Four Roles That Defined Joan Sutherland Career

By Francisco Salazar

Joan Sutherland is considered one of the greatest sopranos of all time. Known as “La Stupenda,” Sutherland commanded the stage with her powerful voice, accurate intonation, thrilling high notes, and her impeccable coloratura.

Throughout her career, she brought numerous roles to the forefront from a varied repertoire including the Bel canto, verismo, French, and baroque. The following are four roles that she made her own and for which she will always be remembered.

Lucia Di Lammermoor 

This was Sutherland’s signature with which she broke out at the Covent Garden and went on to perform late into her career. Perhaps what makes her interpretation so special is her immaculate technique as she spins the coloratura phrases with such ease and provides a blazing cadenza that shows off her incredible top notes her and virtuosic power. While the Pavarotti recording for Decca is considered one of the greatest on record, this writer prefers the 1959 live recording from the Royal Opera House. That recording shows the young soprano with great vocal expressivity and clear diction. It also allows audiences to see hear her collaboration with Tulio Serafin.


Sutherland’s forays into Rossini were few but she made a mark in this famous role performing the work first at La Scala before recording it for Decca and performing the aria “Bel Raggio Lusinghier” as one of her war horses. In this role, Sutherland once again had a chance to showcase her incredible ability with coloratura and the flexibility in her voice. In the recording preserved, Sutherland and Marilyn Horne pull off Rossini’s duets with ease and showcase their impeccable collaboration throughout the years.

Il Trovatore

When Sutherland took on Verdi’s famous role, audiences went wild for her breathtaking lyric tone and her impeccable phrasing. The Metropolitan Opera performances with Luciano Pavarotti are among the most memorable in the company’s history and there is also a DVD from the Sydney Opera House showcasing her interpretation.

La Fille du Regiment

Sutherland may not have been the most comic of singers but there is no doubt that Marie was an ideal fit for her voice. This role gave Sutherland the chance to show off her high notes and add a number of roulades that fans loved so much from the diva. One also cannot deny that when Sutherland and Pavarotti sang this role together real vocal fireworks were created.

What is your favorite Joan Sutherland role?


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