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Joan Sutherland, 83

available at Amazon
The Art of the Prima Donna
Joan Sutherland

available at Amazon
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor
J. Sutherland, R. Bonynge
Australian-born soprano Joan Sutherland died last night in Switzerland at the age of 83, and with her passing one of the vocal luminaries of the 20th century has been extinguished. The expectations of these ears were formed by her outstanding interpretations of countless soprano roles, which earned her the nickname "La Stupenda" with her devoted fans, probably to my detriment as far as ever finding her equal in many of them. We remember her, of course, for those extraordinary studio sets of Verdi and Italian bel canto composers: few will ever surpass her Lucia (prima inter pares), Norma, Anna Bolena, Amina, Elvira, Lucrezia Borgia, Marie, Turandot, Gilda, or Ophélie.

We remember her even more fondly for the roles she helped uncover, with the help of her husband, conductor and musicologist Richard Bonynge. From Dido and Alcina to Beatrice di Tenda and many others, she helped expand the idea of what a mainstream opera singer could be expected to sing. None was more unforgettable than their recording of Massenet's Esclarmonde, which La Sutherland reportedly held as her favorite recording of all that she had made -- listen to her rendition of the show-stopping invocation scene from that opera in the clip embedded below. Yes, her diction could be execrable and her stage presence horsey, but when she opened her mouth that voice -- a wall of puissant sound that was executed with generally faultless technique -- made most listeners forget everything else. In paradisum deducant te angeli, Dame Joan.

Other Articles:
  • 2002 interview with Martin Kettle, The Guardian
  • Obituary by Anthony Tommasini, New York Times
  • 1966 interview with Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times ("With Callas the drama comes first. With Sutherland, it is the music.")
"Esprits de l'air!" from Massenet's Esclarmonde, Joan Sutherland

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