Yesterday was the funeral of soprano Dame Joan Sutherland(1926-2010) whom some have called the operatic voice of the 20th century. Three years ago she said that she “did not want to have anything to do with opera anymore.” Fair enough; she was 80 and had just broken both her legs! Readers of this prose-poem can google all sorts of words of encomium and very little opprobrium about her life. I can hardly add anything to what is known. I am not even an opera buff. I have not read her autobiography published, as it was, in 1997 two years before I finished my 30++year teaching career. Sutherland started to seriously study voice in 1944, the year I was born. Like all babies I, too, was seriously studying voice, of course, in quite a different sense.

Sutherland became a star in 1959 when she sang at the Royal Opera House. 1959 was a big year for me; I joined the Baha’i Faith that year at the age of 15. I could follow my life and Sutherland’s to her death this week and to my own years of late adulthood and life on a pension here in Australia. But I shall take this prose-poem in a different direction; this quasi-eulogy on a person whose voice possessed a crystal-clarity, the finest of diction and was incredible, miraculous.2 The word ‘opera’ comes from the Latin and means ‘work.’ It was invented, writes art critic Kenneth Clark, in the seventeenth century and made into an art form by the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi(1517-1643). Opera houses were often the largest buildings in a town or city especially in Catholic countries. They came in when churches were going out, Clark continues.1-Ron Price with thanks to 1Kenneth Clark, Civilization, Penguin, NY, 1969, p. 169; and 2 “Joan Sutherland: 1926-2010,” Andrew Patner: The View From Here, 11 October 2010.

People sit and listen to words
they do not understand and to
a plot they do not know---such
an irrational entertainment; it’s
a display of skill and the words
are sung because they are just
too silly, too subtle, too deeply
felt, or too revealing to be said.

There is a very real extension of
human feelings and faculties in a
world where the pursuit of love &
happiness, which had once been so
simple, is now very, very, complex.1

And, Joan, you gave us rock-solid
technique, confidence without any
arrogance, a four-decade career &
you became known, therefore, in a
bel canto style as…..La Stupenda!!

1 Kenneth Clark, op. cit., p. 170.

Ron Price
15 October 2010