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 from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.
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".
Joan Sutherland was born in Sydney, Australia, of Scots parents, where she attended St Catherine's School. As a child, she listened to and copied the singing exercises of her mother, a mezzo-soprano who had studied but never considered making a career. Sutherland was 18 when she started studying voice seriously with John and Aida Dickens. She made her concert debut in Sydney, as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, in 1947. In 1951, she made her stage debut in Eugene Goossens's Judith. 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. 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 Vincenzo 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 December 1952, 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, 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 might 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. The following year she sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in Vancouver.
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. The role of Edgardo was sung by her fellow Australian Kenneth Neate, who had replaced the scheduled tenor at short notice. 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 the Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance — Vocal Soloist in 1962. 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 Sutherland had to decline the role of Constanze in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, more than a year before the rehearsals were scheduled to start. The opera house management then declined to stage the operetta The Merry Widow especially for her, as requested; subsequently, she did not perform at the Met during that time at all, even though a production of Rossini's Semiramide had also been planned, but later she returned there to sing in other operas.
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; the title role in Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda in 1961; Marguerite de Valois in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots and the title role in Rossini's Semiramide in 1962; Norma in Bellini's Norma and Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare in 1963. In 1966 she 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, which had often been criticised, and increase the expressiveness of her interpretations. 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 recorded a very successful Turandot in 1972 under the baton of Zubin Mehta, though she never performed that 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 unclear 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, Amalia in I masnadieri and Adriana Lecouvreur to her repertoire, and repeated 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 63. 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 Luciano 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 the love duets.
Since her retirement, Sutherland has made relatively few public appearances, preferring a quiet life at her home in Switzerland. 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 controversy among some sections of the community at the time.
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 any more, 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 3 July 2008, she fell and broke both of her legs while gardening at her home in Switzerland.
During her career and after, Sutherland received many honours and awards.
She was elevated within the Order of the British Empire from Commander to Dame Commander (DBE) in the New Year's Honours of 1979.
In January 2004 she 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. Later in 2004, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for her outstanding achievement throughout her career.
Joan Sutherland performed live the following complete roles.
|Jun-1947||Handel||Acis and Galatea||Galatea||Eastwood Masonic Hall||Concert performance|
