Joan Sutherland - Classic Australian Performances - Live from the Sydney Opera House
Joan Sutherland (soprano)
supporting soloists include Gregory Yurisich (baritone), Clifford Grant (bass), Margreta Elkins (mezzo), Huguette Tourangeau (mezzo) and Kenneth Collins (tenor); Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
full contents list at end of review.
rec. live, Sydney Opera House, 18 August 1976 (CD 1 tr. 11-12, CD 2 tr. 7), 8 July 1977 (CD 1 tr. 1, CD 2 tr. 3), 1 August 1978 (CD 1 tr. 6-7, CD 2 tr. 4), 10 July 1982 (CD 1 tr. 8, CD 2 tr. 6), 2 July 1983 (CD 1 tr. 9-10, CD 2 tr. 8), 18 February 1984 (CD 1 tr. 2, CD 2 tr. 5), 15 September 1984 (CD 1 tr. 5), 8 February 1986 (CD 1 tr. 14-15, CD 2 tr. 1), 9 August 1986 (CD 1 tr. 3-4, CD 2 tr. 2), 23 February 1988 (CD 1 tr. 13, CD 2 tr. 9)
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
ABC CLASSICS 476 3963 [78:26 + 73:10]
With the death of Dame Joan Sutherland on 10 October 2010 the operatic world lost one of the most glorious singers of the last century. Many great sopranos have graced the stages of the world’s illustrious opera houses and their art has been preserved on records from the beginning of the 20th century: Patti, Melba, Lehmann, Schumann, Flagstad, Ponselle, Schwarzkopf, Nilsson, Callas, Tebaldi, de los Angeles, Price, Caballé, Scotto, Freni, Te Kanawa, Norman, Fleming, Gheorghiu and Netrebko are names than come to mind. Dame Joan certainly has a place in this exalted company. Many would say that she was the greatest. ‘La Stupenda’ as she was nicknamed. She had a fabulous technique, her coloratura was breathtaking and her trill surpassed anything previously and later heard. Besides this she had a voice which in its prime was among the most beautiful ever heard and a volume and heft that allowed her to sing Turandot. There have been detractors as well, and I have to admit that I have on more than one occasion regretted her bad, not to say non-existent, diction and her droopy phrasing. She didn’t have the theatrical and dramatic insight, call it even instinct, that made Maria Callas’s readings so unforgettable. During the latter half of her career an incipient beat in the voice, towards the end more and more verging on a wobble, became too prominent. But until the very end – she withdrew in 1990, aged 64 – her technique never failed her and few singers have been able to sing a high-lying pianissimo so effortlessly and with such beauty.
The live recordings on this set from the Sydney Opera House are from the last fifteen years of her career and amply demonstrate her strengths as well as her weaknesses. Generally one can say that the earliest recordings are superior. The Lucrezia Borgia excerpts from 1977, one on each disc, are as good as her studio recording, her trill in Com’ è bello! masterly. The Norma scenes from the following year also represent her at her best, not as heavenly beautiful as on her first studio effort, and Margreta Elkins, though good, is no match for Marilyn Horne back in the 1960s. Best of all is the Bell Song from Lakmé, a brilliant display of technique and nuance.
The later recordings are professionally executed but one has to accept that the voice has aged, the beat sometimes annoying, the Merry Widow very much a liability. On the other hand Die Fledermaus finds her on excellent form and the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, recorded when she was almost sixty, is on a par with what she sounded like the year before when I heard her comeback at Covent Garden in the role. I was surprised to find that she sang Madame Lidoine in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and the solo here is a welcome addition to her discography.
All in all this is a mixed bag and readers who want the very best of Joan Sutherland are advised to search out the recordings from her early years. The double album The Art of the Prima Donna is desert island stuff, and the Paris recital with Donizetti and Verdi, including her first recording of the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor is another must-have. There are other issues as well, among them a well-filled double-CD entitled The Voice of the Century, including quite a number of titles from the Prima Donna set but also a lot of excerpts from her complete recordings.
Dame Joan’s many fans will need this set and even though the sound can’t compare with Decca’s studio recordings it is fully acceptable. Her many colleagues appearing in ensembles don’t let the proceedings down and the reactions of the audiences give some extra presence, but I suspect that the generous applause will be rather tiresome in the long run.
I was positively surprised by the inclusion of texts with translations in the booklet, which also is adorned with colour photos from the performances. Nice work, ABC!
Live recordings from the last fifteen years of her career amply demonstrate her strengths as well as her weaknesses.
Full Contents List
CD 1 [78:26]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
1. Era desso il figlio mio (Cabaletta) act II [5:06]
Francesco CILEA (1866 – 1950)
2. Del sultano Amuratte … Io son l’umile ancella act I [4:44]
La Fille du Régiment
3. Mais, qui vient? … Au bruit de la guerre [4:03]
4. Quel beau jour [3:45]
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
Dialogues of the Carmelites
5. My daughters, I wanted to save you act III [2:28]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
Norma, act I
6. Casta Diva [6:07]
7. Fine al rito [5:05]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899)
8. Eight lonely nights … To part is such a sweet sorrow, act I [4:04]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Il Trovatore, Part I
9. Che più t’arresti? … Tacea la notte placida [6:53]
10. Di tale amor [2:06]
Léo DELIBES (1836 – 1891)
Lakmé, Act II (Bell Song)
11. Par les dieux inspirée … Où va la jeune Indoue, Fille des Paria [4:17]
12. Là-bas dans la foret plus sombre [4:20]
Franz LEHAR (1870 – 1948)
The Merry Widow
13. Love Unspoken, act III [3:36]
Lucia di Lammermoor, act III (Mad Scene)
14. Eccola! … Il dolce suono [13:43]
15. S’avanza Enrico [7:30]
CD 2 [73:10]
Lucia di Lammermoor
1. Chi mi frena (Sextet) act II [4:14]
La Filled u Régiment
2. Les bonnes âmes du pays … Le jour naissait dans le bocage (Singing Lersson Trio) act II [10:46]
3. Com’ è bello! (Aria) act I [6:36]
4. Deh! Con te li prendi … Mira, o Norma (Duet) act II [11:34]
5. Una volta c’era un Prinicipe … Poveri fiori (aria) act III [6:44]
Johann STRAUSS II
6. I wonder if she really is Hungarian? … The melodies of homeland act II [5:18]
7. Viens, Mallika (The Flower Duet), act I [6:36]
8. Siam giunti … D’amor sull’ali rosee … Miserere d’un’alma già vicina act III [14:48]
The Merry Widow
9. Let’s all now waken memories … Vilia [6:34]