On This Day: Dame Joan Sutherland Sings For The Last Time

By John Vandevert

On December 31st, 1990, acclaimed Australian dramatic soprano Dame Joan Sutherland would give her last stage appearance, marking the end of a 40+ year, international career which brought her to audiences around the world, changing lives and minds everywhere she went.

Singing in a gala performance of several operatic excerpts including Die Fledermaus’ Act 2 at the Royal Opera House in London, Sutherland appeared alongside opera royalty such as Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. Her legacy with the United Kingdom, however, extends as early as the 1950s, having studied at the Royal College of Music under the guidance of English baritone Clive Carey. In 1952, she’d make her debut on the Royal Opera House’s stage as The First Lady in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” followed suit by Clotilde in Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma (Maria Callas in the role of Norma).”

That fall, she would sing her first dramatic role, Amelia in Verdi’s “Un Ballo In Maschera,” and proceed to sing countless works including “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Der Freischütz,” and “Rigoletto.” However, she was just as apt in contemporary repertoire like Benjamin Britten’s “Gloriana” and Michael Tippett’s “The Midsummer Marriage.”

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Sutherland would cover an extremely diverse array of roles, everything from Donizetti, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Handel, and Mozart to Verdi, Rossini, Bellini, and even Cilea, tackling some of opera’s most treacherous coloratura and dramatically dexterious passages with grace and ease. In 2002 in an interview with The Guardian’s Martin Kettle, she noted her crowning achievement was to sing in Massenet’s “Esclarmonde,” the interview being one of the very last she gave before her death in October of 2010 at the age of 83. 

Rest in Peace Dame Joan Alston Sutherland (1926-2010).


“Parigi O Cara” (Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata”) with Luciano Pavarotti



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