|Aug-1947||Purcell||Dido and Aeneas||Dido||Lyceum Club, Sydney||Concert performance|
|15-Jul-1950||Handel||Samson||Dalila and Israelite woman||Sydney Town Hall||Concert performance; Sutherland made her professional role debut as the Israelite woman on 14 October 1958|
|09-Jul-1951||Goossens||Judith||Judith||Sydney Conservatorium of Music||Goossens||Sutherland's first complete staged opera|
|16-Jul-1952||Puccini||Il tabarro||Giorgetta||Parry Theatre, RCM||Richard Austin||Peter Rice/Pauline Elliot|
|28-Oct-1952||Mozart||The Magic Flute||First lady||ROH, Covent Garden||Pritchard||Messel||Sutherland's professional debut|
|03-Nov-1952||Verdi||Aida||High Priestess||ROH, Covent Garden||Barbirolli||Cruddas|
|08-Nov-1952||Bellini||Norma||Clotilde||ROH, Covent Garden||Gui||Barlow|
|29-Dec-1952||Verdi||Un ballo in maschera||Amelia||ROH, Covent Garden||Pritchard||Barlow/Stone||Sutherland's first leading role|
|24-Feb-1953||Mozart||The Marriage of Figaro||Countess Almaviva||ROH tour, Edinburgh||J Gibson||Gerard|
|13-May-1953||Strauss||Elektra||Overseer||ROH, Covent Garden||Kleiber||Lambert|
|11-Aug-1953||Britten||Gloriana||Lady Rich||ROH tour, Bulawayo|
|19-Oct-1953||Wagner||Die Walküre||Helwige||ROH, Covent Garden||Stiedry||Pemberton|
|02-Nov-1953||Bizet||Carmen||Frasquita||ROH, Covent Garden||Pritchard||Wakhévitch|
|04-Feb-1954||Verdi||Aida||Aida||ROH, Covent Garden||E Young||Cruddas|
|23-Mar-1954||Weber||Der Freischütz||Agathe||ROH, Covent Garden||Downes||Furse|
|30-Apr-1954||Piccinni||La buona figliuola||Lucinda||Mackerras||BBC radio broadcast|
|27-May-1954||Wagner||Der Ring des Nibelungen||Woglinde and Woodbird||ROH, Covent Garden||Stiedry||Hurry||Sutherland also sang the role of Helmwige, which she had sung previously; the other dates of the cycle were 2, 8, and 17 June|
|17-Nov-1954||Offenbach||Les contes d'Hoffmann||Antonia||ROH, Covent Garden||Downes||Wakhévitch|
|27-Jan-1955||Tippett||The Midsummer Marriage||Jenifer||ROH, Covent Garden||Pritchard||Hepworth||World premiere; Sutherland created the role|
|28-Feb-1955||Offenbach||Les contes d'Hoffmann||Giulietta||ROH tour, Glasgow||Downes||Wakhévitch|
|19-Jun-1955||Offenbach||Les contes d'Hoffmann||Olympia||ROH, Covent Garden||Downes||Wakhévitch|
|30-Sep-1955||Weber||Euryanthe||Euryanthe||Stiedry||BBC radio broadcast|
|30-Oct-1955||Bizet||Carmen||Micaela||ROH, Covent Garden||Downes||Wakhévitch|
|11-Mar-1956||Mozart||La clemenza di Tito||Vitellia||Pritchard||BBC radio broadcast|
|10-Nov-1956||Mozart||The Magic Flute||Pamina||ROH, Covent Garden||J Gibson||Messel|
|28-Jan-1957||Wagner||Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg||Eva||ROH, Covent Garden||Kubelík||Wakhévitch|
|19-Mar-1957||Handel||Alcina||Alcina||St Pancras Town Hall||Farncombe||Concert performance; Sutherland first performed this role on stage on 19 February 1960|
|08-Jun-1957||Verdi||Rigoletto||Gilda||ROH, Covent Garden||Downes||Gellner|
|05-Jul-1957||Mozart||Der Schauspieldirektor||Mme Hertz||Glyndebourne Festival Opera||Balkwill||Rice|
|16-Aug-1957||Scarlatti||Mitridate Eupatore||Laodice||Appia||BBC radio broadcast|
|08-Sep-1957||Donizetti||Emilia di Liverpool||Emilia||Pritchard||BBC radio broadcast|
|21-Dec-1957||Verdi||Otello||Desdemona||ROH, Covent Garden||Downes||Wakhévitch|
|16-Jan-1958||Poulenc||Dialogues of the Carmelites||Mme Lidoine||ROH, Covent Garden||Kubelík||Wakhévitch|
|24-May-1958||Handel||Applausus Musicus||Temperentia||Newstone||BBC radio broadcast|
|26-Jul-1958||Mozart||Don Giovanni||Donna Anna||Vancouver Opera||Goldschmidt||Maximowna|
|17-Feb-1959||Donizetti||Lucia di Lammermoor||Lucia||ROH, Covent Garden||Serafin||Zeffirelli||This performance marked the beginning of Sutherland's international career|
|24-Jun-1959||Handel||Rodelinda||Rodelinda||Sadler's Wells Theatre||Farncombe||Pidcock|
|08-Jan-1960||Verdi||La traviata||Violetta Valéry||ROH, Covent Garden||Santi||Fedorovitch|
|24-May-1960||Bellini||I puritani||Elvira||Glyndebourne Festival Opera||Gui||Heeley|
