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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Joan Sutherland – Classic Australian Performances
Joan Sutherland (soprano)
The Australian Opera Chorus
Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. 1976-1988, Live, Sydney Opera House, Australia
Full track details at end of review
Also available separately as 4656872 & 4720942
ABC CLASSICS 476 3963 [78.26 + 73.10]

Experience Classicsonline

Dame Joan Sutherland (1926-2010), OM, AC, DBE, died at her home in Switzerland on 11 October. 2010. Without doubt she was one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century.

In mid-February 1959 London’s Royal Opera House saw her give one of the most remarkable debut performances, The role was Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. The production, by Franco Zeffirelli had been specifically mounted to showcase her skills. It was a sensation and lead directly to her worldwide exposure. She excelled in bel canto, becoming known as La Stupenda. She was quickly signed up by Decca with whom she recorded many operas over the following thirty years. Most of them were conducted by her husband, Richard Bonynge. He did much to help her develop her singing skills. She came to dominate the world’s lyric stages including all the major houses.

The commercial releases by Decca duplicate many of the items presented on these two collections. The recordings derive from live performances at the Sydney Opera House where she debuted in Les Contes d’Hoffman in 1974. She was to appear on that stage most years after that during the European and American closed season. As with all live performances there are the pluses of added vibrancy and the minuses of applause and stage noise, albeit slight. Some may find these aspects disturbing. What the collection does provide, however, and which makes it particularly valuable, are alternatives to her various Decca recordings. In the case of the recordings from the 1970s, when Sutherland was in good voice and had given extensive stage performances her interpretations benefit enormously. This is very evident in the excerpts from Norma, recorded in 1978, (CD 1 trs.6-7 and CD 2 (CD 2 tr.4) and Lucrezia Borgia of the previous year (CD 1 tr.1 and CD 2 tr.3). This also serves to emphasise that the two discs, which claim the interpretations are appearing for the first time on CD (some are available on DVD) are to some extent complementary in that excerpts from the various operas are from the same performances.

I mention the Norma performances and stress that these recordings find her interpretation at its finest. Of her two Decca recordings, one was made too early and the second, partnering Pavarotti, and with Caballé a curiously uninterested Adalgisa, too late in her career. I was lucky enough to hear her interpretation in London around the time of this present performance and alongside Marilyn Horne as Adalgisa. It was an experience of vocal and interpretive excellence which I have rarely had equalled in the intervening years. Yes, there are and were quibbles about diction and softened consonants, but the sheer beauty of the sound, its size and the emotions she could invest were astounding and more than compensation. Although her many performances for Decca sometimes involved her fellow Australians that was the exception whilst here it is the norm. Reading the names and looking at the biographies serves to remind me of just how many distinguished soloists at Covent Garden and English National Opera hailed from the other side of the world.

Unlike conductors, age takes its toll on singers with a loosening of the voice, often also associated with the intrusion of vibrato and even a beat. This is evident in Sutherland’s later recordings for Decca, notably that of Elvira in Ernani, a recording that sat in Decca’s archives for a decade before its issue in 1998. That slackening begins to become evident in the recordings here from the mid-1980s and can be heard in loss of legato in Il Trovatore, made in 1983, (CD 1 trs.9-10 and CD 2 tr.8). In compensation there is still that unparalleled trill to die for. By, the time of the recordings of The Merry Widow the unsteadiness is more pronounced, but the Vilja lied, sung in English is still memorable (CD 2 tr.9).

Date of recording among those 1980 performances is not a reliable indicator of her overall vocal condition. Much depends on the repertoire. Whilst the 1984 Adriana Lecouvreur, a favourite role, shows some compromising of the voice she conveys the young girl to perfection (CD 1 tr.5 and CD 2 tr.5). Her interpretation is full of subtleties. The 1986 extracts from La Fille du Régiment are full of fun (CD 1 tr.3-4 and CD 2 tr.2) are full of the fun that characterised her Covent Garden debut in the role over a decade before and gain from the evident enjoyment of the audience. As I have indicated the Lucrezia Borgia extracts catch her in fine voice with a full pure-toned singing with a particularly fine declining gentle phrase at the conclusion of Era desso il figlio mio (CD 1 tr.1). The Lucia di Lammermoor excerpt, dated 1986, belies her age. Much the same applied when she shared the stage with Bergonzi at Covent Garden a couple of years before that. Together they showed a later generation what bel canto was really about (CD 1 trs.14-15 and CD 2 tr.2). Collectors will be particularly interested in the extract from Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites which Sutherland did not otherwise record (CD 1 tr.5).

