Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, OM, AC, DBE (born 7 November 1926) is an Australian dramatic coloratura soprano noted for her contribution in the renaissance of the bel canto repertoire in the late 1950s and 1960s.
One of the most remarkable female opera singers of the 20th century, she was dubbed La Stupenda by a La Fenice audience in 1960 after an Alcina performance. She possessed a voice of beauty and power, combining extraordinary agility, accurate intonation, a splendid trill and a tremendous upper register, although music critics often complained about the imprecision of her diction. Her friend Luciano Pavarotti once called Sutherland the "Voice of the Century", while Montserrat Caballé described the Australian's voice as being like "heaven".
Early life and career
Joan Sutherland was born in Sydney, Australia, where she attended school. She began training her voice as a child with her mother, a mezzo-soprano who had given up her career, and with whom she learned singing by listening to recordings. Sutherland was 18 when she started studying voice seriously with John and Aida Dickens. She made her stage debut in Sydney, as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Æneas, in 1947. In 1951, after winning Australia's most important competition, the Sun Aria, she went to London to further her studies at the Opera School of the Royal College of Music with Clive Carey. In 1951, she made her London debut in Eugène Goossens's Judith. She was engaged by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as a utility soprano, and made her debut there on 28 October 1952, as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, followed in November by a few performances as Clotilde in Bellini's Norma, with Maria Callas as Norma.
During her early career, she was training to be a Wagnerian dramatic soprano, following the steps of Kirsten Flagstad, whom she greatly admired. In 1953, she sang her first leading role at the Royal Opera House, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, other roles included Agathe in Der Freischütz, the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Desdemona in Otello, Gilda in Rigoletto, Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Pamina in The Magic Flute. In 1953, she sang in the world premiere of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana, and created the role of Jennifer in Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, on 27 January 1955.
Sutherland married Australian conductor and pianist, Richard Bonynge, on 16 October 1954. They had a son, Adam, born in 1956. Bonynge gradually convinced her that Wagner may not be her Fach after all, since she had such great ease with high notes and coloratura, and that she should perhaps explore the bel canto repertory.
In 1957, she appeared in Handel's Alcina with the Handel Opera Society, and in Donizetti's Emilia di Liverpool, in which performances her bel canto potential was clearly demonstrated, vindicating her husband's judgement.
In 1959, she was invited to sing Lucia di Lammermoor
at the Royal Opera House
in a production conducted by Tullio Serafin
and staged by Franco Zeffirelli
. It was a breakthrough for Sutherland's career, and, upon the completion of the famous Mad Scene, she had become a star. 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 a Grammy Award
the following year. The album, a collection consisting mainly of coloratura arias, provides an opportunity to listen to the young Sutherland at the beginning of her international career. It displays her seemingly effortless coloratura ability, high notes and opulent tones, as well as her exemplary trill, which she is identified by and for which she is widely admired.
By the beginning of the 1960s, Sutherland had already established a reputation as a diva with a voice out of the ordinary. She sang Lucia to great acclaim in Paris in 1960 and, in 1961, at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera. Also in 1960, she sang a superb Alcina at La Fenice, Venice, where she was nicknamed La Stupenda ("The Stupendous One"). Sutherland would soon be praised as La Stupenda in newspapers around the world. Later that year (1960), Sutherland sang Alcina at the Dallas Opera, with which she made her US debut.
Her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on 26 November 1961, when she sang Lucia. After a total of 217 performances in a number of different operas, her last appearance there was on 19 December 1987, when she sang in Il trovatore. During 1978–82 period her relationship with the Met severely deteriorated when the company declined to stage the operetta The Merry Widow especially for her, as requested; subsequently, she did not perform at the Met during that time, but later returned there to sing in other operas, triumphally.
During the 1960s, Sutherland had added the greatest heroines of bel canto ("beautiful singing") to her repertoire: Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata, Amina in Bellini's La Sonnambula and Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani in 1960; Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda in 1961; Marguerite de Valois in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots and Semiramide in Rossini's Semiramide in 1962; Norma in Bellini's Norma and Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare in 1963. She later added Marie in Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, which became one of her most adored roles, because of her perfect coloratura and lively, funny interpretation.
