JOAN SUTHERLAND, 1926-2010
Marilyn Horne, John Tooley, Ian Campbell, Lotfi Mansouri,
Susanne Mentzer and Andrew Porter
Truly one of the voices of the century, Dame Joan Sutherland died at her home near Montreux in Switzerland on October 10, aged 83. Famed for the power, flexibility and beauty of her soprano, Sutherland used her instrument to restore the bel canto re pertory to the opera house. She built on the momementum initiated by Maria Callas, and—with crucial guidance from her husband, Richard Bonynge— changed the operatic world.
Marilyn Horne Joan and I became good friends almost exactly 50 years ago; it’s very nearly half a century since we jointly made our New York debuts in Beatrice di Tenda. I know they were much more excited about her—I was standing in for Giulietta Simionato and had to fly into New York in the grip of a terrible snowstorm—but it was a big success. The occasion was the 21 February 1961 Town Hall concert version, which produced such a demand for tickets that we then moved to Carnegie Hall for the two further performances. We took to each other then.
I had of course already heard about Sutherland. I remember being under contract in Gelsenkirchen; listening with one of my best friends to a broadcast of Sutherland, we simply knew: This Is It. Two years later, there I was rehearsing with her. Not long afterwards, Joan and Ricky came to California (for concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, I
■ Joan Sutherland as Alcina at Covent Garden in 1962
think), where I was living at the time. Terry McEwan was there too, and we all got to know each other relaxing around the swimming pool of our house. Ricky helped me with the style and ornamentation for the Fille du régiment at San Francisco Opera that was coming up the following fall. And my thenhusband, Henry Lewis, prepared Ricky for his conducting debut—La sonnambula. So it was one big ‘Getting to Know You’ all round …
We were together again for my Met debut, in Norma in 1970, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We had plenty of favourites—among them Semiramide, with its extended duets, and the Verdi Requiem—but nothing touched ‘Mira, o Norma’ and we did that opera in several places. I still can’t walk down the street in New York without someone
Opera, December 2010 ■ Before the Lucia breakthrough: (l.) as Madame Herz in ‘Der Schauspieldirektor’ at Glyndebourne; (above) as Eva in ‘Die Meistersinger’ at Covent Garden, both 1957
■ (below) ‘Mira, o Norma’: Sutherland and Horne at the Met in 1970
Opera, December 2010