotilde in Vincenzo Bellini‘s Norma, with Maria Callas as Norma.

From Anna Bolena 1984

During her early career, she was training to be a Wagnerian dramatic soprano, following the steps of Kirsten Flagstad, whom she greatly admired. In December 1952, she sang her first leading role at the Royal Opera House, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera. Other roles included Agathe in Der Freischütz, the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Desdemona in Otello, Gilda in Rigoletto, Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Pamina in The Magic Flute. In 1953, she sang in Benjamin Britten‘s Gloriana a few months after its world premiere, and created the role of Jennifer in Michael Tippett‘s The Midsummer Marriage, on 27 January 1955.

Sutherland married Australian conductor and pianist, Richard Bonynge, on 16 October 1954. They had a son, Adam, born in 1956. Bonynge gradually convinced her that Wagner might not be her Fach after all, since she had such great ease with high notes and coloratura, and that she should perhaps explore the bel canto repertory.

Lucia di Lammermoor 1972

In 1957, she appeared in Handel‘s Alcina with the Handel Opera Society, and in Donizetti‘s Emilia di Liverpool, in which performances her bel canto potential was clearly demonstrated, vindicating her husband’s judgement. The following year she sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in Vancouver.

Caro Nome Rigoletto 1960

In 1958, at the Royal Opera House, she “stopped the show” with “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Handel’s Samson, an exceedingly difficult and demanding aria. The crowd was on its feet for ten minutes and the show came to a stop. It was one of the most extraordinary ovations that house had seen. Her future as a diva at the Royal Opera House seemed assured afterwards.

In 1959, she was invited to sing Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House in a production conducted by Tullio Serafin and staged by Franco Zeffirelli. The role of Edgardo was sung by her fellow Australian Kenneth Neate, who had replaced the scheduled tenor at short notice.[4] It was a breakthrough for Sutherland’s career, and, upon the completion of the famous Mad Scene, she had become a star. In 1960, she recorded the album The Art of the Prima Donna, which remains today one of the most recommended opera albums ever recorded: the double LP set won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance — Vocal Soloist in 1962. The album, a collection consisting mainly of coloratura arias, provides an opportunity to listen to the young Sutherland at the beginning of her international career. It displays her seemingly effortless coloratura ability, high notes and opulent tones, as well as her exemplary trill, by which she is identified and for which she is widely admired.

With Pavaratti

By the beginning of the 1960s, Sutherland had already established a reputation as a diva with a voice out of the ordinary. She sang Lucia to great acclaim in Paris in 1960 and, in 1961, at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera. Also in 1960, she sang a superb Alcina at La Fenice, Venice, where she was nicknamed La Stupenda (“The Stunning One”). Sutherland would soon be praised as La Stupenda in newspapers around the world. Later that year (1960), Sutherland sang Alcina at the Dallas Opera, with which she made her US debut.

Her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on 26 November 1961, when she sang Lucia. After a total of 217 performances in a number of different operas, her last appearance there was on 19 December 1987, when she sang in Il trovatore. During 1978–82 period her relationship with the Met severely deteriorated when Sutherland had to decline the role of Constanze in Mozart‘s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, more than a year before the rehearsals were scheduled to start. The opera house management then declined to stage the operetta The Merry Widow especially for her, as requested; subsequently, she did not perform at the Met during that time at all, even though a production of Rossini‘s Semiramide had also been planned, but later she returned there to sing in other operas.[5]

Tosca

During the 1960s, Sutherland had added the greatest heroines of bel canto (“beautiful singing”) to her repertoire: Violetta in Verdi‘s La traviata, Amina in Bellini‘s La sonnambula and Elvira in Bellini’s I puritani in 1960; the title role in Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda in 1961; Marguerite de Valois in Meyerbeer‘s Les Huguenots and the title role in Rossini’s Semiramide in 1962; Norma in Bellini’s Norma and Cleopatra in Handel‘s Giulio Cesare in 1963. In 1966 she added Marie in Donizetti‘s La fille du régiment, which became one of her most adored roles, because of her perfect coloratura and lively, funny interpretation.

