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Famed Soprano Joan Sutherland Dies At 83
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Famed Soprano Joan Sutherland Dies At 83

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Famed Soprano Joan Sutherland Dies At 83

Famed Soprano Joan Sutherland Dies At 83
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Soprano Joan Sutherland i

Soprano Joan Sutherland was known as "La Stupenda" for the incredible size and flexibility of her voice. Getty Images hide caption

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Soprano Joan Sutherland

Soprano Joan Sutherland was known as "La Stupenda" for the incredible size and flexibility of her voice.

Getty Images

Australian opera star Joan Sutherland, who for more than four decades of singing was known as "La Stupenda" for the power of her coloratura singing, has died at age 83.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Pause now, and listen to one of the finest sopranos of all time.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JOAN SUTHERLAND (Opera Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: Joan Sutherland. Sutherland died yesterday at her home near Geneva, Switzerland. She was 83.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, Sutherland is widely seen as one of the greatest voices in 20th century opera.

PHILIP REEVES: The great tenor Luciano Pavarotti coined a phrase to describe Joan Sutherland. He called her the greatest coloratura soprano of all time. Coloratura refers to a singer's virtuosity - the ability to sing with great range, and to perform brilliant runs and trills. Sutherland had all that - and more.

(Soundbite of song, "Lucia di Lammermoor")

Ms. SUTHERLAND: (Singing in foreign language)

REEVES: That's Sutherland singing Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." She performed that opera more than 200 times. Sutherland grew up in Sydney, Australia. Her father was a tone-deaf Scotsman who died when she was 6. Her mother was a keen amateur singer, with a fine voice. In her autobiography, Sutherland said she discovered music when she was 3. She used to crouch under the piano, copying her mother, singing arpeggios. She progressed to arias, learning them by ear. At 18, Sutherland made her debut. Thus began a career in which she performed the biggest and best opera houses in the world.

(Soundbite of song, "Lucrezia Borgia")

Ms. SUTHERLAND: (Singing in foreign language)

REEVES: That was Sutherland in "Lucrezia Borgia" by Donizetti - one of 50 roles she mastered. Many compared her with the mighty Maria Callas. Italian fans were so impressed by her performance she gave in Venice, they dubbed her La Stupenda - the Stunning One. Britain's queen made her a dame. In 1990, Sutherland made her final appearance at London's Covent Garden Opera House. Her fans were dismayed, but Sutherland said it was time to stop.

(Soundbite of archived broadcast)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: I felt I'd much rather retire while I was still capable of singing - and reasonably well - than wait until somebody said, you know, what's the old girl continuing for? I wish to goodness someone would tell her to stop.

REEVES: In that interview recorded in 1990, Sutherland reflected on her work in typically modest fashion.

(Soundbite of archived broadcast)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: I certainly have had a much greater career than I ever imagined - absolutely fantastic. I may have been classed as the star but to me, it's always been wonderful to work with people and to make music together.

REEVES: Sutherland's family issued a statement, saying she had a long life in which she gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.

For Joan Sutherland's multitude of fans around the world, that's an understatement.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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