Birthplace: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Location of death: Switzerland
Cause of death: Illness
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: "La Stupenda" opera soprano
Australian soprano Joan Sutherland was one of the world's most famous and beloved opera performers, known for her lovely voice, remarkable range, and commanding stage presence. Her father, a tailor, died when she was six years old, and her mother, an amateur singer and piano teacher who introduced her to music, would not allow her to take formal music lessons until she turned 18 years of age.
She worked as a typist after high school, and won two years of free vocal lessons in an amateur competition. She made her professional debut in Sidney in 1947, playing Dido in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, and soon came to London, where she studied at the Royal College of Music and was hired by the Royal Opera for £10 a week, after her third audition.
She was mentored by and married to conductor Richard Bonynge, and he urged her toward the coloratura repertoire. Well reviewed from the beginning, she had a long apprenticeship of supporting roles at Covent Garden, and made her breakthrough performance in a 1959 production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, which became her signature role. In the same year she underwent an experimental sinus operation to resolve recurring problems with clogged nasal passages.
She was best known for performances in the bel canto repertoire, an Italian term loosely applied to the elegant Italian singing style of the 18th and early 19th centuries, featuring vocal trills, extreme high notes and other musical embellishments that can showcase a singer's shortcomings or brilliance. The bel canto style, heard in the operas of Vincenzo Bellini and Gioacchino Rossini, was not frequently performed when Bonynge helped her master it, but was revived in the popular repertoire largely through Sutherland's spectacular performances. It was Italian audiences who gave her the nickname "La Stupenda".
Bonynge was Sutherland's preferred director for the length of her career. "For me he is the perfect conductor," she said. "He knows how to allow for breathing, and he has a complete knowledge of how I feel and what I am capable of." A diva only on stage, she was universally described as down the earth in her private life. She retired in 1990, closing her career with an operatic rendition of "Home Sweet Home" in her home town, at the Sydney Opera House. She died in 2010, leaving some sixty albums and a reputation as one of the most celebrated opera singers of all time.
Father: William McDonald Sutherland (tailor, d. 1932)
Mother: Muriel Alston Sutherland
Sister: Barbara Sutherland
Husband: Richard Bonynge (conductor, m. 1954, one son)
Son: Adam Bonynge (hotelier)
High School: St. Catherine's Girls School, Waverly, Australia
University: Rathbone Academy of Dramatic Art
University: Opera School, Royal College of Music (1951-52)
Fellow: Royal College of Music (1981-2010)
Australian of the Year 1961
Commander of the British Empire 1961
Order of Australia 1975
Dame of the British Empire 1979
Order of Merit 1991
Kennedy Center Honor 2004
Royal Opera House
Surgery to correct sinus condition (1959)
Scottish Ancestry (paternal)
Risk Factors: Arthritis
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (20-Jul-1995)
Author of books:
The Autobiography of Joan Sutherland: A Prima Donna's Progress (1997, memoir)
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