发信人: ilmioben (ilmioben), 信区: OperaHouse
标 题: Re: Soprano Joan Sutherland Dies at 83
发信站: BBS 未名空间站 (Mon Oct 11 12:56:11 2010, 美东)
A long article from New York Times in memory of Sutherland's life and career.
Joan Sutherland, Opera Soprano, Dies
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Joan Sutherland, one of the most acclaimed sopranos of the 20th century,
died on Sunday at her home in Switzerland, near Montreux. She was 83.
Her death was confirmed by her close friend the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne,
a spokesman for the Metropolitan Opera said.
After the Australian-born Ms. Sutherland’s Italian debut in Venice, in 1960
, the country’s notoriously picky critics dubbed her “La Stupenda” (“The
Stupendous One”). For 40 years the name endured with opera lovers around
the world. She helped revitalize an entire repertory of early-19th-century
Italian opera of the bel canto school.
Her singing was founded on astonishing technique. Her voice was evenly
produced throughout an enormous range, from a low G to effortless flights
above high C. She could spin lyrical phrases with elegant legato, subtle
colorings and expressive nuances. Her sound was warm, vibrant and resonant,
without any forcing. Indeed, her voice was so naturally large that at the
start of her career Ms. Sutherland seemed destined to become a Wagnerian
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 is common, by glossing over scurrying
runs, but sang almost every note fully. Her abilities led Richard Bonynge,
the Sydney-born conductor and vocal coach, her husband of 56 years, 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.
Even as a young man, Mr. Bonynge had uncommon knowledge of bel canto
repertory and style. Ms. Sutherland and Mr. Bonynge, who is four years
younger, met in Sydney at a youth concert and became casual friends. They
were reacquainted later in London, where Ms. Sutherland settled with her
mother in 1951 to attend the Royal College of Music. There Mr. Bonynge
became the major influence on her development.
“I don’t talk about my career, but of ours,” Ms. Sutherland said in a
1961 interview with The New York Times. “I think of us as a duo.”
She initially had “a big, rather wild voice” that was not heavy enough for
Wagner, she said, although she did not realize this until she heard “
Wagner sung as it should be.”
“Richard had decided — long before I agreed with him — that I was a
coloratura,” she said.
“We fought like cats and dogs over it,” she said, adding, “It took
Richard three years to convince me.”
In her repertory choices, Ms. Sutherland was all over the place during the
1950s, singing lighter lyric Mozart roles like the Countess in “The
Marriage of Figaro” and heavier Verdi roles like Amelia in “Un ballo in
Maschera.” Even then, astute listeners realized that she was en route to
becoming something extraordinary.
In a glowing and perceptive review of her performance as Desdemona in Verdi
’s “Otello” at Covent Garden in London in late 1957, the critic Andrew
Porter, writing in The Financial Times, commended her for “not sacrificing
purity to power.” This is “not her way,” Mr. Porter wrote, “and five
years on we shall bless her for her not endeavoring now to be ‘exciting’
but, instead, lyrical and beautiful.”
She became an international sensation after her career-defining performance
in the title role of “Lucia di Lammermoor” at Covent Garden in London —
its first production there since 1925 — which opened on Feb. 17, 1959. The
production was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by the Italian
maestro Tullio Serafin, a longtime Callas colleague, who elicited from the
32-year-old soprano a vocally resplendent and dramatically affecting
portrayal of the trusting, unstable young Lucy of Lammermoor.
Mr. Porter, reviewing the performance in The Financial Times, wrote that the
brilliance of Ms. Sutherland’s singing was to be expected by this point.
The surprise, he explained, was the new dramatic power she brought to bear.
“The traces of self-consciousness, of awkwardness on the stage, had
disappeared; and at the same time she sang more freely, more powerfully,
more intensely — and also more bewitchingly — than ever before.”
This triumph was followed in 1960 by landmark portrayals in neglected bel
canto operas by Bellini: “I Puritani” at the Glyndebourne Festival (the
first presentation in England since 1887) and “La Sonnambula” at Covent
Garden (the company’s first production in half a century).
Ms. Sutherland’s American debut came in November 1960 in the title role of
Handel’s “Alcina” at the Dallas Opera, the first American production of
this now-popular work. Her distinguished Decca recording of “Lucia di
Lammermoor,” with an exceptional cast conducted by John Pritchard, was
released in 1961, the year of her enormously anticipated Metropolitan Opera
debut in that same work, on Nov. 26.
Standees lined up beginning at 7:30 that morning. At Ms. Sutherland’s first
appearance, before she sang a note, there was an enthusiastic ovation.
Following the first half of Lucia’s “Mad Scene” in the final act, which
culminated in a glorious high E-flat, the ovation lasted five minutes. When
she finished the scene and her crazed, dying Lucia collapsed to the stage
floor, the ovation lasted 12 minutes.
Reviewing the performance in The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg wrote
that other sopranos might have more power or a sweeter tone, but “there is
none around who has the combination of technique, vocal security, clarity
and finesse that Miss Sutherland can summon.”
Even for some admirers, though, there were limitations to her artistry. Her
diction was often indistinct. After receiving steady criticism for this
shortcoming, Ms. Sutherland worked to correct it, and sang with crisper
enunciation in the 1970s.
