Monday, October 11, 2010

Dame Joan Sutherland, 1926-2010

Any operatic soprano might consider it a dream come true to be known as the greatest singer of her time. But to pay that compliment to Joan Sutherland would be to do her an unforgivable injustice. She was not simply the best Lucia and Norma and Elvira and Amina and Maria Stuarda and Marguerite de Valois and Esclarmonde and Semiramide and Alcina of her day. On the basis of the recorded evidence, she was at least as good as anyone who sang those roles any time in the last hundred years. So it is by no means outrageous to suggest that Joan Sutherland did what she did better than anyone else ever has.

That's what makes those of us who got to hear her in person so grateful. She included all of us, just a bit, in the history she spent her career making. I posted a couple of Sutherland performances last year on her birthday. Here is another one--the final cabaletta from Bellini's La Sonnambula. The heroine Amina has just been cleared of suspicions that she is unfaithful to her fiance. (She walks in her sleep; make up the rest of the story yourself.) Here, assured of her happy ending, she gives voice to that mixture of joy and relief that any soprano experiences upon finding herself still alive at the end of the opera. She sings "Ah! non giunge uman pensiero al contento ond'io son piena." "Ah! human thought cannot comprehend the happiness that fills me." And listening to her, we feel pretty much the same way.

May you all live long enough to hear that trill at 1:55 sung by someone else as spectacularly as Sutherland sings it here. But don't get your hopes up.


  1. One of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog is b/c you post great stuff like this. What a great listen. I am so ignorant of what makes a great opera singer, but even I can tell this woman has amazing pipes.

  2. Amen! And again I say, Amen! What recordings could not well convey, however, was the sheer size and splendor of Sutherland's voice. Her sound enveloped one. A hardworking and conscientious performer, she had a long and honorable career and we must be grateful that so much was recorded.