once again, may i remind those of you who haven't already done so, that messages
that arrive in the format below are a pain in the ass, and usually go
unread by a great many subscribers to the list.
please set your margin width so this does not occur.
Date sent: Fri, 25 Dec 1998 01:52:48 -0500
Send reply to: Joseph Manley <[log in to unmask]>
From: Joseph Manley <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Sutherland and Bonynge - Setting a Few Things Straight
To: [log in to unmask]
> After seeing a variety of comments about Joan Sutherland on the list, some historical--and vocal--clarification might be helpful.
> Most if not all of the comments are from those who like or at least respect Sutherland, so I intend no argument or polemic.
> Richard Bonynge worked and coached with Joan Sutherland for years before their marriage in 1954--which only cemented in certain respects an artistic and personal partnership that was long and well-established. So virtually all we are likely to hear from Sutherland came during Bonynge's
tutelage, even if in repertoire not recommended by Bonynge, such as the 1955 Euryanthe.
> Her emergence as a large-voiced coloratura under his tutelage was not a late development in her Covent Garden career. Sutherland was already discussing it with Callas in 1952 when Callas came to do Norma and Sutherland sang Clothilde. Callas' comment was it would be "very interesting" for
Sutherland to do that. And Sutherland and Bonynge were already hard at work on it.
> Mr. Bonynge was often been condescended to for his part in the partnership. But whatever one may choose to think of him, he had the knowledge and vision of both the bel canto repertoire and of Sutherland's true voice, and a clear view of the brilliant possibilities for that voice in the bel
canto repertoire that led to the career of one of the greatest operatic singers of all time. He also was able to guide her vocally, even though not a singer himself. In that he was utterly brilliant especially for his then young age, and we are forever in his debt.
> Sutherland has the classic coloratura voice--as large as the voice is. Such voices are enormously strong at the top and the bottom of the voice. Given the size of her voice, the strong bottom led to Sutherland being considered first a mezzo, then the stentorian top and bottom (and also full
middle) led to her being deemed a potential dramatic soprano, and even now I hear people making that error--including on this List.
> Bonynge, fortunately, knew better. Bonynge had to trick even Sutherland into understanding her voice, by vocalizing her up without letting her know what the pitches were. She immediately sang easily where she had no idea she could. (Her very young vocalizing with her mother using the
Marchesi technique was no doubt the early foundation for this facility)
> Sutherland's coloratura repertoire and career were no invention of Bonynge's. No one sings a high F with that enormously full tone and ease without being a coloratura--impossible. That is very different from a lyric or even a dramatic *with* coloratura. The decades Sutherland sustained
quality in the bel canto coloratura roles are also ample proof of how well placed she was in her fach--especially given the weight of sinus and other health problems that would have stopped many singers altogether.
> Bonynge's great role was to be able to perceive the potential that was there and help develop it.
> Bonynge was not some one who later intruded on or clung to Sutherland's success. He was crucially part of its very inception.
> > The coloratura bel canto development was not something artificially superimposed on the voice. The instrument per se was always adept at both coloratura and the long well-arched legato lines of bel canto. The often-
mentioned "droop" intruded only later in the career with age and quite possibly the weight of often excruciating sinus problems. It is most informative to listen to her live performances from 1957-1962, which amply demons
trate the above.
> It was a voice that was big, but in no way "heavy", infinitely bright and supple.
> > And it was not a failing on the part of Covent Garden management that Sutherland shifted to the bel canto repertoire. Though they were grooming her as a spinto or dramatic in a lot of utility roles, without understan
ding the uniqueness of her gift, when persuaded by Bonynge to hear how Sutherland sang in bel canto, they were simply bowled over, and almost instantly saw the great advantage to their opera house of having her as a star c
oloratura. The 1959 Lucia was the fruit of years of planning by both Bonynge and Covent Garden management, which included a new Zeffirelli production especially for her. Everyone by then knew it was to be a great eveneme
nt-- Callas and Schwarzkopf attended the dress rehearsal in their chicest outfits and coifs--even though for the international public Sutherland seemed to simply burst on the scene in those first Lucia performances.
> > As for the famous diction--both the Bonynges' emphasis was on producing the greatest fullness of tone and smoothness of line. At times balancing that against clear diction apparently sacrificed some of the latter.
> > However, I have to point out the great incisiveness, including in diction, of much of Sutherland's work in the 1957-62 period. And others have pointed out more diction later. Technique is always a work in progress e
ven with the greatest artists.
> > Then there is a fact not always factored into this discussion: that Sutherland had extremely drastic sinus surgery after her 1959 Lucia debut, which actually had been postponed past medical necessity so as not to inte
rfere with the debut. Fortunately the risk that it would ruin the voice was not realized, but it did alter it a bit and required retraining and readjustment that to my ears played a role in the direction away from trencha
> > Finally, it must be said that Joan Sutherland is a remarkably strong, intellectually bright, articulate, and highly musical person. Her recent interviews give fresh evidence of that. She is by no means a "product"
of her husband, with him bearing all the musical and artistic burden and ability. What she produced in live performances in such abundance had to come from deep within her in extremely large measure, both in expression an
d musicianship. And what she produced could include abundant emotion, as a live Edinburgh Sonambula attests. She is far more than her stereotype on studio recordings.
> > It's worth getting to know the extensive oeuvre and artistic lives of these 2 great artists better, especially in "live" recordings, before judging them very much. Otherwise, only those judging are the less for it.
> > Something that may come as a surprise--Sutherland accomplished what Callas could not by performing a successful film role (in Australia) after retirement from opera.
> Joe Manley
joel kasow - operanet