Monday, October 11, 2010

Joan Sutherland (1926-2010)


In a 1960 interview, Joan Sutherland talks about singing her first Lucia, in London the year before. (The photo shows her in the role in 1966.)

by Ken

My friend Richard sent the news with the note: "This is hard for me to believe and very sad for me . . ." She would have been 84 on November 7, and had retired, apparently happily, in 1990 after a stupendously successful career of some 38 years, but I know what he means. As a performer she was about as one-of-a-kind as they come, for a combination of spectacular vocal agility and ease and a voice (especially in the earlier years) of great size and remarkable beauty -- a combination, all in all, that had no equal I'm aware of.


The title role in Donzetti's Lucia di Lammermoor catapulted the Australian-born Sutherland to instant superstardom when she sang it for the first time, at Covent Garden on Feb. 17, 1959. The performance nine days later was broadcast live, and here is the Mad Scene from it.
I've included what we might call the "full sequence" of Lucia's tragic disintegration on her wedding night, going back to the sudden announcement by the Ashton family chaplain, Raimondo Bide-the-Bent, to the still-celebrating wedding guests of his unimaginably horrible discovery, on hearing a moan from the bridal chamber and rushing in to find the husband forced on her by her brother, Lord Arturo Bucklaw, lying butchered on the floor, with the bride clutching his sword.

If you just want to hear Sutherland, you can skip to the third track. After Raimondo's appalling announcement in the first track, in the second track we hear the guests register horror, Raimondo declaring at 2:18, "Eccola! -- "There she is!" And finally in track three we hear the poor girl, imagining that she has heard "the sweet sound . . . of his voice," believing that the guests are assembled for the joyous occasion of her wedding to her beloved Edgardo.
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor: Act II, Scene 2, Mad Scene (Raimondo, "Dalle stanze ove Lucia" . . . chorus, "Ah! Quel funesto avvenimento" . . . Lucia, "Il dolce suono mi colpi di sua voce" . . . "Ohimè! Sorge il tremendo fantasma" . . . "Ardon gli incensi" . . . "Spargi d'amaro pianto")
Joseph Rouleau (bs), Raimondo; Joan Sutherland (s), Lucia; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tullio Serafin, cond. Royal Opera House Heritage Series, recorded live, Feb. 26, 1959

Lucia was also Sutherland's Met debut role, on Nov. 26, 1961. We're going to jump forward in time, to 1966, but backward in the opera, to hear Lucia's only moment of happiness in the evening, when she is joined briefly by the departing-for-France Edgardo. By this time Sutherland's husband, Richard Bonynge, who had guided her transition into the vocally acrobatic bel canto repertory, had taken on the role of her more or less invariable conductor.

DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor: Act I, Scene 2, Fountain Scene (Lucia, "Ancor non giunse" . . . "Regnava nel silenzio" . . . "Quando, rapito in estasi" . . . Alisa, "Egli s'avanza" . . . Edgardo, "Lucia, perdono" . . . "Sulla tomba che rinserra" . . . "Qui da sposa eterna fede" . . . Duet, "Verranno a te sull'aure")
Milton Cross, announcer; Joan Sutherland (s), Lucia; Lilian Sukis (s), Alisa; Richard Tucker (t), Edgardo; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Dec. 31, 1966
[Note: If you don't want to listen to Milton Cross, you can just skip ahead to the next track.]


The following year Sutherland recorded one of the showiest roles in the soprano repertory, the heroine of Delibes's Lakmé, which of course includes the Flower Duet that has become one of the most familiar of all operatic excerpts. Then we hear the famous Bell Song from Lakmé.

DELIBES: Lakmé: Act I, Flower Duet ("Dôme épais")
Joan Sutherland (s), Lakmé; Jane Berbié (ms), Mallika; Orchestre National de l'Opéra de Monte Carlo, Richard Bonynge, cond. Decca, recorded October 1967

DELIBES: Lakmé: Act II, Bell Song ("Où va la jeune hindoue?")
Joan Sutherland (s), Lakmé; Orchestre National de l'Opéra de Monte Carlo, Richard Bonynge, cond. Decca, recorded October 1967


. . . the hugely demanding protagonist of Bellini's Norma, of which her first Met performance took place March 3, 1970, with a broadcast performance the following month.

