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Monday, October 11, 2010

Joan Sutherland: International Diva, Dies at 83

Joan Sutherland
La Stupenda has left us.

Dame Joan Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE died in Switzerland on Monday morning. She was 83.

Dame Joan was known for a stunning vocal technique that ranged easily from a low G to the starry reaches above high C, peaking at an altissimo F sharp. Her repertory included the three Donizetti "Queens" (Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I and Anna Bolena), the Druid priestess Norma and the scheming queen Semiramide. But her most famous role was the title character in Donizetti's most famous tragic opera, Lucia di Lammermoor.

Like the bride of Lammermoor, Ms. Sutherland was of Scottish ancestry. She grew up in Sydney, and started studying voice seriously at the age of 18. She made her concert debut in 1947, and first appeared onstage in 1950. She established a reputation at the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden, making Lucia her signature role. The famous nickname "La Stupenda" was bestowed by an appreciative Italian audience after an appearance at La Fenice in 1960.

Along with her contemporary and rival Maria Callas, Ms. Sutherland was instrumental in bringing the bel canto repertory back to the eas of the public. The blossoming of her career coincided with the rise of the recording industry, and she recorded much of the repertory of Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.

Decca Records frequently paired her with her longtime husband, conductor Richard Bonynge. The couple's many recordings also featured a young tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Dame Joan recorded difficult roles such as Esclarmonde and Turandot, although she never sang the latter part onstage. Finally, she was the Forest Bird on the Vienna/Georg Solti recording of Siegfried, a small but crucial part of the first complete commercial recording of Wagner's Ring.

Although she suffered a vocal decline in the 1970s and '80s, Dame Joan Sutherland continued to make records, appear live, and give concerts. She san her last onstage role in 1990 at the Sydney Opera House, appearing as Queen Marguerite in Meyerbeer's epic Les Huguenots. Her farewell appearance was at Covent Garden, at a gala performance of Strauss' Die Fledermaus with her colleagues: Mr. Pavarotti and mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.

Ms. Sutherland had been in ill health after a fall earlier this year. Her family has planned to have a small, private funeral. 

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.