Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Joan Sutherland: Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali


Portrait by June Mendoza


On Mondays I wake up late, really late. What does that have to do with Joan Sutherland? The fact that about a minute after I get out of bed I hear my best friend’s ring tone; his greeting? You couldn’t have called me? When I asked him what the hell was he talking about, that I had just woken up and was confused he dropped  the bomb on me:

Joan Sutherland Died!

I know talking about Sutherland is an exercise in futility. Gallons of ink have been spilled just on superlatives, many more gallons have been spilled telling her story: The poor secretary who wanted to be a singer. She thought he was going to be a Wagnerian singer but her husband knew better. Then one night she is given Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden and the world was never the same. The same amount of ink has been spilled in criticizing her: the droopy diction, the extreme dependence on her husband, to the point of demanding him to conduct all her performances, the demands for expensive productions of operas that nobody cared about, the championing of 2nd rate singers just so she would be always the star, the alleged xenophobia and racism, the strained relationship with Australian Opera and many more. No doubt, Joan Sutherland provoked reactions anywhere she went.

But the voice, oh the voice…. That torrent of gold that emanated from her throat graced the music from composers as varied as Haydn (Euridice in the first modern performances of his Orfeo {wich of course she wasn’t, that would be Callas in 1951 and thanks to parterre reader Cocky Kurwenal for setting me straight on that one. I am such a dumbass sometimes}) to Mozart ( the first soprano with a British passport to sing Contessa Almaviva and Glyndebourne and her Donna Anna for Giulini remains a classic), Wagner (Brangane, Rheinmaiden and the Forrest Bird in Solti’s Ring) and Britten (Lady Penelope in Gloriana).  But it was her close association with bel canto that gained her the name of La Stupenda and will forever influence singers of future generations. Her handling of some of the most difficult passage work like she was doing simple math continues to astonish.

But now all that is gone. With Joan Sutherland’s death, the circle of greats that are associated to a golden age long ago passed continues to shrink. Her death, and the countless of public and private memorials it will provoke, will remind us how truly starved we are for singers like her. In this age of generic performances, we needed her the most and now she is gone.

For those of you who have never heard of her (the 3 of you in the whole world) Opera Depot has made available her breakthrough performance of Lucia free of charge. Just enter your email address and you will be taken to the download page. This is a limited offering, so get it while it is still available.  Elsewhere in the web there is plenty of available stuff so you can sample her art; Like a 1966 Atlanta recital or a recital of Bellini, Verdi and Donizetti works or a 1979 concert she sang with Pavarotti (2 parts!) .

Even YouTube is fertile ground for those who wish to either get to know her or just do their own private memorial.



What else is left to say but Thank you? Thank you Joan for all those wonderful nights you gave us. Thank you for all those wonderful recordings you gave us.

Just thank you…


October 11, 2010 Posted by | In memoriam | 1 Comment