Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Joan Sutherland

We first sang together almost 50 years ago, both making our New York City debuts in Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda. I remember sitting next to her and realizing that I was sitting next to a great, great singer. I had heard her on the radio a couple of years before and thought she was a miracle.

Joan Sutherland, who died Oct. 10 at 83, had a voice with a gorgeous, extraordinary silver quality. And the voice was very big; it filled the hall. When you get those two things together in opera, it's sensational. She was a dramatic soprano with agility; she had this ability to sing very difficult, fast music with an extraordinary technique.

There are lots of mad scenes in opera, and the Lucia di Lammermoor mad scene is probably the most famous. In the title role, Joan did some wonderful dramatic work with director Franco Zeffirelli. She did things a mad person would do, jolting and moving awkwardly and at the same time singing some of the most difficult music ever written. Joan had sung for quite a while, but after she sang Lucia, she was an overnight sensation.

We performed Norma together 40 years ago, and people still stop me on the street and say they will never forget it. I heard Joan in so many great roles but particularly remember what fun she and Luciano Pavarotti were in The Daughter of the Regiment at the Met. She was a terrific comedienne.

Her farewell at Covent Garden in 1990 was on New Year's Eve, and she asked Luciano and me to help her retire. It was done in the middle of the opera Die Fledermaus. There's a party scene in it, and we were worked in as guests. It was a wonderful evening: they had fireworks in the hall, and confetti filled the orchestra pit. Joan was the top of the pyramid. She was called La Stupenda. It was a perfect name for her.

Horne, one of the world's great mezzo-sopranos, made her operatic debut in 1954

Marilyn Horne

This text originally appeared in the Oct. 25, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.