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Best opera ever? Judith Forst chooses Bellini's Norma

Editorial Staff

Best Operas Ever is a new podcast from Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Radio 2. In each instalment, host Ben Heppner talks to one of the major opera figures of our time about a particular opera recording that they especially love. You'll find each episode here on, and you can tune in to CBC Radio 2 at 1 p.m. any Saturday from now until the end of November to hear these classic recordings in their entirety — along with extended conversations with our esteemed guests.

Best Operas Ever No. 8 - Judith Forst

Ben Heppner talks with the renowned mezzo about a recording that features two of her most luminary colleagues: Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. 


Judith Forst was a member of the chorus at Vancouver Opera when she first encountered the superstar soprano Joan Sutherland. Sutherland had already been dubbed "La Stupenda" by the world's operaphiles, and she was in Vancouver with her husband, the conductor Richard Bonygne, to perform Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor — one of her signature roles. There are apparently pictures from that production, scattered about in various non-internet places, in which Forst can be seen standing just behind Sutherland as she delivers the arias that made her a sensation. "I always had the instinct for the centre of the stage," Forst told Ben Heppner.

A few years later, once Forst had established herself as a top-shelf mezzo, she found herself regularly sharing stages with Dame Sutherland: albeit now, further downstage. They performed the cornerstones of the bel canto repertoire together. (One time, Ben Heppner even joined them for a production of Anna Bolena in Toronto.) Forst remembers Sutherland as the most down-to-earth opera superstar she's ever known. Once, when they were performing together in San Diego, Forst asked Sutherland how she was planning on spending her afternoon off. "I'm thinking, oh, she's going to have a lovely walk on the beach; some nice shopping. She says 'yes, I've got to get back to the house and do the hoovering!'" 

Forst's pick for the best opera recording ever is a 1968 recording of Bellini's Norma, with Sutherland in the title role and Bonynge conducting. It also features Forst's hero, the one-of-a-kind coloratura mezzo Marilyn Horne. Hit the play button above to hear Heppner's full conversation with Forst about this recording, and what it was like to be a colleague and friend of the great Joan Sutherland. You can tune in to Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on Oct. 29 to hear this recording in its entirety, plus more from this conversation.

Subscribe to Best Operas Ever on iTunes!

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