She was also sometimes criticized for delivering dramatically bland
performances. At 5-foot-9, she was a large woman, with long arms and large
hands, and a long, wide face. As her renown increased, she insisted that
designers create costumes for her that compensated for her figure, which, as
she admitted self-deprecatingly in countless interviews, was somewhat flat
in the bust but wide in the rib cage. Certain dresses could make her look
like “a large column walking about the stage,” she wrote in “The
Autobiography of Joan Sutherland: A Prima Donna’s Progress” (1997).
Paradoxically, Mr. Bonynge contributed to the sometimes uninvolved quality
of her performances. By the mid-1960s he was her conductor of choice, often
part of the deal when she signed a contract. Trained as a pianist and vocal
coach, he essentially taught himself conducting. Even after extended
experience, he was not the maestro opera fans turned to for arresting
performances of Verdi’s “Traviata.” But he thoroughly understood the bel
canto style and was attuned to every component of his wife’s voice.
Yet, if urging her to be sensible added to her longevity, it sometimes
resulted in her playing it safe. Other conductors prodded Ms. Sutherland to
sing with greater intensity: for example, Georg Solti, in an acclaimed 1967
recording of Verdi’s “Requiem” with the Vienna Philharmonic and the
Vienna State Opera Chorus, and Zubin Mehta, who persuaded Ms. Sutherland to
record the title role in Puccini’s “Turandot,” which she never sang
onstage, for a 1972 recording. Both these projects featured the tenor
Luciano Pavarotti, who would become an ideal partner for Ms. Sutherland in
the bel canto repertory. Ms. Sutherland’s fiery Turandot suggests she had
dramatic abilities that were never tapped.
Joan Alston Sutherland was born on Nov. 7, 1926, in Sydney, where she lived
in a simple house overlooking the harbor. The family garden and the rich
array of wildflowers on the hillside near the beach inspired her lifelong
love of gardening.
Her mother was a fine mezzo-soprano who had studied with Mathilde Marchesi,
the teacher of Nellie Melba. Though too shy for the stage, Ms. Sutherland’s
mother did vocal exercises every day and was her daughter’s principal
teacher throughout her adolescence.
Ms. Sutherland’s father, a Scottish-born tailor, had been married before.
His first wife died during the influenza epidemic after World War I, leaving
him with three daughters and a son. Ms. Sutherland was the only child of
his second marriage. He died on the day of Ms. Sutherland’s sixth birthday.
He had just given her a new bathing suit, and she wanted to try it out.
Though feeling unwell, he climbed down to the beach with her and, upon
returning, collapsed in his wife’s arms. Joan, her youngest half-sister and
their mother moved into the home of an aunt and uncle in Wollhara, which
had sufficient room and a big garden.
Although Ms. Sutherland’s mother soon recognized her daughter’s gifts, she
pegged her as a mezzo-soprano. At 16, facing the reality of having to
support herself, Ms. Sutherland completed a secretarial course and took
office jobs, while keeping up her vocal studies. She began lessons in Sydney
with Aida Dickens, who convinced her that she was a soprano, very likely a
dramatic soprano. Ms. Sutherland began singing oratorios and radio
broadcasts, and made a notable debut in 1947 as Purcell’s Dido in Sydney.
In 1951, with prize money from winning a prestigious vocal competition, she
and her mother moved to London, where Ms. Sutherland enrolled at the opera
school of the Royal Conservatory. The next year, after three previous
unsuccessful auditions, she was accepted into the Royal Opera at Covent
Garden and made her debut at the First Lady in Mozart’s “Zauberflote.”
In 1955 she created the lead role of Judith in Michael Tippett’s “
Midsummer Marriage.” The following year, in the company’s landmark
production of Bellini’s “Norma,” starring Maria Callas, Ms. Sutherland
sang the small role of Clotidle, Norma’s confidante. “Now look after your
voice,” Callas advised Ms. Sutherland at the time, adding, “We’re going
to hear great things of you.”
“I lusted to sing Norma after being in those performances with Callas,” Ms
. Sutherland said in a 1998 Times interview. “But I knew that I could not
sing it the way she did. It was 10 years before I sang the role. During that
time I studied it, sang bits of it, and worked with Richard. But I had to
evolve my own way to sing it, and I would have wrecked my voice to ribbons
had I tried to sing it like her.”
In 1955 Ms. Sutherland gave birth to the only child of her marriage to Mr.
Bonynge, Adam, who survives her, along with two grandchildren.
Immediately after her breakthrough performances as Lucia in 1959, Ms.
Sutherland underwent sinus surgery to correct persistent problems with nasal
passages that were chronically prone to becoming clogged. Though it was a
risky operation for a singer, it was deemed successful.
In the early 1960s, using a home in southern Switzerland as a base, Ms.
Sutherland made the rounds, singing in international opera houses, and
forming a close association with the Met, where she sang 223 performances.
This included an acclaimed new production of “Norma” in 1970 with the
mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, in her Met debut, singing Adalgisa, and Mr.
Bonynge conducting. There was also a hugely popular 1972 production of
Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment,” with Luciano Pavarotti singing the role
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 Regiment,” 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
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 Bidu Sayou, beloved for the
sheer beauty of her voice, said “If there is perfection in singing, this is
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