A Stupendous Farewell

by Keith Clarke

Every corner of Westminster Abbey was filled this Tuesday as the late Dame Joan Sutherland was remembered in style with a grand memorial service, the highlight of which was hearing her voice again, sounding out over the echoing spaces, singing “Let the Bright Seraphim”from Handel’s Samson and “Casta Diva” from Norma.

The service was set off in style with Tony Pappano conducting the Royal Opera House Orchestra, and Valda Wilson was the soprano chosen to honor La Stupenda with “Pie Jesu” from the Fauré Requiem and the Alleluia from Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate.

Former Royal Opera House general director Sir John Tooley gave an address that was more catalog of achievements than personal reminiscence, but there was a very nice story about how the young Joan Sutherland had been refused entry into a youth choir that she auditioned for. It was declared that she sang too loudly, and would have drowned out the other girls.

It fell to a former prime minister’s wife to sum up in the order of service. As Dame Norma Major put it, “She was born with a God-given talent and shared it generously with the world.”


Wednesday saw the country’s orchestra managers heading for Derby, in the Midlands, for the 2011 annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras. The area is the home of RollsRoyce, and most managers were clearly wondering whether they could keep the wheels on the old wagon while they wait for the Arts Council to declare the winners and losers in the great funding carve-up. It was, said the chief exec of one of London’s major symphony orchestras, “like the sword of Damocles.”

It looked like it was going to be a long three days, chewing over the ABO conference theme of “Protect and Survive,” but at least it brought the delegates three days closer to being put out of the misery of not knowing their fate, one way or the other. A full report will appear on MusicalAmerica in due course.

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