Opera World Mourns La Stupenda: Joan Sutherland Dies At 83

Pick up a slightly older opera recording and there is a strong likelihood that Joan Sutherland is part of the cast.  Considered by many as one of the great sopranos of the twentieth century, Sutherland earned the title “La Stupenda” by critics.

Fellow colleague and friend, Marilyn Horne, confirmed the opera singer’s passing on Sunday, October 10 at her home in Switzerland at the age of 83.

Sutherland made several appearances at Lyric Opera. The Chicago Sun-Times reported the following:

Although her primary U.S. house was the Metropolitan in New York, she performed major roles at Lyric Opera of Chicago over a quarter century, making her debut with the company in 1961 at 34 in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” opposite both the tenors Richard Tucker and Carlo Bergonzi. She did not return to Lyric for 10 years, until a major 1971 presentation of Rossini’s “Semiramide” with her longtime friend and colleague, mezzo Marilyn Horne. It also marked Lyric’s first live opening-night radio broadcast, over WFMT-FM (98.7).

Two other big Chicago engagements followed quickly: Miss Sutherland took the lead role in Lyric’s first performances of Donizetti’s comedy “The Daughter of the Regiment,” with an all-star cast in 1973, and a revival of her Lucia, this time opposite her frequent performance partner, Luciano Pavarotti, in 1975.

Another 10 years passed before her last return in 1985, when Lyric gave her something that even the Met would not: a company premiere and a new production of a connoisseurs’ work by Donizetti, his “Anna Bolena.” Miss Sutherland turned 59 during the three-week run and sang with undiminished vocal power and ability.

In October 28, 1952, she made her debut at Covent Garden as the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte.  She made her U.S. debut in 1960 in the American premiere of Handel’s “Alcina” at the Dallas Opera, a company directed by two of the original founders of Lyric. Her Met debut, as Lucia, followed a year later. About her first appearance at the Met, the New York Times wrote:

At Ms. Sutherland’s first appearance, before she had sung a note, there was an enthusiastic ovation. Following the first half of Lucia’s Mad Scene in the final act, which culminated in a glorious high E-flat, the ovation lasted almost 5 minutes. When she finished the scene and her crazed, dying Lucia collapsed to the stage floor, the ovation lasted 12 minutes.

Reviewing the performance in The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg wrote that other sopranos might have more power or a sweeter tone, but “there is none around who has the combination of technique, vocal security, clarity and finesse that Miss Sutherland can summon.”

Sutherland was especially loved by the British.  In 1961 she was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire.   The following decade, in 1979, Sutherland was named Dame Commander during the Queen’s New Year’s Honors.

For additional information, Opera News and the New York Times additional historical information about the opera star’s history and influence.  The Huffington Post also has a collection of greatest hits videos.

For information about available recordings, visit Amazon.

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