In 1965, Sutherland 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.
During the 1970s, Sutherland strove to improve her diction and increase the expressiveness of her voice. She continued to add dramatic bel canto roles to her repertoire, such as Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Lucrezia Borgia, as well as Massenet's extremely difficult Esclarmonde, a role that few sopranos attempt. She even recorded a successful Turandot in 1972 under the baton of Zubin Mehta, though she wisely never performed that taxing, heroic role on stage.
Sutherland's early recordings show her to be possessed of a crystal-clear voice and excellent diction. However, by the early 1960s her voice lost some of this clarity in the middle register, and she often came under fire for having extremely poor diction. Some have attributed this to sinus surgery; however, her major sinus surgery was done in 1959, immediately after her breakthrough Lucia at Covent Garden. In fact, her first commercial recording of the first and final scene of Lucia reveals her voice and diction to be just as clear as prior to the sinus procedure. Her husband, Richard Bonynge stated in an interview that her "mushy diction" occurred while striving to achieve perfect legato. According to him, it is because she earlier had a very Germanic "un-legato" way of singing. She clearly took the criticism to heart, as, within a few years, her diction improved markedly and she continued to amaze and thrill audiences throughout the world.
In the late 1970s, Sutherland's voice started to decline and her vibrato loosened to an intrusive extent. However, thanks to her vocal agility and solid technique, she continued singing the most difficult roles amazingly well. During the 1980s, she added Anna Bolena, Amelia in I masnadieri and Adriana Lecouvreur to her repertoire, and repeated successfully Esclarmonde at The Royal Opera House performances in November and December 1983. Her last performance was as Marguerite de Valois (Les Huguenots) at the Sydney Opera House in 1990, at the age of 64. Her last public appearance, however, took place in a gala performance of Die Fledermaus on New Year's Eve, 1990, at Covent Garden, where she was accompanied by her colleagues Pavarotti and the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.
According to her own words, given in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 2002, her biggest achievement was to sing the title role in Esclarmonde. She considers those performances and recordings made as her best, being particularly fond of love duets.
Since her retirement, she has made relatively few public appearances, preferring a quiet life at her home in Montreux
. One exception was her 1994 address at a lunch organised by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy
. In that address, she complained at having to be interviewed by a clerk of Chinese or Indian background when applying to renew her Australian passport. Her comments caused considerable controversy at the time, and she has since publicly apologized for the remarks.
In 1997 she published an autobiography A Prima Donna's Progress. While it received generally scathing reviews for its literary merits, it does contain a complete list of all her performances, with full cast lists.
In 2002 she appeared at a dinner in London to accept the Royal Philharmonic Society's gold medal, and gave an interview to The Guardian in which she lamented the lack of technique in young opera singers, and the dearth of good teachers. She no longer gives master classes herself and when asked why by Italian journalists in May 2007, she replied: "Because I'm 80 years old and I really don't want to have anything to do with opera anymore, although I do sit on the juries of singing competitions. The competition that Sutherland has been most closely associated with since her retirement is the Cardiff Singer of the World. She began her regular involvement in the competition in 1993, serving on the jury five consecutive times and later, in 2003, became its patron.
On , she suffered a fall while gardening at her home in Switzerland. As a result, Dame Joan broke both of her legs, but remains in stable condition.
Honours and awards
During her career and after, Sutherland received many honours and awards. In 1961, Sutherland was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire
. She also won an Australian of the Year award in 1961. On , Dame Joan was made a Companion of the Order of Australia
. She was further elevated from Commander to Dame Commander on . On , the Queen
bestowed on Dame Joan the Order of Merit
, one of Britain and Australia's highest honours and within the Queen's personal gift.
In 2004, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for her outstanding achievement throughout her career. In January of that year she also received the Australia Post Australian Legends Award which honours Australians who have contributed to the Australian identity and culture. Two stamps featuring Joan Sutherland were issued on Australia Day 2004 to mark the award.
Both Sutherland House at St Catherine's School, Sydney, and The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (JSPAC), Penrith, are named in honour of her.
