Learning by osmosis – Dame Joan Sutherland

Dame Joan Sutherland displayAs a young child Joan Sutherland says she sat under the piano stool listening to her mother working through her vocal scales and exercises. She soaked it all up and soon she began imitating her mother – we are talking about the age of three here. When she said  “I always had a voice” she really meant it.

Listening to recordings of her singing in the early 1960s, at the beginning of her fame, it is certainly easy to believe her. She sings the most difficult of arias with an ease, agility and grace which makes it seem she was born to sing them.

Perhaps this is the kind of start you need to become one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century.

Joan began her career at Covent Garden in the fifties. The opera that made her name was production of Lucia in 1959, during which she received a 10 (some say 20) minute standing ovation after the famous mad scene. Zefferelli, who directed that performance, claims that when he met her he thought she looked like a “grenadier in drag”. However, even for an male of apparently less than feminist persuasion, this disadvantage was cancelled out by her voice “a miracle of virtuoso technique, precision, intonation and breath control.” In a tribute to her after her death he goes on to say “ we went together to Italy where the following year she sang Alcina in Venice and drove the audience crazy with joy”.

Together with her husband she went on revive many neglected bel canto roles and  ultimately developed a repertoire encompassing a massive 54 lead roles. She became known in the opera world as ‘La Stupenda’ and was considered to rival Maria Callas in stature.

Joan Sutherland died at the age of 83 on 11 October 2010.

Find out more about Joan Sutherland:

  • Listen to her on Naxos
  • Biographies available in our library
  • CDs of Joan Sutherland available in our library
  • Search Biography in Context for short online biographies, news and magazine articles on Joan Sutherland

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