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October 11, 2010

The great Joan Sutherland is dead at 83

The death of Joan Sutherland -- Dame Joan -- Monday in Switzerland at the age of 83 after a long illness is being mourned by opera fans everywhere. She was one of the few vocal artists who truly deserved being hailed as "the voice of the century."

I didn't hear her live until the last chapter of her public career, but she still bowled me over with the distinctive timbre, the glittering phrasing. Her many recordings, especially of the bel canto repertoire, will always be treasurable. She set an awfully high standard. Critics carped about her diction, but only the coldest heart could fail to be won over by the purity and joy of her art.

I found this perfect little example of Sutherland in her prime -- the finale of Bellini's 'I Puritani.' I don't think she'd mind such a jaunty salute on the occasion of her death, since she was known for her humor and warmth, as much as for her musical brilliance.

Here, then, the Great Dame:

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:11 AM | | Comments (5)


Joan's death really feels like the end of an era, despite the other operatic notables who have passed away since September of last year.

Joan was equally admirable for her sheer joy in singing a wide variety of rep with her fantastic voice and technique. I listened to one of her "Salce" recordings followed by "Santo di patria" this morning, and love the warmth and lyricism in the former, and the brilliant top with strong lower register in the second. So versatile, so talented. She is sorely missed.

Reacting to the death of Dame Joan Sutherland, Opera Vivente is presenting their season-opener Lucy of Lammermoor in her memory. "With the passing of Dame Joan Sutherland, the opera world lost one of the most extraordinary voices it has ever known" mourned Opera Vivente General Director John Bowen. "Her more than 40-year career was distinguished by many appearances around the world in bel canto repertoire. But for many fans, Lucia di Lammermoor was a role that she made indelibly her own. As a small token of our affection and gratitude for Dame Joan's artistry, the cast and crew of Opera Vivente's upcoming production of Lucy of Lammermoor will dedicate this production to her memory" he concluded in a statement today.

Thanks Tim for this delightful reminder of why they called her La Stupenda (and for the days when network TV actually treated classical music as something worthy of putting in prime time). She (and those days) are both sorely missed.

While I realize that Lucia was the role that brought Dame Joan her real breakthrough into her big career, I find her greatest work and singing to be found in Norma, Maria Stuarda, Semiramide, Esclarmonde, Sonnambula, Puritani, and Beatrice di Tenda. She provided us with so much vocal fireworks that one sometimes forgets what a heartfelt and sincere singer she was. I even love her very late career recording of Cilea's Adriana. The voice, while perhaps not what it had been, is still one of a kind. We will cherish her for the rest of our lives.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts -- especially since I agree with them wholeheartedly. TIM

I was so sad to hear of Miss Sutherland's death. She was a lady who could do things with her voice that most sopranos could only dream about. I still have her old recordings. I will listen to them often.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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