Recordings include:Vincenzo Bellini
- Beatrice di Tenda — Joan Sutherland (Beatrice), Luciano Pavarotti (Orombello), Cornelius Opthof (Filippo), Josephine Veasey (Agnese), Joseph Ward (Anichino/Rizzardo), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge — Decca
- I puritani — Joan Sutherland (Elvira), Pierre Duval (Arturo), Renato Capecchi (Riccardo), Ezio Flagello (Giorgio), Giovanni Fioiani (Gualtiero), Margreta Elkins (Enrichetta), Piero de Palma (Bruno), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Richard Bonynge (conductor) —recorded 1963— Decca 448 969-2 / Decca 467 789-2 (part of a 10-CD set) / London POCL 3965-7
- I puritani — Joan Sutherland (Elvira), Luciano Pavarotti (Arturo), Piero Cappuccilli (Riccardo), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Giorgio), Giancarlo Luccardi (Gualtiero), Anita Caminada (Enrichetta), Renato Cazzaniga (Bruno), Chorus of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London Symphony Orchestra—Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1973, DECCA
- La sonnambula — Joan Sutherland (Amina), Nicola Monti (Elvino), Fernando Corena (Rodolfo), Sylvia Stahlman (Lisa), Margreta Elkins (Teresa), Angelo Mercuriali (Notary), Giovanni Fioiani (Alessio), Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Richard Bonynge recorded 1962—Decca 00289 448 9662 6 / 000320702 / 455 823-2 — Track listing
- La sonnambula — Joan Sutherland (Amina), Luciano Pavarotti (Elvino), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Rodolfo), Isobel Buchanan (Lisa), Della Jones (Teresa), Piero De Palma (Notaro), John Tomlinson (Alessio), National Philharmonic Orchestra, London Opera Chorus, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1980—Decca
- Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Marilyn Horne (Adalgisa), John Alexander (Pollione), Richard Cross (Oroveso), Yvonne Minton (Clotilde), Joseph Ward (Flavio), London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1964—DECCA
- Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Margreta Elkins (Adalgisa), Ronald Stevens (Pollione), Clifford Grant (Oroveso), Etela Piha (Clotilde), Trevor Brown (Flavio), Opera Australia Chorus, Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1978—DVD Arthaus Musik 100 180
- Norma — Joan Sutherland (Norma), Montserrat Caballé (Adalgisa), Luciano Pavarotti (Pollione), Samuel Ramey (Oroveso), Diana Montague (Clotilde), Kim Begley (Flavio), Chorus and Orchesta of the Welsh National Opera, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1984—DeccaGeorges Bizet
- Carmen — Regina Resnik (Carmen), Mario del Monaco (Don Jose), Joan Sutherland (Micaëla), Tom Krause (Escamillo), Georgette Spanellys (Frasquita), Yvonne Minton (Mercedes), Robert Geay (Zuninga), Jean Prudent (Le Dancaire), Alfred Hallet (Le Remendado), Claude Cales (Morales)Giovanni Battista Bononcini
- Griselda — Joan Sutherland (Griselda), Lauris Elms (Ernesto), Monica Sinclair (Gualtiero), Margreta Elkins (Almirena), Spiro Malas (Rambaldo), Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1967. Decca 448 977-2 (coupled with Montezuma)Léo Delibes
- Lakmé — Joan Sutherland (Lakmé), Gabriel Bacquier (Nilakantha), Jane Berbié (Malika), Émile Belcourt (Hadji), Alain Vanzo (Gérald), Monte Carlo Opera Chorus, Orchestre National de l'Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Richard Bonynge, Recorded 1968, Decca Records.Gaetano Donizetti
- Emilia di Liverpool (excerpts) / Lucia di Lammermoor (excerpts) — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Joao Gibin (Edgardo), Tullio Serafin (conductor). Recorded 26 February 1959—Myto Records MCD 91545 (Probably these are excerpts from the same performance as the Melodram recording.)
- Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), João Gibin (Edgardo), John Shaw (Enrico), Joseph Rouleau (Raimondo), Kenneth MacDonald (Arturo), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Robert Bowman (Normanno), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, recorded 1959—Golden Melodram GM 50024 or Giuseppe di Stefano GDS 21017 or Bella Voce BLV 107 218 (highlights). 2006 release: Royal Opera House Heritage Series ROHS 002.
