The great soprano Dame Joan Sutherland(1926-2010), whom some have called the operatic voice of the 20th century, died last October--2010. 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 for I am not an opera buff. I have not read her autobiography published, as it was, in 1997 two years before I finished my teaching career in Western Australia. Sutherland started to seriously study voice in 1944, the year I was born in Ontario. 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 as some developmental psychologists call the years from 60 to 80 in the lifespan. I’m on a pension now here in Tasmania Australia. But I shall take this prose-poem in a different direction. This is a sort of eulogy, a 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.

I hardly knew you, Joan.
Opera has never been high
on my agenda...You did not
really get going until about
the time I got going back in
the ‘50s…& what a trip you
have had in the last 50 years!

While my own trip has been
taking its incremental story
step-by-step from early and
middle adulthood to the late
years and, who knows, I may
even get to an old age as you
did—surviving as you did to
83!!Both of our careers came
to an end in the 1990s and we
could enjoy final years with so
much to reflect on, eh Joan???

1959 was quite a year for both
of us and there were other years
as well in which we shared some
big events, but I was never in your
league, Joan. You and your voice
and that jaw were bigger than life
while I slid so unobtrusively from
country to country & town to town,
school to school and marriage to….
marriage. I wish you well, Joan, as
you continue your life in the Land of
Lights so different than the lights you
enjoyed on this earthly plain and your
voice, Joan, will you have that voice,
that eternal clear bel canto voice……
praised, as it was, as La Stupenda??!!

Ron Price
16 October 2010

Updated for: Classical Music and Opera
On: 8 May 2011