Monday, October 11, 2010

RIP: La Stupenda. Joan Sutherland, 1926 - 2010

I remember seeing her in Lakmé. The reviewer was not kind about her costume; I think it was referred to a Christmas tree with reindeer horns or something like that. But when she and Marilyn Horne sang their duet, their honeyed tones could have melted the iciest heart. I know that it melted mine. I always had a fondness for cheesy operas set in exotic places and Joan may have looked like a Valkyrie but she sang like an divine angel.

From her Violetta to Marie in The Daughter of the regiment, her voice is the only one in that range that I return to time and time again. There was a warmth and lower register that kept her from the shrillness that besets so many coloratura voices. When I was young and going to boarding school in the UK, I saw her a number of times. I was lucky that my music teacher shared her love of opera and was willing to chaperon us to the theater. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have been allowed to go. I think that I put her in the pantheon of Goddesses of the Opera at a very young age and never saw any reason to change my mind.

I saw her only once in the US. When she came to SF, I hocked my jewelry to buy a ticket to see her sing Leonara in Il Trovatore. I have never regretted it.

I've now lived long enough to say that I've seen several of the great opera singers of our generation, starting with Maria Callas. Callas had more drama and fire but oh, Joan had that range. When she tripped off those high notes, you could not believe that a human voice could accomplish such bell-like clarity and tone.

Joan Sutherland, soprano: born Sydney, Australia 7 November 1926; CBE 1961, DBE 1979, OM 1991; married 1954 Richard Bonynge (one son); died near Geneva, Switzerland 11 October 2010.

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