Joan Sutherland, in full Dame Joan Alston Sutherland, born November 7, 1926, in Sydney, Australia, is the operatic soprano who was considered the leading coloratura of the 20th century.
The daughter of a gifted singer, she studied piano and voice with her mother until 1946, when she won a vocal competition and began studying voice with John and Aida Dickens. She made her singing debut as Dido in a concert performance of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in Sydney in 1947 and her operatic debut in the title role of Sir Eugene Goossens’s Judith in 1951. Cash prizes from several vocal competitions made it possible for her to move to London and begin study with Clive Carey at the Royal College of Music. In 1952 she was accepted into the company of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and made her first appearance there as the First Lady in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Her accompanist and vocal coach, Richard Bonynge, who had worked with her in Sydney, was convinced that her future lay in the florid coloratura repertoire even though Covent Garden was training her as a dramatic Wagnerian soprano. In 1954 she married Bonynge, and with his help and encouragement she began to develop her higher range. In 1959 Covent Garden revived Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for her, and in 1961 she made her New York City debut in the same role at the Metropolitan Opera. Her performance in this difficult title role won international recognition.
Sutherland afterward sang in Venice, Vienna, Dallas (Texas), Paris, Barcelona (Spain), Genoa (Italy), Milan, San Francisco, Chicago, and her native Sydney. Her greatest later successes were as Norma in Vincenzo Bellini’s opera of that name, Cleopatra in George Frideric Handel’s Giulio Cesare, and the three sopranos in Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. She also had an impressive concert career and can be heard on many highly acclaimed recordings. Sutherland retired from performing in 1990.
Sutherland’s numerous awards included a Kennedy Center Honor (2004). She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1978. A Prima Donna’s Progress; The Autobiography of Joan Sutherland was published in 1997.
Lucia di Lammermoor — opera in three acts
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Librettist: Salvadore Cammarano
An intruder has been spotted near the Ashton family home, and Normanno sends Enrico’s men off in search of the stranger. Enrico arrives, troubled. His family’s fortunes are in danger, and only the arranged marriage of his sister, Lucia, with Arturo Bucklaw can save them. The chaplain Raimondo, Lucia’s tutor, reminds Enrico that the girl is still mourning the death of her mother. But Normanno reveals that Lucia is concealing a great love for Edgardo, leader of the Ashtons’ enemies. Enrico is furious and swears vengeance. The men return and explain that they have seen and identified the intruder as Edgardo. Enrico’s fury increases.
Just before dawn, Lucia and her companion Alisa are waiting for Edgardo. Lucia relates that, in this very spot, she has seen the ghost of a girl who was stabbed by a jealous lover. Alisa urges her to forget Edgardo, but Lucia insists that her love for Edgardo brings her great joy and may overcome all. Edgardo arrives and explains that he must leave on a political mission. Before he leaves, he wants to make peace with Enrico. Lucia, however, asks Edgardo to keep their love a secret. Edgardo agrees, and they exchange rings and vows of devotion.
It is some months later, on the day that Lucia is to marry Arturo. Normanno assures Enrico that he has successfully intercepted all correspondence between the lovers and has in addition procured a forged letter, supposedly from Edgardo, that indicates he is involved with another woman. As the captain goes off to welcome the groom, Lucia enters, continuing to defy her brother. Enrico shows her the forged letter. Lucia is heartbroken, but Enrico insists that she marry Arturo to save the family. He leaves, and Raimondo, convinced no hope remains for Lucia’s love, reminds her of her late mother and urges her to do a sister’s duty. She finally agrees.
As the wedding guests arrive, Enrico explains to Arturo that Lucia is still in a state of melancholy because of her mother’s death. The girl enters and reluctantly signs the marriage contract. Suddenly, Edgardo bursts in, claiming his bride. The entire company is overcome by shock. Arturo and Enrico order Edgardo to leave, but he insists that he and Lucia are engaged. When Raimondo shows him the contract with Lucia’s signature, Edgardo curses her and tears his ring from her finger before finally leaving in despair and rage.
Enrico visits Edgardo at his dilapidated home and taunts him with the news that Lucia and Arturo have just been married. The two men agree to meet at dawn for a duel.
Back at Lammermoor, Raimondo interrupts the wedding festivities with the news that Lucia has gone mad and killed Arturo. Lucia enters, covered in blood. Moving between tenderness, joy, and terror, she recalls her meetings with Edgardo and imagines that she is with him on their wedding night. She vows that she will never be happy in heaven without her lover and that she will see him there. When Enrico returns, he is enraged at Lucia’s behavior but soon realizes that she has lost her senses. After a confused and violent exchange with her brother, Lucia collapses.
Edgardo laments that he has to live without Lucia and awaits his duel with Enrico, which he hopes will end his own life. Guests coming from Lammermoor tell him that the dying Lucia has called his name. As he is about to rush to her, Raimondo announces that she has died. Determined to join Lucia in heaven, Edgardo stabs himself.
Source: Metropolitan Opera