A statement released Monday by her family said Sutherland died Sunday at her home near Geneva.
"The family of Dame Joan Sutherland wishes to let all her friends and admirers know that she passed away very peacefully in the evening of Oct. 10 at her home in Switzerland after a long illness," the statement said.
Called "La Stupenda" by her Italian fans, Sutherland was acclaimed from her native Australia to North America and Europe for the wide range of roles she took on during a career that spanned four decades. But she was particularly praised for her singing of operas by Handel and 19th-century Italian composers.
Tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who joined with Marilyn Horne in Sutherland's farewell gala recital at Covent Garden on Dec. 31, 1990, called her "the greatest coloratura soprano of all time."
The term, derived from "color," refers to a soprano with a high range and the vocal agility to sing brilliant trills and rapid passages.
Sutherland's purity of tone and brilliant vocal display made her pre-eminent in the revival of Italian "bel canto" operas, taking on the mantle of Maria Callas.
Sutherland started singing as a small child, crouching under the piano and copying her mother, Muriel Alston Sutherland, "a talented singer with a glorious mezzo-soprano voice," according to Sutherland's biographer Norma Major, wife of former British Prime Minister John Major.
"I was able from the age of 3 to imitate her scales and exercises," she wrote in her autobiography. "As she was a mezzo-soprano, I worked very much in the middle area of my voice, learning the scales and arpeggios and even the dreaded trill without thinking about it. The birds could trill, so why not I?
"I even picked up her songs and arias and sang them by ear, later singing duets with her - Manrico to her Azucena. I always had a voice."
When she began performing in Australia, Sutherland thought she was a mezzo-soprano like her mother, and it took the insight of subsequent coaches to make her realize that she should develop her higher range.
The family statement said Sutherland is survived by her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, their son, Adam, daughter-in-law Helen, and two grandchildren.
According to the statement Sutherland, who broke both legs during a fall at her home in 2008, requested a very small and private funeral.