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Soprano Dame Joan Sutherland dies, aged 83

12 October 2010, London, UK

Dame Joan Sutherland in 1975
Dame Joan Sutherland in 1975(Photo: Allan Warren)

Dame Joan Sutherland has died at her home in Switzerland, aged 83. She had been in poor health since suffering a fall last year.

Dubbed ‘La Stupenda’ as early in her career as 1960, the Australian-born Sutherland was one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th Century, celebrated in particular for her bel canto roles.

Her international career began at Covent Garden in 1952, when she debuted as First Lady in Die Zauberflöte, but it was her 1959 appearance in the title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor that catapulted Sutherland into the firmament of international opera stars. She went on to sing this role 233 times during her career.

Luciano Pavarotti once described Sutherland as having "the voice of the century".

She was admired in equal measure for her personality, never letting her enormous success go to her head. Despite being ranked as “one of the first ladies of international opera, she never behaved like a prima donna,” says Alan Blyth in his obituary of Sutherland for The Guardian. “Throughout her career, she would be found joking and laughing uproariously in her dressing-room only minutes after giving an overwhelming performance of some tragic operatic heroine.”

Paying tribute to Sutherland in an official statement released yesterday by the Royal Opera House, Music Director Antonio Pappano said “[Joan] actually was 'Stupenda'.  A lovely human being who could sing anybody off the stage.  And I mean anybody.  What she did for bel canto music and its technique cannot be underestimated.  We have lost one of the true greats.”

Sutherland’s discography includes 40 recordings of 33 different operas and she was awarded a Grammy in 1961 for best classical performer of the year.

She was appointed CBE in 1961, DBE in 1979, and a member of the Order of Merit in 1991.

Her retirement from the stage in 1990 was marked by a farewell performance at Covent Garden alongside Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne.

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