In 1965, Sutherland toured Australia with the Sutherland-Williamson Opera Company. Accompanying her was a young tenor named Luciano Pavarotti, and the tour proved to be a major milestone in Pavarotti’s career. Every performance featuring Sutherland sold out.

Singing Dvorak, “Songs My Mother Taught Me”

During the 1970s, Sutherland strove to improve her diction, which had often been criticised, and increase the expressiveness of her interpretations. She continued to add dramatic bel canto roles to her repertoire, such as Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and Lucrezia Borgia, as well as Massenet‘s extremely difficult Esclarmonde, a role that few sopranos attempt. She recorded a very successful Turandot in 1972 under the baton of Zubin Mehta, though she never performed that role on stage.

Sutherland’s early recordings show her to be possessed of a crystal-clear voice and excellent diction. However, by the early 1960s her voice lost some of this clarity in the middle register, and she often came under fire for having unclear diction. Some have attributed this to sinus surgery; however, her major sinus surgery was done in 1959, immediately after her breakthrough Lucia at Covent Garden.[6] In fact, her first commercial recording of the first and final scene of Lucia reveals her voice and diction to be just as clear as prior to the sinus procedure. Her husband Richard Bonynge stated in an interview that her “mushy diction” occurred while striving to achieve perfect legato. According to him, it is because she earlier had a very Germanic “un-legato” way of singing.[7] She clearly took the criticism to heart, as, within a few years, her diction improved markedly and she continued to amaze and thrill audiences throughout the world.

In the late 1970s, Sutherland’s voice started to decline and her vibrato loosened to an intrusive extent. However, thanks to her vocal agility and solid technique, she continued singing the most difficult roles amazingly well. During the 1980s, she added Anna Bolena, Amalia in I masnadieri and Adriana Lecouvreur to her repertoire, and repeated Esclarmonde at the Royal Opera House performances in November and December 1983. Her last performance was as Marguerite de Valois (Les Huguenots) at the Sydney Opera House in 1990, at the age of 63, where she sang Home Sweet Home for her encore. Her last public appearance, however, took place in a gala performance of Die Fledermaus on New Year’s Eve, 1990, at Covent Garden, where she was accompanied by her colleagues Luciano Pavarotti and the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.

Oh Si Les Fleurs Avaient Des Yeux

According to her own words, given in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 2002[8], her biggest achievement was to sing the title role in Esclarmonde. She considered those performances and recordings her best.

After retirement, Sutherland made relatively few public appearances, preferring a quiet life at her home in Switzerland. One exception was her 1994 address at a lunch organised by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. In that address, she complained about having to be interviewed by a clerk of Chinese or Indian background when applying to renew her Australian passport. Her comments caused controversy among some sections of the community at the time.[9][10]

Sutherland had a leading role as Mother Rudd in the 1995 comedy film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection opposite Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush.[11]

In 1997 she published an autobiography, The Autobiography of Joan Sutherland: A Prima Donna’s Progress. While it received generally scathing reviews for its literary merits,[12] it does contain a complete list of all her performances, with full cast lists.

In 2002 she appeared at a dinner in London to accept the Royal Philharmonic Society‘s gold medal, and gave an interview to The Guardian in which she lamented the lack of technique in young opera singers, and the dearth of good teachers.[8] By now, no longer giving master classes herself, she was asked why this was by Italian journalists in May 2007, replying: “Because I’m 80 years old and I really don’t want to have anything to do with opera any more, although I do sit on the juries of singing competitions.”[13] The Cardiff Singer of the World competition was the one that Sutherland was most closely associated with after her retirement. She began her regular involvement with the event in 1993, serving on the jury five consecutive times and later, in 2003, became its patron.[14]

With Marilyn Horne

On 3 July 2008, she fell and broke both of her legs while gardening at her home in Switzerland.[15] She completely recovered and attended the luncheon hosted by Her Majesty The Queen in honour of Members of the Order of Merit at Buckingham Palace in 2009. She died on 10 October 2010 at her home near Geneva, in Switzerland.[1] She had been in poor health since a fall. Her death was announced by her family on 11 October and they plan to hold a small funeral.[16][1]

From Alcina 1959

During her career and after, Sutherland received many honours and awards.