|19-Oct-1960||Bellini||La sonnambula||Amina||ROH, Covent Garden||Serafin||Sanjust|
|21-Feb-1961||Bellini||Beatrice di Tenda||Beatrice||New York Town Hall||Rescigno||Concert performance; Sutherland first performed this role on stage on 10 May 1961|
|04-Jan-1962||Mozart||The Magic Flute||The Queen of the Night||ROH, Covent Garden||Klemperer||Eisler|
|28-May-1962||Meyerbeer||Les Huguenots||Maguerite de Valois||La Scala||Gavazzeni||Nicola Benois|
|20-Jun-1963||Handel||Giulio Cesare||Cleopatra||Sadler's Wells Theatre||Farncombe||Warre|
|09-Mar-1965||Gounod||Faust||Marguerite||Connecticut Opera||Bonynge||Rome/Brooks van Horne|
|02-Jun-1966||Donizetti||La fille du régiment||Marie||ROH, Covent Garden||Bonynge||Anni/Escoffier|
|21-May-1967||Gluck||Orfeo ed Euridice||Euridice||Theater an der Wien||Bonynge||Ludwig|
|12-Nov-1971||Donizetti||Maria Stuarda||Maria Stuarda||San Francisco Opera||Bonynge||Pizzi|
|26-Oct-1972||Donizetti||Lucrezia Borgia||Lucrezia||Vancouver Opera||Bonynge||Varona|
|23-Oct-1974||Massenet||Esclarmonde||Esclarmonde||San Francisco Opera||Bonynge||Montressor|
|12-Sep-1975||Verdi||Il trovatore||Leonora||San Francisco Opera||Bonynge||Hager/Skalicki|
|22-Apr-1976||Lehár||The Merry Widow||Hanna Glavari||Vancouver Opera||Bonynge||Varona|
|16-Jul-1977||Puccini||Suor Angelica||Suor Angelica||Sydney Opera House||Bonynge||Digby|
|23-Sep-1977||Massenet||Le roi de Lahore||Sita||Vancouver Opera||Bonynge||Mariani|
|04-Jul-1979||Mozart||Idomeneo||Electra||Sydney Opera House||Bonynge||Truscott|
|02-Jul-1980||Verdi||I masnadieri||Amalia||Sydney Opera House||Bonynge||Lees/Stennett|
|22-May-1983||Cilea||Adriana Lecouvreur||Adriana||San Diego Opera||Bonynge||O'Hearn/Mess|
|22-Jun-1984||Donizetti||Anna Bolena||Anna Bolena||Canadian Opera Company, Toronto||Bonynge||Pascoe/Stennett|
|04-Oct-1985||Thomas||Hamlet||Ophélie||Canadian Opera Company, Toronto||Bonynge||Shalicki/Digby/Stennett|
Joan Sutherland (7 November 1926 – 10 October 2010) was an Australian operatic soprano particularly associated with the bel canto repertory and French operas. She possessed a voice of great beauty and considerable power combined with extraordinary agility and a brilliant upper register. She was called La Stupenda by the Italian press, which means The Stupendous One.
Born in Sydney, Australia, she studied first with her mother and later with John and Aida Dickens. After a few public appearances, notably in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aenas and Eugene Goossens' Judith, she left for London, England in 1951 to continue her vocal studies with Clive Carey.
She was hired by the Royal Opera House as a utility soprano, making her debut in 1952, as the First Lady in Mozart's The Magic Flute. She went on singing a wide variety of roles such as Amelia (Un ballo in maschera), Aida (Aida), Agathe (Der Freischutz) and Eva (Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg), and also created the role of Jennifer in Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage in 1955.
She met and married fellow countryman and accompanist Richard Bonynge in 1954, who recognized her potential for the bel canto repertoire and guided her in that direction. This led to her appearance in Donizetti's Emilia di Liverpool and Handel's Alcina in 1957, and eventually the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House in 1959, which proved a sensational success and launched her international career.
She was rapidly invited to appear at most of the great opera houses of the world (Milan, Paris, New York, etc.) to great acclaim. Some of her most famous roles include; Rossini's Semiramide, Bellini's La sonnambula, Norma, Beatrice di Tenda, I puritani, Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Stuarda, Verdi's La traviata, amongst many others. She also resurrected some long neglected works like Massenet's Le Roi de Lahore and Esclarmonde.
Sutherland retired from the stage in 1990. She was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1978. She died at her home near Montreux, Switzerland, at the age of 83.