Australian PM hails 'down-to-earth diva' Sutherland

12th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Tuesday hailed opera legend Dame Joan Sutherland as a "down-to-earth" diva who touched lives around the world, following her death at 83.

Gillard said Sutherland, who passed away in Switzerland after a long illness, typified Australian values after rising from obscure roots to become one of opera's brightest stars.

"She touched the lives of many Australians and many people around the world," Gillard said.

"Dame Joan I think showed a lot of quintessentially Australian values. She was described as down to earth despite her status as a diva."

New Zealand opera star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa said "La Stupenda", who dazzled European audiences from the 1950s until retiring in 1990, had a unique talent and inspired a generation of younger performers.

"She's totally unique and you will never ever hear another voice like that," Te Kanawa told Australian public broadcaster ABC. "I certainly haven't heard one like that in the last 40 years.

"It was elite, it was supreme, no one could ever reach that. We've all tried but I think with a lot of us it failed. Just listening to the articulation, the... athletics of the throat, she was just amazing."

Te Kanawa called Sutherland a "Pied Piper" leading other singers to success and said her own talent paled in comparison to Sydney-born Sutherland, who won over Italian critics and performed alongside a young Luciano Pavarotti.

"When you're young and stupid you actually feel you're almost equal," she said. "As time went on, the more I felt that I didn't deserve a place beside her at all."

Former Sydney Opera House chief Norman Gillespie called Sutherland "one of the great operatic icons of the 20th century".

"Extraordinary range, dazzling range, extraordinary accuracy, extraordinary power. There really only was one voice like that, it was the great voice of the century," he said.

Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini described Sutherland as "tremendously down to earth and tremendously joyous to be with".

"When she came into the rehearsal room the whole place would light up and I think in performances I think that joy communicated from the stage to an audience," Terracini said.

"I think she transcended not only the operatic form but was a great communicator to the wider public. I think it would be fair to say she was Bradmanesque," he added, referring to Australian cricket legend Donald Bradman.

Meanwhile British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber paid tribute to Sutherland's stagecraft and presence.

"She had that added ingredient that you really need to have to be not just a great singer, but a great theatre artist," he told ABC. "I've never heard anybody who hasn't had the highest praise to say about her."

Milan's La Scala opera house, where Sutherland performed between 1961 and 1966, hailed her as the "queen of bel canto", an operatic style characterised by vocal purity and evenness of tone.

"This is how La Scala remembers Joan Sutherland: not just a master virtuoso, but an obligatory example for all those who have sung Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti after her," a statement said.

"Her voice... and her ability to interpret gave Italian bel canto the impulse of a re-discovery of forgotten or underestimated titles and above all the force of a new stylistic consciousness," it added.

© 2010 AFP

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