- Associated Press - Monday, October 11, 2010

GENEVA (AP) — Dame Joan Sutherland, one of the most celebrated opera singers of all time, has died. She was 83.

A statement released Monday by her family said Miss Sutherland died Sunday at her home near Geneva.

“The family of Dame Joan Sutherland wishes to let all her friends and admirers know that she passed away very peacefully in the evening of Oct. 10 at her home in Switzerland after a long illness,” the statement said.

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A soprano called “La Stupenda” by her Italian fans, Miss Sutherland was acclaimed from her native Australia to North America and Europe for the wide range of roles she took on during a career that spanned four decades. But she was particularly praised for her singing of operas by Handel and 19th-century Italian composers.

Tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who joined with Marilyn Horne in Miss Sutherland’s farewell gala recital at Covent Garden in London on Dec. 31, 1990, called her “the greatest coloratura soprano of all time.”

The term, derived from “color,” refers to a soprano with a high range and the vocal agility to sing brilliant trills and rapid passages.

Miss Sutherland’s purity of tone and brilliant vocal display made her pre-eminent in the revival of Italian bel canto operas, taking on the mantle of Maria Callas.

Miss Sutherland started singing as a small child, crouching under the piano and copying her mother, Muriel Alston Sutherland, “a talented singer with a glorious mezzo-soprano voice,” according to Miss Sutherland’s biographer, Norma Major, wife of former British Prime Minister John Major.

“I was able from the age of 3 to imitate her scales and exercises,” she wrote in her autobiography. “As she was a mezzo-soprano, I worked very much in the middle area of my voice, learning the scales and arpeggios and even the dreaded trill without thinking about it. The birds could trill, so why not I?

“I even picked up her songs and arias and sang them by ear, later singing duets with her — Manrico to her Azucena. I always had a voice.”

When she began performing in Australia, Miss Sutherland thought she was a mezzo-soprano like her mother, and it took the insight of subsequent coaches to make her realize that she should develop her higher range.

The family statement said Miss Sutherland is survived by her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge; their son, Adam; their daughter-in-law, Helen; and two grandchildren.

According to the statement, Miss Sutherland, who broke both legs during a fall at her home in 2008, requested a very small and private funeral.

Former Associated Press writer Alexander G. Higgins contributed to this report


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