The recordings are all of good standard and each booklet comes with libretto and English translation for each item. A brief introductory essay relates Sutherland’s career to some of the extracts.

Robert J Farr

Volume 1 (465 687-2)
Gaetano DONIZETTÌ (1797-1848)
Lucrezia Borgia
Era desso il figlio mio (Cabaletta). Act 2 scene 2 (Finale) [5'06]
rec. 8 July 1977
La Fille du Régiment
Mais, qui vient?... Au bruit de la guerre [4'03]
Quel beau jour [3.45]
With Gregory Yurisich (Sulpice)
rec. 9 August 1986
Lucia di Lammermoor (Mad scene)
Eccola!... Il dolce suono [13.43]
S'avanza Enrico! [7.30]
Clifford Grant (Raimondo); Robin Donald (Normano); Malcolm Donnelly (Enrico)
rec. 8 February 1986
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur
Del sultano Amuratte.. .Io son l'umile ancella. Act 1 entrance [4.44]
With John Wegner (The Prince of Bouillon). Graeme Ewer (Abbey Chazeuil)
rec. 15 September 1984
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Dialognes of the Carmelites
My daughters, I wanted to save you [2'28]
rec. 15 September 1984
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Casta Diva [6'07]
Fine al rito [ 5 05]
With Clifford Grant (Oroveso)
rec. 1 August 1978
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus
Eight lonely nights.. .To part is such sweet sorrow! [4'04]
Robert Gard (Gabriel von Eisenstein). Monique Brynell (Acide)
rec. 10 July 1982
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore
Che più t'arresti?.. .Tacca la notte placida [6'53]
Di tale amor [2.06]
rec. 2 July 1983
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Par les dieux inspirée.. .Où va la jeune Indoue, Fille des Paria ( Bell song) [4' 17]
Là-bas dans la forét plus sombre [4.20]
Clifford Grant (Nilakantha)
rec. 18 August 1976
Franz LEHÀR (1870-1948)
The Merry Widow
Love Unspoken [3'36]
rec. 23 February 1988

Volume 2 (472 094-2)
Gaetano DONIZETTÌ (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor
Chi mi frena in tal momento? (Sextet) [4'14]
Richard Greager (Edgardo), Malcolm Donnelly (Enrico), Clifford Grant (Raimondo), Patricia Price (Alisa), Sergei Baigildin (Arturo)
rec. 8 February 1986
La Fille du Régiment
Les bonnes âmes du pays ...
Le jour naissait dans le bocage Act l (The Singing Lesson Trio) [10'46]
Heather Begg (The Marquise of Berkenfield), Gregory Yurisich (Sulpice)
rec. 9 August 1986
Lucrezia Borgia
Com è bello! [6'36]
Robert Allman (Don Alfonso), Graeme Ewer (Rustighello)
rec. 8 July 1977
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Deh! Con te li prendi ... Mira, o Norma [11 '34]
Margreta Elkins (Adalgisa)
rec. 1 August 1978
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur
Una volta c'era un Prinicipe ... Poveri fiori [6'44]
Judith Saliba (Mlle Jouvenot), Jennifer Bermingham (Mlle Dangeville), Christopher Dawes
(Poisson), Jeffrey Black (Quinault), John Shaw (Michonner)
Members of the Comédie Francaise
rec. 18 February 1984
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus
I wonder if she really is Hungarian?….The melodies of my homeland [5.18]
Monique Brynnel (Adele); Michael Lewis (Falke), Anne-Maree McDonald (Ida)
rec. 10 July 1982
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Viens, Mallika Act 1 (The Flower Duet) [6.36]
Joan Sutherland (Lakmé), Huguette Tourangeau (Mallika)
rec. 18 August 1976
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore
Siam giunti ... D'amor sull'ali rosee ...
Miserere d'un'alma già vicina. Act 3 Scene 3 (Recitative, Aria and Scene) [14'48]
Robin Donald (Ruiz), Kenneth Collins (Manrico)
rec. 2 July 1983
Franz LEHÀR (1870-1948)
The Merry Widow
Let's all now waken memories ... Vilja (Recitative and Aria) [6'34]
rec. 23 February 1988














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