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Classical 101

My Date with Dame Joan Sutherland

Laugh all you want, but as I get older it is more in my nature to be shy and introverted. But I got over that long enough in the winter of 2006. It was Joan Sutherland's 80th birthday and I wanted to interview her. Hers was the greatest voice I ever heard live, period. I heard Pavarotti, Domingo and Leontyne Price. I heard Richard Tucker, Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli. They were old and I was young. They were sensational and I'll never forget them. But Joan Sutherland had it all. Tonal splendor, volume, vocal beauty, agility, there was no one like her. Some people kvell to Eminem, some to sports figures (Carl Yazstremski would have me weak at the knees today). In November 2006 I read online that Dame Joan was in Sydney, where she was born in 1926--her husband Richard Bonynge was conducting at the Sydney Opera House. I sent an e-mail to the press office of the Australian Opera asking about an interview. One of my mottoes is, you never know if you don't ask. So I asked. I was told yes, she would be happy to speak with you. I told the press dept. Tell me exactly when to call her based on EST in the States (They do this all the time I was told. No problem.).

We Have a Problem

Call her at 4 pm Wednesday. So I did. And I got on the phone an irate Dame Joan Sutherland. "You were supposed to call yesterday! You're a day late! Our interview was set for the 10th and today is the 11th, in case you didn't know." And mind you, it was 6 AM Sydney time. "I didn't get to bed until three. That was three hours ago." I saw it all going down the tubes pronto. Can it get worse? Yes. Our engineer can't get whatever he needs to record this interview to work, so I have to make small talk with the sleepy disgruntled 80 year old diva who wasn't selling anything, who no longer sang in public, who was retired and wanted to be left alone. Especially at 6 AM. What am I supposed to say to her? I heard you sing Norma in Boston when I was twelve? (Which I did.) Finally it all worked out. The machine worked. Dame Joan had her coffee while we chatted. And she's still the greatest voice I ever heard. Period. Here's the interview: http://www.wosu.org/audio/classical/2009/sutherland.mp3

Classical 101 joan sutherland
Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.