First we hear the opera's second scene, in which the Gaulish Druids and priestesses herald the imminent arrival of the high priestess of their temple, Norma, who proceeds to tell them that it's not yet time for an uprising against their Roman occupiers (over the objection of her father, Oroveso), then in the famously long-breathed as well as florid aria "Casta diva" invokes the appropriate Druid goddess. Norma privately invokes the well-being of her secret lover, the Roman proconsul Pollione, and the assembled Druids and priestesses sound a call for vengeance against the Romans.

BELLINI: Norma: Act I, Scene 1, Druids and Priestesses, "Norma viene" . . . Norma, "Sediziose voci" . . . "Casta diva" . . . "Fine al rito" . . . "Ah! bello a me ritorna"
Joan Sutherland (s), Norma; Cesare Siepi (bs), Oroveso; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Apr. 4, 1970

We learn that Norma's protégée, the temple virgin Adalgisa, is under hot pursuit by none other than Pollione, who tries to persuade her to accompany him to Rome. Adalgisa confesses this to Norma, having no idea of course of her mentor's involvement with him, and finds her unexpectedly understanding, until she brings him in and Norma finds out who her young gentleman is. She doesn't take this news well, and trio fireworks ensue.

BELLINI: Norma: Act I, Scene 2, Norma, "Ma di', l'amato giovane" . . . "Oh, non tremare, o perfido" . . . Trio, "Oh! di qual sei tu vittima"
Joan Sutherland (s), Norma; Marilyn Horne (ms), Adalgisa; Carlo Bergonzi (t), Pollione; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Apr. 4, 1970

Norma comes up with a plan of sorts to sort out the mess, but it's not a really great one: She's going to murder her children (oh, didn't we mention that she has two sons by the energetic Pollione?) and then rid the Druids of her own soiled self. Luckily, she is unable to off the sleeping children, and when Adalgisa arrives, having already been sent for, Norma improvises a Plan B: Adalgisa is to take Pollione's sons to him and then accompany them to Rome. But Adalgisa, knowing now the full truth of Norma's history with Pollione, can't do this to her, and comes up with a Plan C: She will persuade Pollione to return his affections to Norma, and the children will have their mother and father! She tries to sell this nutty scheme in the great duet "Mira, o Norma." What do you figure the chances are that Adalgisa can pull this stunt off? Well no, of course not! But at least the rift between the two women is healed.

BELLINI: Norma: Act II, Scene 1, Adalgisa, "Mi chiami, o Norma?" . . . Norma, "Deh! con te, con te li prendi" . . . Duet, "Mira, o Norma" . . . "Cedi, deh cedi!"
Marilyn Horne (ms), Adalgisa; Joan Sutherland (s), Norma; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, Apr. 4, 1970


By the time of that first Covent Garden Lucia, Sutherland had put in six-plus years there in a wide range of roles. (She was originally targeted for the heavyweight dramatic-soprano repertory.) When, already an international superstar, she was tapped by Decca producer John Culshaw to record the coloratura flights of the Wood Bird in the first-ever commercial recording of Wagner's Siegfried, it wasn't just a publicity stunt -- she had actually sung the role at Covent Garden.

Here she is in 1954, first advising Siegfried -- who, having tasted the blood of the dead dragon Fafner, is suddenly able to understand the bird's song -- to venture into Fafner's cave and take possession of the Tarnhelm and "the" ring; then, after Siegfried has killed the Nibelung Mime, pointing him in the direction of the sleeping Brünnhilde.

WAGNER: Siegfried: Act II, Siegfried and the Wood Bird

Set Svanholm (t), Siegfried; Joan Sutherland (s), Voice of the Wood Bird; Covent Garden Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Pearl, recorded live, June 25, 1954


. . . notably Donzetti's Adina (in The Elixir of Love) and Marie (in The Daughter of the Regiment). I don't know that she ever sang Rosina in Rossini's Barber of Seville, but toward the end of her career (she was already nearing 60!) she made this recording of Rosina's showpiece aria, "Una voce poco fa."

ROSSINI: The Barber of Seville: Act I, Scene 2,
Rosina, "Una voce poco fa" . . . "Io sono docile"

Joan Sutherland, soprano; Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Decca, recorded September 1985



At 4:34 AM, Blogger Luda said...

A memorial site was created for Joan Sutherland! Honor her memory by contributing to her memorial site


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