In 1961, she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[17] 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) (the order had been created only in February 1975).[18]

She was elevated within the Order of the British Empire from Commander to Dame Commander (DBE) in the New Year’s Honours of 1979.[19]

On 29 November 1991, the Queen bestowed on Dame Joan the Order of Merit (OM).[20]

In January 2004 she received the Australia Post Australian Legends Award which honours Australians who have contributed to the Australian identity and culture. Two stamps featuring Joan Sutherland were issued on Australia Day 2004 to mark the award. Later in 2004, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for her outstanding achievement throughout her career.

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 honour.[21]

Quick Bio Facts:

Joan Sutherland

Joan SutherlandBorn: 7-Nov1926 Died 10-Oct-2010

Birthplace: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer

Nationality: Australia
Executive summary: Operatic soprano

Father: McDonald Sutherland (tailor, d. 1932)
Mother: Muriel
Husband: Richard Bonynge (conductor, m. 1954, one son)
Son: Adam

University: Rathbone Academy of Dramatic Art
University: Opera School, Royal College of Music (1951-52)

Australian of the Year 1961
Commander of the British Empire 1961
Dame of the British Empire 1979
Kennedy Center Honor 2004

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

Recordings

Recordings include:

Vincenzo Bellini
  • Beatrice di Tenda — Joan Sutherland (Beatrice), Luciano Pavarotti (Orombello), Cornelius Opthof (Filippo), Josephine Veasey (Agnese), Joseph Ward (Anichino/Rizzardo), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge — Decca
  • I puritani — Joan Sutherland (Elvira), Pierre Duval (Arturo), Renato Capecchi (Riccardo), Ezio Flagello (Giorgio), Giovanni Fioiani (Gualtiero), Margreta Elkins (Enrichetta), Piero de Palma (Bruno), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Richard Bonynge (conductor) —recorded 1963— Decca 448 969-2 / Decca 467 789-2 (part of a 10-CD set) / London POCL 3965-7
  • I puritani — Joan Sutherland (Elvira), Luciano Pavarotti (Arturo), Piero Cappuccilli (Riccardo), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Giorgio), Giancarlo Luccardi (Gualtiero), Anita Caminada (Enrichetta), Renato Cazzaniga (Bruno), Chorus of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London Symphony Orchestra—Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1973, Decca
  • La sonnambula — Joan Sutherland (Amina), Nicola Monti (Elvino), Fernando Corena (Rodolfo), Sylvia Stahlman (Lisa), Margreta Elkins (Teresa), Angelo Mercuriali (Notary), Giovanni Fioiani (Alessio), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Richard Bonynge recorded 1962—Decca 00289 448 9662 6 / 000320702 / 455 823-2 — Track listing
  • La sonnambula — Joan Sutherland (Amina), Luciano Pavarotti (Elvino), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Rodolfo), Isobel Buchanan (Lisa), Della Jones (Teresa), Piero De Palma (Notaro), John Tomlinson (Alessio), National Philharmonic Orchestra, London Opera Chorus, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1980—Decca 2LH417-424
  • Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Marilyn Horne (Adalgisa), John Alexander (Pollione), Richard Cross (Oroveso), Yvonne Minton (Clotilde), Joseph Ward (Flavio), London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1964—Decca
  • Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Margreta Elkins (Adalgisa), Ronald Stevens (Pollione), Clifford Grant (Oroveso), Etela Piha (Clotilde), Trevor Brown (Flavio), Opera Australia Chorus, Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1978—DVD Arthaus Musik 100 180
  • Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Montserrat Caballé (Adalgisa), Luciano Pavarotti (Pollione), Samuel Ramey (Oroveso), Diana Montague (Clotilde), Kim Begley (Flavio), Chorus and Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1984—Decca
Georges Bizet
  • CarmenRegina Resnik (Carmen), Mario del Monaco (Don Jose), Joan Sutherland (Micaëla), Tom Krause (Escamillo), Georgette Spanellys (Frasquita), Yvonne Minton (Mercedes), Robert Geay (Zuninga), Jean Prudent (Le Dancaire), Alfred Hallet (Le Remendado), Claude Cales (Morales)
Giovanni Battista Bononcini
Léo Delibes
Gaetano Donizetti
  • Emilia di Liverpool (excerpts) / Lucia di Lammermoor (excerpts) — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Joao Gibin (Edgardo), Tullio Serafin (conductor). Recorded 26 February 1959—Myto Records MCD 91545 (Probably these are excerpts from the same performance as the Melodram recording.)
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Renato Cioni (Edgardo), Robert Merrill (Enrico), Cesare Siepi (Raimondo), Chorus & Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, John Pritchard (conductor), Decca, 1961.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Luciano Pavarotti (Edgardo), Sherrill Milnes(Enrico), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Raimondo), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Richard Bonynge, Decca, 1971.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), João Gibin (Edgardo), John Shaw (Enrico), Joseph Rouleau (Raimondo), Kenneth MacDonald (Arturo), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Robert Bowman (Normanno), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, recorded 1959—Golden Melodram GM 50024 or Giuseppe di Stefano GDS 21017 or Bella Voce BLV 107 218 (highlights). 2006 release: Royal Opera House Heritage Series ROHS 002.
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), André Turp (Edgardo), John Shaw (Enrico), Joseph Rouleau (Raimondo), Kenneth MacDonald (Arturo), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Edgar Evans (Normanno), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, John Pritchard, recorded 1961—Celestial Audio CA 345
  • Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Richard Tucker (Edgardo), Frank Guarrera (Enrico), Nicola Moscona (Raimondo), Robert Nagy (Normanno), Thelma Votipka (Alisa), Charles Anthony (Arturo), Metropolitan Opera House, Conductor: Silvio Varviso. Recorded 9 December 1961 for radio broadcasting.
  • La fille du régiment — Joan Sutherland (Marie), Luciano Pavarotti (Tonio), Monica Sinclair (La Marquise de Berkenfield), Jules Bruyère (Hortensius), Spiro Malas (Sulpice), Eric Garrett (Le Caporal), Edith Coates (La Duchesse de Crakentorp), Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Richard Bonynge. Recorded: Kingsway Hall, London, 17–28 July 1967. Original LP release: SET 372-3 (2 LPs), CD release: 414 520-2 DH2 (2 CDs).
  • L’elisir d’amore — Joan Sutherland (Adina), Luciano Pavarotti (Nemorino), Dominic Cossa (Belcore), Spiro Malas (Dulcamara), Maria Casula (Giannetta), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Recorded: Kingsway Hall, London, 12–23 January & 1–10 July 1970. Original LP release: SET 503-5 (3 LPs), CD release: 414 461-2 DH2 (2 CDs), CD re-release: 475 7514 DOR2 (2 CDs).
  • Lucrezia Borgia — Joan Sutherland (Lucrezia Borgia), Ronald Stevens (Gennaro), Margreta Elkins (Maffio Orsini), Richard Allman (Don Alfonso), Robin Donald (Jacopo Liveretto), Lyndon Terracini (Don Apostolo Gazella), Gregory Yurisich (Ascanio Petrucci), Lamberto Furlan (Oloferno Vitellozzo), Pieter Van der Stolk (Gubetta), Graeme Ewer (Rustighello), John Germain (Astolfo), Neville Grave (Un servo), Eddie Wilden (Un coppiere), Jennifer Bermingham (Principessa Negroni), Australian Opera Chorus, Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1977. VHS Video Cassette — Castle Video CV2845 (PAL); Polygram-Vidéo 070 031-3 (SECAM) Polygram 079 261-3 (PAL)