- Lucia di Lammermoor — Joan Sutherland (Lucia), André Turp (Edgardo), John Shaw (Enrico), Joseph Rouleau (Raimondo), Kenneth MacDonald (Arturo), Margreta Elkins (Alisa), Edgar Evans (Normanno), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, John Pritchard, recorded 1961—Celestial Audio CA 345
- Lucia di Lammermoor - Joan Sutherland (Lucia), Richard Tucker (Edgardo), Frank Guarrera (Enrico), Nicola Moscona (Raimondo), Robert Nagy (Normanno), Thelma Votipka (Alisa), Charles Anthony (Arturo), Metropolitan Opera House, Conductor: Silvio Varviso. Recorded 9 December 1961 for radio broadcasting.
- Lucrezia Borgia — Joan Sutherland (Lucrezia Borgia), Ronald Stevens (Gennaro), Margreta Elkins (Maffio Orsini), Richard Allman (Don Alfonso), Robin Donald (Jacopo Liveretto), Lyndon Terracini (Don Apostolo Gazella), Gregory Yurisich (Ascanio Petrucci), Lamberto Furlan (Oloferno Vitellozzo), Pieter Van der Stolk (Gubetta), Graeme Ewer (Rustighello), John Germain (Astolfo), Neville Grave (Un servo), Eddie Wilden (Un coppiere), Jennifer Bermingham (Principessa Negroni), Australian Opera Chorus, Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1977. VHS Video Cassette — Castle Video CV2845 (PAL); Polygram-Vidéo 070 031-3 (SECAM) Polygram 079 261-3 (PAL)
- Maria Stuarda — Joan Sutherland (Maria), Huguette Tourangeau (Elisabeta), Luciano Pavarotti (Leicester), Roger Soyer (Talbot), Margreta Elkins (Anna), James Morris (Cecil), Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1975—Decca 00289 425 4102 / Lyrica LRC 1040/1041 — Track listing and excerptsCharles Gounod
- Faust — Joan Sutherland (Marguerite), Franco Corelli (Faust), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Méphistophélès), Robert Massard (Valentin), Margreta Elkins (Siébel), Monica Sinclair (Marthe ), Raymond Myers (Wagner), Ambrosian Opera Chorus and Highgate School Choir, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, Decca 0289 4705632 4 (2002 release) / 421 240-2 (1991 release) / 467 059-2 / London POCL 3962-4 Track listing and audio samplesGeorge Frideric Handel
- Alcina — Joan Sutherland (Alcina), Margreta Elkins (Ruggiero), Lauris Elms (Bradamante), Richard Greager (Oronte), Narelle Davidson (Morgana), Ann-Maree McDonald (Oberto), John Wegner (Melisso), Chorus and Orchestra of Australian Opera, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1983. Celestial Audio CA 112
- Alcina coupled with Giulio Cesare in Egitto (highlights) — Margreta Elkins (Giulio Cesare), Joan Sutherland (Cleopatra), Marilyn Horne (Cornelia), Monica Sinclair (Tolomeo), Richard Conrad (Sesto), New Symphonic Orchestra of London, Richard Bonynge—Decca 00289 433 7232 / 467063-2 / 467 067-2 — Track listing and excerpts
- Messiah — Joan Sutherland, Grace Bumbry, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult (Conductor)—Decca 433 003-2
- Rodelinda — Alfred Hallett (Grimoaldo), Raimund Herincx (Garibaldo), Joan Sutherland (Rodelinda), Dame Janet Baker (Eduige), Margreta Elkins (Bertarido), Patricia Kern (Unolfo), Chandos Singers, Philomusica Antiqua Orchestra, Charles Farncombe. An English language version, recorded live on June 24, 1959—Opera D'oro OPD 1189 (2 CDs) or Memories HR 4577–4578 or Living Stage LS 403 35147 (highlights).
