on 14 September 2001
First: I am a 19 years old student from Norway, so you must of course forgive me for all my misspellings and lousy use of language.
Second: I find it a bit alarming that I am the one to write the first review of this classic album. However, review it I will although my vocabulary does not contain enough superlatives to express my feelings.
Joan Sutherland's "The Art of the Prima Donna" is one of the very finest jewels in the history of recording classical music. Marilyn Horne has described her singing here to bo unreal, and I think that covers it all. Can you imagine how unreal singing does sound??? If you do not, then you must buy this album. Well, if you do not have it already, buy it. OK, buy it if you have it already too, it is always smart to have something to wear out. And wear it out you will. Why?? Simply because Joan Sutherland was in 1960 the vocal miracle, the coloratura of the century, the sensational singer, the queen of bel canto and top notes. She had the most remarkable voice that combined what had rarely been combined before: beauty of tone, power, agility and enormous top notes. Her diction is not bad here, as it was later to be, and the singing is full of character. Unreal. All of it. There is not much more for me to say. The rest is up to your ears.
on 18 December 2006
Dame Joan is the greatest vocal technician ever. Undoubtedly the greatest dramatic coloratura soprano ever. This recording should be recommended to anybody who pines for the days of great soprano bravura. Who can sing like La Stupenda these days? Even today's coloratura's cannot rival the sublime, breath taking virtuosity of her voice.
I have often read comments by Sutherland bashers and Callas bashers alike. Both were great sopranos, as well as the phenomenal Beverly Sills. All were great artists in their own right, so bashers, please let's respect these legends of opera, whose absence from the stage has left an unfillable gap for us Bel Canto addicts.
This is an astounding recording that sums up why Dame Joan is and will always be La Stupenda.
on 20 July 2002
This is one of the most outstanding recordings of opera ever made.
Dame Sutherland in her prime, a rapture of the mind and the senses.
A recording that has been magnificently remastered, but has not scarred the cristal clear voice of this lyrical angel.
It is not possible to remain un-emmotional with her performance of Delibes "Lákme", a masterclass of coloratura that hit your body like an iced water shower!
This is also a CD that renders an exceptional ensemble of Sutherland's work, one of the best ever edited on her.
This pair of discs, recorded in 1960, followed soon after Joan Sutherland's sensational first performances at Covent Garden. They were promoted by Decca as a tribute to famous singers from previous generations and took the form of performances of those singers' various display pieces. By performing all of them on these discs Sutherland did far more than pay tribute to those singers, she also demonstrated to the world that she could match them all, so comprehensive was the coverage, and thus could be considered to be even more than their individual match.
That she succeeded at that level can be attested, not only by the continuing high volume of sales for this very famous pair of discs, but also by the longevity of her very successful career with her vocal prowess undiminished well into an age range where many of her colleagues had ceased to perform.
Her voice had many special characteristics which can all be heard on these discs. She had an astonishing accuracy of pitch and range. Her control of timbre ensured that her vocal tone remained rounded without betraying any edge of stress even when reaching stratospheric levels. She was wise enough to limit her singing to music that suited her voice exactly so she never risked straining it and thus cause it lasting damage. Consequently she left the heavier roles, such as in Wagner for instance, well alone. Essentially she remained a coloratura specialist all her life. Significantly Pavarotti has since related that her advice to him in his early days at Covent Garden, was that he should only sing roles that suited his voice in the same way, thus ensuring a long vocal life. This he did and it worked for him too.
Essentially the music on these recordings therefore focusses on the coloratura style of singing with Bellini being a major choice. The mad scene from Thomas' Hamlet explores the same range as does music by Arne, Handel, Mozart, Gounod, Delibes, Meyerbeer and Verdi with Gilda's 'Gualtier Maide' bringing the two discs to an appropriate end.
