Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE, the Australian dramatic coloratura soprano, who died on October 10th, possessed a voice 'like heaven' - beautiful, powerful, radiant, stupendous. Born to Scottish parents in Sydney in 1926, she was eighteen years old when she began seriously studying voice. Her mother, who also sang, encouraged her. Joan made her concert debut in Sydney, in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 1947. She went on to win Australia's most important opera competition, the Sun Aria, and left for London to further her studies. Early in the 1950s the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, engaged her as a utility soprano. Her career might have ended there.
Instead, her husband, the Australian conductor Richard Bonynge, whom she married in 1954, persuaded her to explore the bel canto repertoire. In 1956 she gave birth to their son, Adam. In 1959 the 33-year-old with the lovely mass of red hair transfixed world operatic stages with her Mad Scene in Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor.
In 1961 she sang Se un'urna è a me concessa / Ah! la morte a cui m'appresso from Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda. This is why my father and a million other opera lovers loved to hear her sing.
'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 for Best Classical Performance, Vocal Soloist in 1962. The album, a collection consisting mainly of coloratura arias, displays her seemingly effortless coloratura ability, high notes and opulent tones, as well as her exemplary trill' (Wikipedia).
Jay Nordlinger writes -
When Joan Sutherland became 'the toast of the world,' she had some recitals already booked in America — just small gigs, for $2,000 a pop, something like that. Sutherland could have said. . .'Gee, I can’t come now, because I’m the toast of the world.' Instead, she did the right thing — and kept her agreements.
Dedicated, diligent, determined to please her audiences, she never rested on her laurels, never stopped learning and never stopped working to improve her singing.
During the 1960s, Sutherland added the greatest heroines of bel canto to her repertoire: Violetta in Verdi's La Travia; Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula; Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani; Marguerite de Valois in Meyerbeer's Les huguenots; Norma in Bellini's Norma; and Cleopatra in Hadel's Giulio Cesare. In 1966 she added Marie in Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, which became one of her most popular roles, because of her perfect coloratura and lively, funny interpretation.Here they are in 1965 -
In 1965, she 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.
So heartbreakingly beautiful I can't help closing my eyes. (The music does not end after the first applause.)
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. . .With Pavarotti she made a very successful studio-recording of Turandot in 1972.
. . .She sang more than 200 performances at the Met. . . .Her last full-length dramatic performance was as Marguerite de Valois at the Sydney Opera House in 1990, at the age of 63, when she sang Home Sweet Home for her encore. In retirement she was most closely associated with the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.
A charming Spanish tribute includes Richard Bonynge on the piano. They were always a team -
Ave atque Vale.