THE BLOG
10/11/2010 07:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

La Stupenda, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dies

Considered by many to be the coloratura soprano of the past century, Dame Joan Sutherland has died. Australian media said the Sydney-born bel canto diva died at age 83 in Switzerland.

Inspired by her mezzo-soprano mother, as well as song birds and her Scottish father, who sang hymns rather badly but at the top of his voice, she was known as "the voice of the century."

Coloratura, according to Wikipedia, "When used in English... the term specifically refers to elaborate melody, particularly in vocal music and especially in operatic singing of the 18th and 19th centuries, with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material."

She earned the sobriquet "La Stupenda" by pleasing the notoriously picky audiences of Italy, never shy about venting their disappointments. The first performance of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" was virtually booed off the stage at La Scala.

Her repertoire included composers from Mozart to Bizet to Wagner to Donizetti, and many more. The difficult roles created by the man from Salzburg, who turned voices into instruments, were among her favorites. Her performance in the Mad Scene of Lucia di Lammermoor haunts all those who have followed her.

Sutherland was so tall she towered over many of her tenors. Only the late Maria Callas was seen as being in her class. Opera News said Callas launched a new bel canto era, and Sutherland gave it wings.

Anthony Tomassini of The New York Times had this to say:

Her singing was founded on astonishing technique. Her voice was evenly produced throughout an enormous range, from a low G to effortless flights above high C. She could spin lyrical phrases with elegant legato, subtle colorings and expressive nuances. Her sound was warm, vibrant and resonant, without any forcing. Indeed, her voice was so naturally large that at the start of her career Ms. Sutherland seemed destined to become a Wagnerian dramatic soprano.

Her conductor/husband, Richard Bonynge, recognized her broad range and steered her away from strictly dramatic roles. He also found a copy of the original finale for Bellini's "I Puritani," which had been abandoned because it was so difficult, and Sutherland sang it.

She is survived by her husband, and their son, Adam.