Dame Joan Sutherland, the dominant opera soprano after Maria Callas, died during the night of October 11, 2010 at her home at Les Avents, near Montreux, Switzerland, her family have announced. She was a month short of her 84th birthday.
An overnight star in 1959, when she stormed the mad scene in Franco Zefirelli’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor, the Australian was steered by her conductor husband Richard Bonynge ever deeper into the bel canto repertory of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti and away from direct comparison with Callas in the big heartbreak roles of Verdi and Puccini.
The power couple adopted a callow Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, and took him on tour in their home country, an education for which he was eternally grateful. Together, ‘Lucy and Joan’ formed a dream team on Decca Records. Her diction was indistinct and her dynamic control imperfect, but Sutherland conveyed a stage grandeur that overcame any minor shortcomings and the power of her voice was unforgettable. Both of these merits she acquired by watching Kirsten Flagstad during her 1950s Covent Garden apprenticeship, where her other mentor was the Czech conductor, Rafael Kubelik.
A simple, friendly woman, happiest in a dressing room with a magazine and her knitting, she avoided tantrums, had no airs and graces and, in retirement, shunned the limelight. She received a dewy-eyed biography from Norma Major, wife of a British prime minister, and dictated an autobiography of total concealment and ineffable blandness.
For all her unassuming personal modesty, her voice defined an operatic era.