Royal Opera House 2017-18 Preview: How Joan Sutherland Became the ROH’s Most Famous ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’

By David Salazar

“Lucia di Lammermoor” is one of opera’s undisputed staples. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden will be bringing back the work on Oct. 30, 2017, for an eight-performance run starring the great American soprano Lisette Oropesa in Katie Mitchell’s sexy and bloody production.

When one thinks of “Lucia” at the Royal Opera House, it is impossible to disassociate the opera from one major name – Joan Sutherland. For many, her finest interpretation of the opera came on this very stage, her voice as finessed as ever and her youthful energy making the drama all the more potent and powerful.

Sutherland, of course, made her role debut as Lucia at this very house in 1959 and quickly shot-up to stardom. That performance was conducted by Tullio Serafin in a production by Franco Zeffirelli. That was her big moment of overnight success and that performance is often referred to as one of the great operatic moments in history.

“Her voice, intrinsically beautiful, was under the strictest control, the ornaments evenly delivered, nothing shirked, and the entire shaping of the scene put to the most dramatic effect,” noted a review from that very night in The Guardian. “The pathos of her ‘Alfin Son Tua’ seized the whole house. This was exceptional operatic singing, radiant, pure, and vivid, and it won an ovation of the kind usually reserved for the favorite ballerina.”

She would sing the role at the ROH as late as 1985, when she was 59 years of age.

Many sopranos have sung the role and triumphed in it at the ROH, including the likes of Beverly Sills, Edita Gruberova, and, most recently, Diana Damrau, among many others. But for the British public, Joan Sutherland remains THE “Lucia” of the ROH.