- Rodelinda — Joan Sutherland (Rodelinda), Huguette Tourangeau (Bertarido), Eric Tappy (Grimoaldo), Margreta Elkins (Eduige), Cora Canne-Meijer (Unolfo), Pieter Van Den Berg (Garibaldo), Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Recorded —Bella Voce BLV 10 7206.Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Idomeneo — Sergei Baigildin (Idomeneo), Margreta Elkins (Idamante), Henri Wilden (Arbace), Leona Mitchell (Ilia), Joan Sutherland (Elettra), Australian Opera Chorus, Sydney Elizabethan Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, recorded 1979. Gala GLH 826 (highlights) and Celestial Audio CA 060 (highlights)
- Don Giovanni — Gottlob Frick (Commendatore), Luigi Alva (Don Ottavio), Graziella Sciutti (Zerlina), Joan Sutherland (Donna Anna), Piero Cappuccilli (Masetto), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Elvira), Eberhard Wächter (Don Giovanni), Heinrich Schmidt, Giuseppe Taddei (Leporello), London Philharmonia Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini. Recorded 1959—EMI 0724356787353
- Don Giovanni — Gabriel Bacquier (Don Giovanni), Pilar Lorengar (Donna Elvira), Marilyn Horne (Zerlina), Joan Sutherland (Donna Anna), English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Decca 448 973-2Giacomo Meyerbeer
- Les Huguenots — Dominic Cossa (Nevers), Gabriel Bacquier (Saint-Bris), Nicolai Ghiuselev (Marcel), John Wakefield (Tavannes), Joseph Ward (Cossé), John Noble (Thoré), Glynne Thomas (Retz), John Gibbs (Meru), Clifford Grant (Maurevert), Janet Coster (Léonard), Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (1st Maid of Honour), Josephte Clement (2nd Maid of Honour), Arleen Auger (1st Gypsy Girl), Maureen Lehane (2nd Gypsy Girl), Joan Sutherland (Marguerite de Valois), Martina Arroyo (Valentine), Huguette Tourangeau (Urbain), Anastasios Vrenios (Raoul de Nangis), Alan Opie (2nd Monk), NPO, Bonynge. Decca 430 549-2, recorded in 1969.Jacques Offenbach
- Les contes d'Hoffmann — Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, Gabriel Bacquier, , L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande,Orchestre du Radio de la Suisse Romande, Pro Arte de Lausanne, Andre Charlet, Richard Bonynge, studio recording made at Victoria Hall, Geneva, first published in 1976.Giacomo Puccini
- Suor Angelica — Joan Sutherland (Angelica), Christa Ludwig (La Zia Principessa), National Phiharmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Decca 475 6531 (coupled with Leoni's "L'oracolo")
- Turandot — Joan Sutherland (Turandot), Luciano Pavarotti (Calaf), Montserrat Caballe (Liu), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Timur), Peter Pears (Emperor), London Phiharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta. Decca 414 274-2, recorded in 1972.Gioachino Rossini
- Semiramide — Joan Sutherland (Semiramide), John Serge (Idreno), Joseph Rouleau (Assur), Spiro Malas (Oroe), Patricia Clark (Azema), Leslie Fyson (Mitrane), Michael Langdon (Spectre of Nino), Marilyn Horne (Arsace), London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. Decca 425 481-2, recorded in 1966.Ambroise Thomas
- Hamlet — Joan Sutherland, Gösta Winbergh, James Morris, Sheril Milnes, Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera. Decca, 433 857-2.Giuseppe Verdi
- Requiem — Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, Martti Talvela, Vienna State Opera Chorus and Vienna Philharmonic (Sir Georg Solti). Decca 411 944-2
- La traviata — Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Matteo Manuguerra, National Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Bonynge. London 430 491-2 recorded in 1981.Richard Wagner
- Siegfried — Joan Sutherland as the Woodbird, Vienna Philharmonic (Sir Georg Solti) 1962 recording, London 414 110-2
- Norma Major Joan Sutherland: The Authorized Biography Queen Anne P, 1987, ISBN 0-35612-693-5, ISBN 978-0356126937 / Little Brown & Co, 1994, ISBN 0-31654-555-4, ISBN 978-0316545556
- The Autobiography of Joan Sutherland — A prima donna's progress Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997, ISBN 0297813218