Bellini’s Norma contains one of the most impressive and also most difficult soprano roles in the whole repertoire of opera. Few sopranos can do justice to it. The first of those who have must surely be Maria Callas, considered the outstanding interpreter of the title part. The role, along with Bellini"s opera, was interpreted in a revolutionary fashion by Joan Sutherland (born in Sydney 1926). She is the protagonist in the present recording made at the Sydney Opera House in August 1978. "La Stupenda", as Joan Sutherland was known in musical circles, ended her international career in 1990. The celebrated production by Sandro Sequi, with Fiorella Mariani"s lavish décor and costumes, concentrates entirely on the human destiny of a woman on the edge of her existence. He intelligently brings forth the priestess’ emotional world, hence showing the many facets of Norma"s character. The whole drama of events on the stage is reflected in the orchestra pit, and musical director Richard Bonynge demonstrates once again his competence for great musical theatre.
Joan Sutherland was at the height of her career when she took on the role of Leonora – arguably the most dramatic of all Verdi heroines – in 1983. Elijah Moshinsky’s production, in which he was ably supported by the Australian artist Sidney Nolans (set design), Luciana Arrighi (costumes) and Nick Chelton (lighting), was tailor-made for Sutherland, allowing Leonora to develop into a truly tragic heroine occupying the opera’s central ground. This performance at the Australian Opera, Sydney – and featuring a high quality cast under the baton of Richard Bonynge – was recorded by Australian Television on 2nd July 1983. Verdi’s powerful and passionate opera tells a tale of civil war and treachery.
This opera becomes a battle of the divas in its great second act, with Sutherland, as Mary Stuart, pitted against the jealous, paranoid, and vengeful Elizabeth I (Tourangeau). There is an intensely dramatic confrontation in which insults are violently exchanged between the powerful monarch and her imprisoned but still regal rival to the throne. Mary wins the battle of insults, but this is a dangerous victory over one who has the power of life and death. Elizabeth orders Mary's execution and Act III becomes a spectacle of pathos and horror. Sutherland's usual style is more attuned to pathos than to the swapping of insults, but she rises splendidly to the challenges of Act II and she has a splendid supporting cast. (Joe McLellan)
“Sutherland is in her element here - and what a wonderful score it is too…Horne has the odd moment of unsteadiness in the early parts of the opera, but she is impressive in the brilliant Brindisi of the last Act” (The Penguin Guide)
Bellini’s penultimate opera – written for La Fenice, Venice, in 1833 – has never enjoyed the popularity of such works as La sonnambula, Norma and I puritani. Listening to this vintage Joan Sutherland recording dating from 1966, it is hard to fathom why. The story is strong and stirring – a sort of cross between Maria Stuarda and La Gioconda – and offers fine roles for the wronged titular heroine, her villainous husband Filippo, her platonic admirer Orombello and his would-be mistress, Agnese del Maino (a Princess Eboli avant la lettre). How odd that Sutherland never managed to persuade Covent Garden to mount it for her, especially with this glorious cast. The Decca set is historic because it offered the legendary Sutherland/Pavarotti collaboration for the first time on disc. Luciano is wonderfully stylish here, elegant and ringing: Nureyev, vocally-speaking, to Sutherland’s Fonteyn. La Stupenda was going through one of her ‘moony’, muddy-diction phases, but the vocalism is quite dazzling. It’s a joy to encounter Josephine Veasey in her only commercially recorded Italian role: velvet-toned, shining, she is Sutherland’s most lustrous mezzo rival in any bel canto recording. (BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE)
This recording is the first official release in any format of this once-in-a-lifetime concert performance featuring Dame Joan Sutherland and Fritz Wunderlich. In 1959 performances of Handel were just beginning to embrace the original instrument movement making this recording an invaluable historic record of performance practice. In addition to musicological interest, the CDs present Joan Sutherland at the beginning of her illustrious career in the full bloom of youth. She was flown in as a last minute replacement for the scheduled soprano and proceeded to give a virtuoso performance of the demanding title role. Full of Handel's gorgeous melodies and with vocal fireworks in bountiful supply, it is no wonder that Sutherland completely awed the German public. She is joined by Fritz Wunderlich, the acclaimed German tenor, in their one-and-only collaboration. He as well was a last minute replacement and rises to the exacting demands of Handel. His rich and pliant tone is perfectly suited to the technical and dramatic demands of the opera.