  • Lucrezia Borgia — Joan Sutherland (Lucrezia), Giacomo Aragall (Gennaro), Marilyn Horne (Orsini), Ingvar Wixell (Alfonso), London Opera Chorus, National Philarmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (conductor), Decca, 1977.
  • Maria Stuarda — Joan Sutherland (Maria), Huguette Tourangeau (Elisabeta), Luciano Pavarotti (Leicester), Roger Soyer (Talbot), Margreta Elkins (Anna), James Morris (Cecil), Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1975—Decca 00289 425 4102 / Lyrica LRC 1040/1041 — Track listing and excerpts
Charles Gounod
George Frideric Handel
  • Alcina — Joan Sutherland (Alcina), Margreta Elkins (Ruggiero), Lauris Elms (Bradamante), Richard Greager (Oronte), Narelle Davidson (Morgana), Ann-Maree McDonald (Oberto), John Wegner (Melisso), Chorus and Orchestra of Australian Opera, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1983. Celestial Audio CA 112
  • Alcina coupled with Giulio Cesare in Egitto (highlights) — Margreta Elkins (Giulio Cesare), Joan Sutherland (Cleopatra), Marilyn Horne (Cornelia), Monica Sinclair (Tolomeo), Richard Conrad (Sesto), New Symphonic Orchestra of London, Richard Bonynge—Decca 00289 433 7232 / 467063-2 / 467 067-2 — Track listing and excerpts
  • Athalia — Joan Sutherland, Emma Kirkby, Aled Jones, James Bowman, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, David Thomas, The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood (Conductor)
  • Messiah — Joan Sutherland, Grace Bumbry, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult (Conductor)—Decca 433 003-2
  • Rodelinda — Alfred Hallett (Grimoaldo), Raimund Herincx (Garibaldo), Joan Sutherland (Rodelinda), Dame Janet Baker (Eduige), Margreta Elkins (Bertarido), Patricia Kern (Unolfo), Chandos Singers, Philomusica Antiqua Orchestra, Charles Farncombe. An English language version, recorded live on June 24, 1959—Opera D’oro OPD 1189 (2 CDs) or Memories HR 4577–4578 or Living Stage LS 403 35147 (highlights).
  • Rodelinda — Joan Sutherland (Rodelinda), Huguette Tourangeau (Bertarido), Eric Tappy (Grimoaldo), Margreta Elkins (Eduige), Cora Canne-Meijer (Unolfo), Pieter Van Den Berg (Garibaldo), Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Recorded 30 June 1973—Bella Voce BLV 10 7206.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Jacques Offenbach
  • Les contes d’Hoffmann — Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, Gabriel Bacquier, , L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande,Orchestre du Radio de la Suisse Romande, Pro Arte de Lausanne, Andre Charlet, Richard Bonynge, studio recording made at Victoria Hall, Geneva, first published in 1976.
Giacomo Puccini
Gioachino Rossini
  • Semiramide — Joan Sutherland (Semiramide), John Serge (Idreno), Joseph Rouleau (Assur), Spiro Malas (Oroe), Patricia Clark (Azema), Leslie Fyson (Mitrane), Michael Langdon (Spectre of Nino), Marilyn Horne (Arsace), London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Decca 425 481-2, recorded in 1966.
Ambroise Thomas
  • Hamlet — Joan Sutherland, Gösta Winbergh, James Morris, Sheril Milnes, Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera. Decca, 433 857-2.
Giuseppe Verdi
Richard Wagner
  • Siegfried — Joan Sutherland as the Woodbird, Vienna Philharmonic (Sir Georg Solti) 1962 recording, London 414 110-2
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1 Comment

  1. An amazing performer who will be missed greatly. My favorite recording of hers is with her playing Violetta in La Traviata with Pavarotti. An amazing performance, I wish I had seen. Thanks Paul for remembering her today.


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