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Thursday, October 14, 2010

On The Death of Dame Joan Sutherland: Ode to Joan

On October 10th, a very superb singer, and I'm told just as excellent a human being, was lost to the world and the Opera community. Joan Sutherland, a Soprano, of the Dramatic Coloratura variety, died at her home in Switzerland at the age of 83.

Instead of exploring the tragedy of this death, I would like to take this time to explain to many of you who might not have known her work quite so well, why she was amazing at what she did, and why this particular loss, is quite a meaningful loss to myself.

Joan Sutherland was a legend even in her own time (and let's face it, that's an accomplishment when such luminaries as Mozart had a difficult time doing that while still alive). She was married to the famous conductor, Richard Bonynge and she grew up in Austrailia before gaining her first big success at the Royal Opera House in London and then subsequently moving to Brooklyn with her husband where she lived for quite a long time during her many numerous collaborations with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Her voice and her personality are the stuff of legends. She was the person who actually is credited with starting Luciano Pavarotti's career: she found him singing La Boheme at La Scala and being booed off stage, and by helping him to find his high notes through teaching him her technique of doing it, she created a megastar of him, as well. Thereafter the two were said to be best of friends and collaborated quite a lot on many notable productions ( like La Fille du Regiment and Il Trovatore at the Met).

Although she might not have been the most perfect singer when it came to dramatic interpretation (as some might suggest) or diction (as most might suggest), let's face it, the woman had the voice! There are numerous times where I've seen her on YouTube, or heard a recording of her, and her voice is just unmistakable. It couldn't be anyone but her. Her voice was simply stunning, and I bet that every person who has heard her, either recorded or live, will admit that. She found the perfect mixture of beauty, strength and uniqueness that is ideal for an Operatic voice, and it was even so perfect as to make her other foibles (the possibly not perfect dramatic interpretation on stage and the sometimes questionable diction) practically non-issues (and to a picky, educated Opera public, that's saying something)!

Coincidentally, I had just contacted the Sydney Oper House a few weeks ago to find out where I could mail a fan letter to Ms. Sutherland, since her work meant so much to me and my own experience of Opera. She was a person who made Opera something to strive for, for those of us who are still working on 'becoming something' in this field. She set such high standards in terms of technical sound perfection, and she also presented a likable persona both on stage and off, which is a difficult combination to find normally in someone who is so famous.

Ultimately, I would like to thank Joan Sutherland for consistently doing her best in this profession and putting such love into it that her contribution to opera was able to touch such a wide audience (those already within the profession, not to mention, those who merely became familiar with Opera through hearing her name or hearing her sing).

I guess I did get to write that fan letter after all....

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