Glittering tributes for Australian soprano Sutherland

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New Zealand opera star Kiri Te Kanawa led glittering tributes Tuesday for Australia's "La Stupenda" Joan Sutherland, the "supreme" soprano who passed away at her Swiss home aged 83.

Te Kanawa said Sutherland, 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 Pavarroti.

"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.

Meanwhile 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.

Milan's La Scala opera house, where Sutherland performed between 1961 and 1966, hailed her as the "queen of bel canto", a vocal style used in opera in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

"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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