Says General Director Speight Jenkins, "The voice of Joan Sutherland was unique in its combination of size and flexibility. She could have sung any repertory but chose, because of the wise advice of her husband Richard Bonynge, to concentrate on the lyric coloratura, bel canto area. When I first encountered her in staged opera, at her 1961 Dallas Lucia, she astonished me with the magnificence of her sound. My reaction never changed through the next quarter century. Never a great actress, she brought many characters into vivid life through vocal means alone. Her Lucia, Norma, and Gilda especially are unforgettable in their command and power. For sheer excitement the first night of her Elvira in I puritani, with Pavarotti as Arturo, at the Metropolitan ranks at near the top of my sixty-five years of opera going. She also made Amina in La Sonnambula a vocal treasure. She was also a delightful person, both funny and engagingly human. On stage she always seemed larger than life; offstage she was a person of great charm and simplicity."
Sutherland was one of the most celebrated sopranos of the 20th century, and in her four-decade career became known for her skill with the bel canto repertoire—especially Lucia di Lammermoor, which she recorded in 1961 for Decca. Later that same year, Sutherland made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Lucia, and wowed audiences. In today's New York Times obituary for Sutherland, Anthony Tommasini writes of her Met debut:
"Standees lined up beginning at 7:30 that morning. At Ms. Sutherland’s first appearance, before she sang a note, there was an enthusiastic ovation. Following the first half of Lucia’s 'Mad Scene' in the final act, which culminated in a glorious high E-flat, the ovation lasted five minutes. When she finished the scene and her crazed, dying Lucia collapsed to the stage floor, the ovation lasted 12 minutes."
Have a look at this video from the following year, showing Sutherland performing that famous mad scene:
The following season she appeared as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and then in 1970/71 she sang all four heroines in Les contes d'Hoffmann. In the 1977, Sutherland performed her last role with Seattle Opera: Sita in Le roi de Lahore.
Photos by Des Gates