Dame Joan Sutherland

"It's very, very hard for a woman with a big career, especially in opera which requires constant travel, to balance the demands on her personal and professional lives. That's why so many of us become neurotic, why a lot of marriages break up and why a great many singers' husbands have pretensions of being managers, often without any qualifications for taking on a singing voice" -Dame Joan Sutherland




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Dame Joan Sutherland was born in Point Piper, Australia on November 7, 1926, the daughter of a mezzo-soprano & a successful tailor. She began her singing career by winning the Mobil Quest in 1950 as a mezzo-soprano and was later accepted to study at Covent Garden in London.

Joan's career was to change drastically when she met a young pianist named Richard Bonynge, whom she married on the 16th of October, 1954. He was convinced Joan was meant to be a bel canto soprano and even played certain pieces on the piano much higher than usual to force her to sing higher than she thought she was capable.

Her operatic debut took place at Covent Garden in 1952 as the First Lady in The Magic Flute. This performance was followed by a performance as Clotilde in Bellini's Norma with Maria Callas in the title role. With Richard's exhortations in mind she asked Callas if she could one day sing a coloratura role. It would be hard work, Callas replied, but, 'why not?' For the next few years, Joan sang roles (much to Richard's horror) such as Helmwige in Die Walküre and the Overseer in Elektra. Soon, though, Covent Garden realized her potential as a bel canto soprano and she was given the lead roles in Donizetti's Emilia di Liverpool & Handel's Alcina.

February 17, 1959 was the day Joan Sutherland was to become an operatic celebrity as she sang in an acclaimed performance in her first Lucia di Lammermoor. As her career took off, Joan made debuts in works which would become her signature operas (along with Lucia). They were Elvira in Bellini's I puritani (debut May 24/1960) and Norma in Norma (debut Oct. 17/1963). The latter paired her with the equally legendary coloratura mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, and the two would later be called the "Druid Duo".

In 1960, Joan made her Italian debut at La Fenice in Handel's Alcina. It was there, in the city that had dubbed Maria Callas "La Divina", that Joan Sutherland was to be known as "La Stupenda". Joan made her debuts at La Scala and at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961 as Lucia.

Dame Sutherland is also known for her unquenchable sense of humor, a quality that explains her love of comic opera and her tendancies towards roles such as Marie in Donizetti's La fille du régiment (debut June 2/1966), Rosalinde in Strauss' Die Fledermaus (debut Sept. 8/1973), and one of her favorite roles, Anna Glavari in Lehár's The Merry Widow (debut Apr. 22/1976). When asked if she would ever sing conventional opera, she replied, "Yes, with a gun at my head".

Joan Sutherland was made a Dame in 1979. She and Richard have been credited with the revivals of such forgotten works as Beatrice di Tenda, Rodelinda, Esclarmonde, Le roi de Lahore, & I masnadieri. The couple have one son, Adam (b. Feb. 13/1956), who is a father himself.

Dame Joan Sutherland retired from opera in 1990 at the age of 64, ending a career that had spanned almost 4 decades. Her last full opera performance was Les Huguenots at the Sydney Opera in October 1990. Her actual farewell appearance was the Party Scene in Act II of Die Fledermaus on New Year's Eve 90/91 at Covent Garden. Most recently, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani proclaimed May 6, 1998, as Dame Joan Sutherland Day in the City of New York.

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