Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dreams of Norma

Joan Sutherland as a young singer still living in Australia believed herself a mezzo-soprano. Her early goal was to dedicate herself to the heroines of Wagner, with a special affinity for Isolde. Among the students that accompanied her in recitals was a very confident young man they all called Ric. He was a few years older and on his way to London for study at the Royal College. In his parting remarks after their rehearsal he advised her that she was capable of a much wider range of roles than she imagined and suggested she consider the then almost completely unknown works of bel canto. Sutherland won great local success and finally cash rewards enough to try her luck in London and was offered entree to Covent Garden and it's program for young singers .
She would eventually reach London herself, accompanied by her mother. Teachers there informed her that she was in fact a soprano of potentially great range and began to remake her voice. Incredibly, despite her youth, she was offered a part in Norma, as Clotilde. She would be on stage with no one less than Maria Callas who was reviving the bel canto operas of Bellini and Donizetti. These experiences both inspired her to redirect her aspirations. She too now dreamed of following in the footsteps of Callas and singing the great bel canto parts. Her career flourished and took her to New York and Carnegie Hall. The year was 1961 and again  success was hers and she made a friend of an American who also debuted that year, Marilyn Horne. They would over the next few years visit each others home, cook together and shop.This personal sympathy, besides the supreme artistry of two of the twentieth centurys greatest singers, would create a special dynamic and dimension of mutual understanding that permeated their stage performances. Besides, Ric turned out to be Richard Bonynge (steadily making a name for himself as a conductor and a specialist of the bel canto era) and they would soon marry. By the nineteen seventies the stage was set for a series of the greatest performances and recordings of the period. Popular magazines featured profiles of the two singers, hand in hand on stage in concerts perfectly blended in the most arduous and ravishing of duets, O remenbranza! from Norma.The dream that had begun for the young unknown girl in Australia who later confessed that for bel canto she relinquished Wagner and followed another path, despite the fears and doubts of many, including her mother. Teamed with her husband conducting and Horne as Adalgisa these three now would helped to reestablish the works of Bellini and Donizetti in the great opera houses of the world. Pavarotti would pronounce her "One of the greatest singers of all time."  
 Tune in this Saturday at noon for a Met archival special of Sutherland and Horne at the peak of their powers and the roles and performances they made legend,Bellini's Druid  high-priestess Norma and her rival and friend Adalgisa, here on KPAC and KTXI. 
by Ron Moore

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