The sound recording, especially in its re-mastered version as on this issue, sounds excellent and even though Sutherland's voice is quite forwardly balanced, this is never at the expense of either her tonal mastery or orchestral detail. There is a marked improvement in terms of 'presence' over previous issues and the sense of realism - of 'being there' is almost uncanny. In addition to extra 'presence' there is also a deepening of the sound-stage and improvements texturally in every respect. This is a remastering that is a clear improvement and well worth investing in.
In conclusion, I would suggest that this pair of discs deserves very serious consideration by any lover of the coloratura voice and in particular, of Joan Sutherland's voice. As such, it would make an ideal 'only' such purchase or be a valuable addition to collectors of multiple versions of repertoire.
on 3 May 2006
An earlier comment expresses astonishment at being amongst the first to review this startling recital. Good point!
Having read about the 'miracle' that was Joan Sutherland, this recital was my first exposure to her recorded catalogue. Two years and many complete recordings later, I remain convinced of its pre-eminence.
True, the diction hardly provides model accuracy, and this is something I usually find irritating. Here, however, a fling about consonants becomes a trifling quibble when set beside the complete beauty of sound produced, not to mention the huge, brazen high notes and stunning coloratura acrobatics which, until you try to whistle along, sound so easy. Buy this set and be amazed.
on 12 September 2012
It is funny the way opera fans treat sopranos like soccer teams. They strongly support one against the other and so on. Things are quite simple really. When Sutherland was once asked about Callas she replied: "Had it not been for Callas I would not exist!". And Callas after 1959's Lucia ROH premiere said to Sutherland: " I would be jealous of anyone who can sing like this, but I am not jealous of you!". The truth of the matter is that it all started with Callas. In the 50's Italian opera was something of a joke compared to German opera. Endless vocalising, no drama, no seriousness. It was Callas' genius and charisma that put it back on the map. She recreated the whole operatic art and gave Italian romantic composers the place they deserve. Her instrument, though flawed, was the most expressive of them all. Unfortunately, it still is. 45 years after her death and 57 years after her last recording, her legacy lives on. She is what Bernstein said: "The Bible of opera". Sutherland, on the other hand, in this recital disc, manages the impossible. Honestly, no one (not even herself in later recordings)has ever sung like this. The voice is PERFECT. There is not really much else to say. She was a phenomenon! Vocally, she has no equal. I don't know what happened to her diction in later recordings. This recital along with the 53 Callas Tosca are the best opera records ever!!! Where are these sopranos today?
on 30 July 2010
It is so wonderful to hear the magnificent colorotura singing of Joan Sutherland.In my opinion there has never been anyone to compare to Joan's mastery of her art. This CD shows off the voice at its peak of perfection and her amazing breath control.
on 29 September 2007
There is no comparison in the whole catalogue. It is almost incomprehensible that one voice can encompass the demands of such an enormous range of styles and types of operatic singing - and do so with an unerring perfection that must be heard to be believed. This was called the Voice of the Century in its day but that is an understatement. Nearly 50 years later we can say with some confidence that it is the Voice of all Centuries. There was nothing like it before in tonal beauty and staggering technique; and there has certainly been no comparison since. This is singing of an altogether different order from any of La Stupenda's imitators or 'rivals'. The Callas/Sutherland debate becomes meaningless when one listens to this disc: no-one else has approached this level of phenomenal singing. It is what the human voice is capable of at its most perfect. The young Norwegian reviewer below is so right when he expresses amazement that his was the first review of this greatest of all recorded operatic recitals.
on 24 January 2011
When I listen to Joan Sutherland, especially on this recording, I know without doubt I am listening to perfection. How could Handel or Bellini sound any better? "Let the bright Seraphim" makes every nerve in my body jump for joy! My admiration for someone who has such talent, and then works tirelessly to hone it to a point where it is superhuman is unbounded. Such people should live - and sing - for ever! Sadly they are taken from us.
on 4 February 2011
I had a vinyl edition of The Art of the Prima Dona some years ago. The Cd has been superbly remastered and has more music than the original. Well satisfied!