The Heavenly Choir’s New Lead Soprano


It was called the Golden Age of Bel Canto, ushered in by Dame Joan, Marilyn Horne, Beverly Sills, Luciano, and Sherrill Milnes. My beloved Bubbles is gone.  We lost Pavarotti, and now Dame Joan.

(FYI – none of these so called modern mezzos can hold a candle to Marilyn Horne!)

Dame Joan Sutherland is dead.  One of the great voices of the ages is now silent.  Then again, perhaps they needed a new lead soprano in the Heavenly Choir.

“…Following her first professional performances, in 1948, during a decade of steady growth and intensive training, Ms. Sutherland developed incomparable facility for fast runs, elaborate roulades and impeccable trills. She did not compromise the passagework, as many do, by glossing over scurrying runs, but sang almost every note fully. Her abilities led Richard Bonynge, the Sydney-born conductor and vocal coach, whom she married in 1954, to persuade her early on to explore the bel canto repertory.

Bel canto (which translates as “beautiful song” or “beautiful singing”) denotes an approach to singing exemplified by evenness through the range and great agility. The term also refers to the early-19th-century Italian operas steeped in bel canto style. Outside of Italy, the repertory had languished for decades when Maria Callas appeared in the early 1950s and demonstrated that operas like Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Bellini’s “Norma” were not just showcases for coloratura virtuosity but musically elegant and dramatically gripping works as well….”

The Pink Flamingo was able to see her, live, at the Met, once upon a time.  She was remarkable.  Her Lucia was amazing. When paired with the great, late Luciano, it was a dynamic duo for the ages.

This is an old clip from 1959, when she was in her prime.

NY Times

“...Though never a compelling actress, Ms. Sutherland exuded vocal charisma, a good substitute for dramatic intensity. In the comic role of Marie in “Fille du Régiment,” she conveyed endearingly awkward girlishness as the orphaned tomboy raised by an army regiment, proudly marching in place in her uniform while tossing off the vocal flourishes.

Ms. Sutherland was a plain-spoken and ordinary person, who enjoyed needlepoint and playing with her grandchildren. Though she knew who she was, she was quick to poke fun at her prima donna persona.

“I love all those demented old dames of the old operas,” she said in a 1961 Times profile. “All right, so they’re loony. The music’s wonderful.”

Queen Elizabeth II made Ms. Sutherland a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1978. Her bluntness sometimes caused her trouble. In 1994, addressing a luncheon audience organized by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, she complained of having to be interviewed by a foreign-born clerk when applying to renew her British passport, “a Chinese or an Indian — I’m not particularly racist — but find it ludicrous, when I’ve had a passport for 40 years.” Her remarks were widely reported, and she later apologized.

In retirement she mostly lived quietly at home but was persuaded to sit on juries of vocal competitions and, less often, to present master classes. In 2004 she received a Kennedy Center Honor for outstanding achievement throughout her career. In 2008, while gardening at her home in Switzerland, she fell and broke both legs.

Other sopranos were more musically probing and dramatically vivid. But few were such glorious vocalists. After hearing her New York debut in “Beatrice di Tenda,” the renowned Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão, herself beloved for the sheer beauty of her voice, said, “If there is perfection in singing, this is it.”…”


5 thoughts on “The Heavenly Choir’s New Lead Soprano

  1. Thank you for your post on Joan Sutherland. I too mourn her passing. She was great in Lucia and I loved her rendition of the Bell Song from Lakme. When I was growing up I used to admire Lily Pons, who also gave a good rendition of the Bell Song. Grace Moore, who was killed in a plane crash in 1947, also had a lovely voice. You are probably too young to remember these great divas. One of my favorite coloraturas is Edda Moser. I think she is still living. In my opinion her performance as Queen of the Night in Mozart’s magic flute even surpased Joan Sutherland in this role. She was fantastic and her high F was perfect. I was talking to a friend the other day about some of the great talents we used to enjoy as children during WWII- Kate Smith, Vera Lane who sang the White Cliffs of Dover and that wonderful flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya. She was an amazing dancer. I don’t know of anyone today who can compare. I have really had enough of Lady Gag and Lindsay Losean.

  2. She was also wonderful in La Fille du Regiment. I don’t think any of the present day divas Kiri, Renee etc can ever be in the same class.

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