Sydney Opera House

In Memory of Dame Joan Sutherland

As a singer she had no rivals. When she sang, it was the sound of heaven. As a person, she brought pleasure just by being in the room. It will be a very long time before we hear such a voice again.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa ONZ, DBE, AC, soprano

Dame Joan Alston Sutherland OM AC DBE (7 November 1926 – 10 October 2010) was one of the most remarkable female opera singers of the 20th century.

In a career which spanned 40 years, she performed at every major opera house in the world, from her debut at Covent Garden to the Met, La Fenice and, of course, the Sydney Opera House, singing roles ranging from Mozart and Wagner to her beloved bel canto. She possessed a voice of beauty and power, combining agility, unerring intonation and a tremendous upper register.

Joan Alston Sutherland was born in Sydney on 7 November 1926. Her first music tuition came from her mother, herself a mezzo-soprano, but young Joan began serious study at 18. After winning the Sun Aria competition in 1951 she went to London to study at the Royal College of Music, and from there was engaged as a 'utility' soprano at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She sang her first leading role there, Amelia in A Masked Ball, in 1952.

She married conductor Richard Bonynge in 1954 and his conviction that she could sing the great 'bel canto' roles shaped her career, and inspired a worldwide renaissance of bel canto repertoire. Highlights included her first Lucia at Covent Garden in 1959, Elvira in I puritani in 1960 and the title role in Norma in 1963. The Sutherland-Williamson Grand Opera Company tour of Australia, in 1965, was legendary – every performance sold out. And in the 70s and 80s she performed many roles with Opera Australia. Her final Australian performance was at the Sydney Opera House in 1990 in Les Huguenots.

And the name? Dame Joan was first dubbed 'La Stupenda' – the stupendous one – at her 1960 performance of the title role in Handel's Alcina at La Fenice, Venice. The name stuck. 'La Stupenda' will be remembered forever for her effortless coloratura, her thrilling high notes and her exceptional technique. And Joan Sutherland will be remembered forever as a generous, down-to-earth colleague.

Read tributes from Dame Joan's opera colleagues.

View a photographic tribute to La Stupenda.

Moffatt Oxenbould speech