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Joan Sutherland – Art of the Prima Donna
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778) The Soldier Tir'd – Artaxerxes [4:04]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Samson HWV 57 Act 3 - Let the bright seraphim [5:52]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) Norma (1788-1865) Act 1 - Sediziose voci ... Casta Diva [12:45]; I Puritani Act 1 - "Son vergin vezzosa" [3:02]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Semiramide Act 1 - Bel raggio lusinghier [6:35]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) I Puritani Act 2 - "Qui la voce sua soave" [6:57]; La Sonnambula Act 1 - Care compagne, e voi, tenere amici [8:24]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Faust Version 1860/1869 Act 3 - No.14b Air des bijoux: "Ah! Je ris de me voir" [4:39]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K.384 Act 2 - "Martern aller Arten" [8:42]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891) Lakmé Act 2 - Où va la jeune Indoue (Bell song) [7:50]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) Les Huguenots Act 2 - O beau pays de la Touraine [5:40]
Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
rec. 1960. ADD. Stereo
Taken from a 2 CD set entitled Joan Sutherland - Art of Prima Donna Decca Legends - Legendary Performances 4671152
ALTO ALC 1125 [75:40]

Experience Classicsonline


 
Joan Sutherland's breakthrough success as Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden in 1959 was exceptional. Nobody had heard the role sung with such confidence. It was soon followed by her run-away success in the world’s great opera houses singing the bel canto operas of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Maria Callas and Leyla Gencer may have got there first but it was the next generation of singers including Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballé who took the bel canto revival onto another level. This album from 1960 is consequently of great historical value. It captures Sutherland's voice at the moment she became a star - right at the start of her thirty-year-long international career.
 
This selection of arias and scenes showcases her talent and versatility during her early prime. The list of items reads like a check-list of the most demanding soprano roles imaginable. They demand without fail an even voice with remarkable flexibility. Right from the first item, 'The Soldier Tir'd', the coloratura is elaborate and breath control is prodigious. 'Qui la voce sua soave' from Puritani needs pathos and elegance. The charm demanded from the Faust 'Jewel Song' and the command and dignity of 'Sediziose voci' from Norma are just a handful of examples of the various emotions the singer is asked to inhabit. Amazingly Marguerite in Les Huguenots was the role with which Sutherland retired in Sydney thirty years after this LP was made.
 
So how does it go? Interpreting this recording is in fact more complicated and interesting than I expected. None of the performances are 'bad' – indeed they remain a fascinating and wonderfully vocalised selection. However I feel I should describe some reactions I had to the singing.
 
In 'The Soldier Tir'd' many of the much-lauded characteristics are in evidence. The scales are well defined and phrased nicely. The high notes gleam and the aria is certainly proof of a superb talent. However, the performance does not show the same intelligence and warmth that is to be found in some of her later recordings.
 
Richard Bonynge - Sutherland's husband and coach – has written that he was trying to get Joan to sing with a more 'legato' - smooth and flowing - sound, a more Italian sound. This is as opposed to her natural 'Germanic' sound - the result of being an English speaker. I have not always thought this experiment wholly successful as sometimes Sutherland could sound rather droopy in slow music for example. This album shows her at an earlier stage in that process which makes me think again. Given the 'raw ingredients' evident here – exceptional as they are - I think that they made the right decision to develop a more 'Italian' style. This served to maximise success in the Italian/Romantic roles which suited Sutherland's voice admirably. That she sometimes overdid the portamento - when she 'smudges' one note onto another to make the line smoother - or other effects is just a case of too much of a good thing.
 
With the phrases 'Casta Diva ... che inargenti' I found the result here less moving. Compare them with her later attempts which sound more 'dreamlike' and use darker and smoother tones. It may appear picky but I think it was when she was 3/4 there that she achieved her best. That meant a little more legato than here but not so much as in some of the rather droopy live performances. As it is I would rather listen to the older Sutherland – a 1964 recording or the live 1970 set - than this version. Another example is the performance of the Jewel Song from Faust. The voice is beautiful and clear-cut but the exclamation 'O Dieu, que de bijoux' does not have the same joy and 'smile' as the later studio version which is darker-voiced and warmer sounding.
 
The performance of 'Martern aller Arten' the most satisfying contribution here. Walter Legge - the EMI producer and husband of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf - frequently described Maria Callas as an 'Italian singer'; she was American-Greek by nationality. That was the style in which she was taught and where she had her main success. I think it is useful to term Joan Sutherland at this stage - c.1960 - as largely a 'Germanic' artist. She was born and initially trained in Australia, her early career singing English at Covent Garden. She was not yet an 'Italian artist' as she was to later become, with the help of her husband, through singing in Europe and more Italian-language experience. 'Martern aller Arten' suits her artistic sensibility at this stage of her development - her phrasing and the tone she employs - better than in the French or Italian selections or even later experiments with German (Wagner). She was by then an 'Italian' artist with a softer-focused voice.
 
This argument may be contrary to the stance of many critics but I believe that this recital is a stepping stone towards even greater things without being 'definitive'. If this had been an album with more German music the result would have been even more spectacular.
 
The presentation here is simple with an essay by James Murray and a track-list. The sound is exceptionally vivid. I cannot think of a contemporary recital which begins to have the presence of this set. The orchestra is well defined and the conducting is good - not mesmerising in any special way but nonetheless lively and well above what may be expected in recital discs of this sort.
 
David Bennett
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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