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Montreux Celebration

Artists & People in Montreux


Joan Sutherland and Montreux

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, (born in Sydney, Australia, 7 November 1926) is one of the most remarkable female opera singers of the 20th century, she was dubbed La Stupenda by a La Fenice audience in 1960 after an Alcina performance. She possessed a voice of beauty and power, combining extraordinary agility, accurate intonation, a splendid trill and a tremendous upper register, although music critics often complained about the imprecision of her diction. Her friend Luciano Pavarotti once called Sutherland the "Voice of the Century", while Montserrat Caballé described the Australian's voice as being like "heaven".

She was engaged by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London as a utility soprano, and made her debut there on 28 October 1952, as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, followed in November by a few performances as Clotilde in Bellini's Norma, with Maria Callas as Norma. In 1959 she made her legendary appearance as Lucia, in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, at the Royal Opera House which served as the spring board to international stardom.

In 1965, Sutherland toured Australia with the Sutherland-Williamson Opera Company. Accompanying her was a young tenor named Luciano Pavarotti, and the tour proved to be a major milestone in Pavarotti's career. Every performance featuring Sutherland sold out.

Her last performance was as Marguerite de Valois (Les Huguenots) at the Sydney Opera House in 1990, at the age of 64. Her last public appearance, however, took place in a gala performance of Die Fledermaus on New Year's Eve, 1990, at Covent Garden, where she was accompanied by her colleagues Pavarotti and the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.

Since her retirement, she has made relatively few public appearances, mainly as a judge in voice competitions, preferring a quiet life at her home in Montreux, which she acquired in the early 60s, due to her friend Noel Coward, who had the property next door. It was the place she spent much of the time when not appearing on opera and concert stages around the world. On 3 July 2008, she suffered a fall while gardening at her home and was admitted to hospital. As a result, Dame Joan broke both of her legs, but has made a complete recovery.

Commentary by Peter Freestone

The opera world has lost one of its wonders. Dame Joan Sutherland passed away in the early hours of Sunday 10th October 2010.

Dubbed La Stupenda, she had an amazing range and incredible facility with coloratura, which made her in demand all over the world, both in opera and song recitals. There are many places you can find information about her life, so this about my time with her.
I had the pleasure of meeting her on a few occasions, each time she was delightful company, down to earth, laughing and never full of herself. The first time I met her was in a backstage corridor at the Royal Opera House. She was arriving for a performance of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and we literally bumped into each other. I was coming out of a dressing room and this big fur coat carrying music manuscripts walked into me. Obviously she was having a problem seeing where she was going, carrying everything. We laughed and we introduced ourselves and started talking as I offered to carry her things to her dressing room. I couldn’t believe that this friendly lady was the same person who could scale the heights in some of the most difficult music. She was tall, I think statuesque is the right term, but was one of the most natural people I had met at the Opera House.

The last time we had time together was during my time with Freddie Mercury. I heard that she was to perform an opera concert in Newcastle, northern England. I managed to get a ticket through contacts; on condition I wore black tie as I would be with the Mayor’s party. After the eventful concert, I met the lady at drinks where we talked about what had been happening over the years since we had last met. We were able to exchange stories about Montserrat Caballe as Joan had recently recorded an opera, Bellini’s Norma with Montserrat, and Freddie had finished recording Barcelona. I do have the consolation of listening to her on over 30 recordings of her in complete operas, plus many recital discs in my collection.

My thoughts go out to the family, Richard, Adam and Helen, of one of the great voices, and personalities, of opera from the last century.

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