Artist Profile: Joan Sutherland, La Stupenda

By David Salazar

When it comes to simple beauty of voice and legato, Joan Sutherland tops most people’s lists.

“La Stupenda,” as she came to be known, was born on Nov. 7, 1926 in Australia and learned singing from her mother, a mezzo-soprano. Sutherland made her concert debut in 1947 in a performance of “Dido and Aeneas” before making her stage debut in 1951 in “Judith.”

She would move to London to continue her vocal studies and was promptly engaged by the Royal Opera House as a utility soprano. In 1952, she earned her first leading role as Amelia in “Un Ballo in Maschera” and it seemed that she would be on track to become a dramatic soprano.

In 1954, she married Richard Bonynge, who convinced her that she might be more of a coloratura soprano and she gradually switched her vocal FACH and turned into a legend.

Her big breakthrough came in 1959 in “Lucia di Lammermoor” and in 1960, she recorded her first album; she became the first Australian to ever win a Grammy in 1962.

Among her major stage partners throughout her career was Luciano Pavarotti, with whom she made a plethora of recordings.

She retired in 1990 and appeared in the 1995 comedy film “Dad and Dave: On Our Selection.” She also published an autobiography.

She died on Oct. 11, 2010, as one of the greatest singers in history.

Signature Roles

Sutherland’s bel canto repertory was expansive as she interpreted many works by Donizetti and Bellini. But her most recognized interpretation is that of “Lucia,” the role with which she scored her major successes in London and New York, among many other places.

Her interpretation of the Donizetti work is known for the soprano’s vocal clarity and finesse and in her many versions, she always seems at ease with the high-flying coloratura that the composer challenges the soprano with. For many, Sutherland set the vocal standard for the interpretation of the role and most modern-day interpreters of the role are often compared with “La Stupenda’s” iconic turn.

Read More on Sutherland

4 roles that Defined Her Career

Watch and Listen

Here are some of “La Stupenda’s” greatest hits.

And here is a recording of “Lucia di Lammermoor.”


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