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The Music Was Loony, But She Was Stupenda

Just two weeks ago I heard on the radio a Metropolitan Opera Broadcast of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." The voice was rock solid with incredible breath control and magnificent trills. I did not have to wait until the Act's end to recognize "La Stupenda."Now, Joan Sutherland, the unassuming Australian, who was one of the great sopranos of the second half of the twentieth century, has joined il coro dei serafini.Anthony Tommasini has a fine appreciation in today's Times. He writes:

Though never a compelling actress, Ms. Sutherland exuded vocal charisma, a good substitute for dramatic intensity. In the comic role of Marie in La Fille du Rgiment, she conveyed endearingly awkward girlishness as the orphaned tomboy raised by an army regiment, proudly marching in place in her uniform while tossing off the vocal flourishes.Ms. Sutherland was plain-spoken and down to earth, someone who enjoyed needlepoint and playing with her grandchildren. Though she knew who she was, she was quick to poke fun at her prima donna persona.I love all those demented old dames of the old operas, she said in a 1961 Times profile. All right, so theyre loony. The musics wonderful.

To see, and better hear, the "large walking column," here she sings the great aria, "Casta Diva," from Bellini's "Norma." "Loony," but stupendous.


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I consider myself fortunate to have been alive, in New York City, and able to have attended many of Joan Sutherland's performances at the the Met. And of course seeing Sutherland with Marilyn Horne or with Luciano Pavarotti was an extra added pleasure.If you want to hear something thrilling and absolutely sensational, listen to this -- Santo di patria from Verdi's Attila.

I remember hearing Sutherland do the mad scene from Lucia many, many years ago on a Texaco Saturday evening broadcast. It was amazing. I could hardly believe a human voice could be capable of something like that. For something new under the sun, but equally brilliant, I recommend Eglise Guttierrez.

I heard her in Turandot. What a sublime voice! Almost unreal.

Chicago, Lyric Opera, her and a flute going to town in the mad scene in Lucia. Absolutely amazing.

Back in the days of vinyl records, my parents would send me to some tire store during the holiday season to buy the annual Goodyear Christmas record (or maybe it was Firestone). Anyway, she was one the regulars, I think, on those albums.

It seems to me that every recent diva Ive read about has been described as down-to-earth. If you google the phrase down-to-earth diva, in addition to Joan Sutherland, youll find the following described with that phrase:Sondra RadvanovskyRenee FlemingAngelika KirschlagerDawn UpshawDeborah VoightPatricia RacetteCecilia BartoliSofie von OtterMarilyn HorneBeverly SillsWhen did all the divas plunge down-to-earth? Are there any loonies above the earth? BTW, isnt the "down-to-earth diva" phrase an oxymoron? Perhaps we need specialized training institutes or a quota system to preserve a few non down-to-earth divas if only to serve as a contrast so our girls-next-door can appear more virtuous.

Anyone who google's the phrase, "down-to-earth-diva," must have time on his hands :-)!Full disclosure: my all-time-favorite-diva is Renata Tebaldi who was not at all down-to-earth. She was purely DIVINA.

I hope everyone who cares about divas has read Mawrdew Czgowchwz by James McCourt. The opening:

There was a time (time out of mind) in the sempiternal progress of divadienst, at that suspensory pause in its career just prior to the advent of what was to be known as "Mawrdolatry," when the cult of Morgana Neri flourished in the hothouse ambiance of the Crossroads Caf, in the shadow of the old Times building, across Broadway from the very hotel (a ghostly renovated ruin) where Caruso had sojourned in the great days, whose palmy lobby, once ormolu and velvet, had been transformed into a vast drugstore, and in Caruso's suite a podiatrist had been installed. There at the Crossroads Caf, November after November (for Neri was a dead-center Scorpio), the great world's concerns were blithely ignored, controverted by ponderous, grimy rituals. The rolling electric Times sign might proclaim in its career the end of the modern world; I Neriani, unbothered, would rant over the latest Neri triumph at the house, on record, in Paramus, at the stadium. Neri's opinions on everything and everyone in music were recited in antiphon over tables littered with clippings, reviews, vile coffee, and majestically autographed glossies of the diva, in black and white and in sepia (none of a later vintage than last year before the war). Neri was considered ageless, her voice deemed eternal. The elders, who could actually speak of the Neri debut, were revered by initiates as prior saints. Wire recordings of Neri broadcast performances passed like transcripts of the Orphic mysteries from fool to fool. For many years Neri recordings outsold those of her every rival at Macy's, at the Gramophone Shop, on Mulberry Street and Mott. With a degree of justification the partisan critic Francobolli could speak of the "seemingly endless Neri Era."It ended. Time told on Neri, whence the Neriad took a turn for the tragic, thought better of the route, and devolved into near-farce. A contretemps absolute in its severity beset I Neriani. The walls fell from the fantasy temple of Morgana l'Ultima. Mawrdew Czgowchwz had come to town. Mawrdew Czgowchwz became the diva of the moment and the moment went on. She gave a new meaning to "presence," becoming, as Hacyon Paranoy decreed, "of the moment its life, its persona emblematica itself." She wedded music to mimicry to create "musicry." She was the definitive diva; she still is.