When I heard this morning that Joan Sutherland had died, I fired up the following -- Joan Sutherland & Marilyn Horne singing the "Mira, O Norma" duet -- on my iPod:
Granted, Joan Sutherland is a singer I find it easier to admire than to love. Her technique was impeccable, but the problem is that when I watch videos of her singing, I am always aware of how impeccable it is -- how her mouth is carefully positioned just so to form every note. The obituary in The Independent praises Sutherland's glowing high notes and coloratura, but also criticizes her for "amorphous diction" and "lack of brightness of tone." Truth to be told, that's kind of how I've always felt.
But still, a voice with Sutherland's kind of power and control and agility doesn't come along often -- a voice that makes people want to produce difficult and neglected works in order to give that voice a chance to shine. It is thanks to Sutherland that operas such as I Puritani got rediscovered and are now part of standard operatic repertoire. And for that, I am truly grateful.
Moreover, this music is part of my childhood. My mom saw Sutherland and Horne perform Norma in the early '80s in SF, and I grew up listening to their version of the Norma duet. As with Pavarotti's death a few years ago, this brings up some of my earliest memories.