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Australia's Great Gift to The World. Dame Joan Sutherland. The Great Queen of "Bel Canto" opera

Updated on September 18, 2013

The incomparable Dame Joan Sutherland.

Dame Joan Sutherland. Australia's Greatest Treasure
Dame Joan Sutherland. Australia's Greatest Treasure
Beautiful Sydney Harbour where she grew up
Beautiful Sydney Harbour where she grew up
 Joan Sutherland turning the audience to jelly in Rigoletto
Joan Sutherland turning the audience to jelly in Rigoletto

La Stupenda For ever.

When Dame Joan Sutherland died in 2011, the world lost one of its greatest opera singers and Australia was deprived of one of its most famous ever children. To be thrilled by the sound of Dame Joan as she gave beautiful voice to the music of the great opera composers, was to experience an artistry that is unlikely to be surpassed by the singers that have succeeded her. To hear a Joan Sutherland performance was indeed to be translated to Heaven.

There are few countries who have suffered more culturally, in the perception of outsiders, than Australia. When most of us think of the antepodean continent, visions of men, with corks hanging from their hats, throwing another sausage on the barbie come to mind.
The highest example of "Australian class" most of us come across is Dame Edna Everidge. By the time we have sat through another episode of "Neighbours" and "Home and Away", and cringed as another nasal voiced schoolgirl looks for her lost "Roo", we begin to think "can anything good come out of Australia"?

Yet that is manifestly not the case.
Australia may be a young country, but culturally it can punch on a par with some of the greats in Europe. You have only to stand at Sydney Harbour and look beyond the iconic bridge until your gaze falls on the almost swan wing beauty of The Sydney Opera House to realise that the visions of "Crocodile Dundees", and "Shelaghs" swigging cans on the beach, is really only an unfair misperception, and that a country that can be so culturally mature as to build a first rate Opera House, is really a good place to live in, and to visit.

However I am not writing this article to extol the beauties of Sydney Harbour or the Opera House, but to pay a tribute to one of the very best things ever to come out of any country, and someone that her country should be really rightly proud of.
This is not being typed to praise Kylie Minogue, or her sister Dannii. They are both prime examples of Australian womanhood, who through their great talent, contribute greatly to "the gaiety of nations". But I will leave it to another hand to do justice to their charms.

I am however writing in order to pay tribute to that greatest of opera singers Dame Joan Sutherland, who hailed from that country, and whose commanding presence, and divinely powerful soprano voice, reduced generations of opera lovers to mounds of ecstatic jelly.

Dame Joan Sutherland. A life devoted to beautiful music.

Joan Sutherland was born in 1926 and made her first concert appearance in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 1947. After training in London she was engaged at The Royal Opera Covent Garden Where she made her debut in 1952 in Mozart's The Magic Flute. She went on to sing in Bellini's Norma, where she sang with that other great soprano, Maria Callas.
Her brilliant coloratura voice was eminently suited to the Bel Canto roles in Italian opera, and it was in that capacity that she had her greatest triumphs. Her husband, pianist and conductor, Richard Bonynge encouraged her to go down that path.

So amazing was her singing, and so moving were her interpretations of roles in operas from Handel, to Donizetti and Verdi that the ever critical audience at La Fenice in Venice dubbed her "La Stupenda" in tribute, more to her amazing singing ability than her size.
She continued to thrill audiences until she made her final appearence in Die Fledermaus at Covent Garden in 1990.
Dame Joan Sutherland was translated to Heaven on October 10th 2010. No doubt she is gainfully employed there giving singing lessons to the Heavenly Hosts. If not, she should be.

Joan Sutherland as "Gilda". One of her finest parts.

The video that I am including with this article is one that was taken during her final performance of Rigoletto.
She is singing with Luciano Pavarotti. She is singing the part of Gilda, who is the daughter of Rigoletto. She gets seduced by The Duke of Mantua, played by Pavarotti. In this quartet we see Gilda discovering that The Duke is cheating on her with a barmaid.
It is one of the most gorgeous scenes in all opera, and makes a fitting farewell to the world of Bel Canto, from one of it,s very best performers.

A word of warning.

Please make sure that you are sitting in a bowl before playing this performance. I was not lying when I said Joan Sutherland could transform her hearers into quivering jellies by the beauty of her singing. I take no responsibility for accidents that may happen as a result of careless listening.
When you are prepared, and only then, listen and enjoy.

Her final performance in Rigoletto.

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    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      8 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Wesman. Thanks for dropping in.

      "One man's meat is another man's poison" I guess.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Well, because I'm from East Texas, and still live there; it would be sort of ridiculous for me to judge such similar peoples negatively. Pots calling Kettles "black" would be a pretty good analogy.

      I'm always embarrassed by my lack of knowledge concerning classical music. Sometimes I hear things that I really like, and if the radio dj doesn't tell me that it's by one of the top ten major names that come to mind, then it's usually something that I would have had to been ready to write down in order to remember.

      Of course music appreciation isn't taught anywhere in America, unless you've paid for a class, and bought an expensive set of college textbooks.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      8 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      ThePeeDeeWildcat. Thanks for reading.

      I suppose there could have been some sort of reaction in her performance when he was conducting, on account of the personal bond between them. I know that Richard encouraged her to sing the type of roles that gave the greatest scope to her voice, so that might very well have influenced the quality of her singing when he was conducting.

      It must be difficult to make an independent mark when you are married to a legend like Dame Joan.

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Just Across The State Line

      Do you think that Dame Joan's singing was perhaps a little richer when Bonynge was conducting or did it make any difference? I've long thought that Richard Bonynge (another Aussie, of course) didn't enjoy the proper respect that he deserved as a conductor. Could he have been perceived as a bit too blue collar? I enjoyed your Hub.


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