Regarded by opera aesthetes as one of history's most astonishing classical vocalists, the Sydney-born Australian soprano Joan Sutherland practiced informally as a young girl by sitting beneath the family piano and emulating her mezzo-soprano mother. Though Sutherland initially pursued a career as a secretary after high school, she soon entered a local voice competition and bowled the judges over, gleaning top prize at age 19. The triumph led her into a full-time operatic career. Sutherland debuted at Covent Garden in 1959, in an acclaimed production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. When Joan met her soon-to-be husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, he encouraged her to push her voice ever higher -- into increasingly daunting octaves -- until she rivaled even Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne, and stunned audiences around the world. Additional selected performances by Sutherland include the title role in Bellini's Norma, at the Sydney Opera House in August 1978; the lead in Delibes' Lakme, at the Sydney Opera House on August 18, 1976; and Anna Glawari in Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow, at the Sydney Opera House on February 23, 1988 (with Bonynge conducting) -- to name only a few roles among dozens, in a career that spanned over three decades. Sutherland formally retired from the stage in 1990, and died in 2010 at age 83.