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Norman, Jessye 1945–

Jessye Norman 1945

Opera and concert singer

At a Glance

Gained International Acclaim Early in Career

Took Temporary Leave of Opera

Inspired Lavish Ovations

Selected discography

Sources

American soprano Jessye Norman is hailed as one of the worlds greatest opera and concert singers and performers. Since the early 1970s she has starred at leading opera houses, concert halls, and music festivals throughout Europe, North America, and three other continents. She has also enjoyed a prolific recording career with over 40 albums and several Grammy Awards to her credit and is even recognized as the inspiration for the title character in the 1982 French film Diva, directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix.

Normans voice has been resoundingly praised for its mastery of expression, technical control, and sheer power, while her diverse song repertoire spans standard and obscure operas to German lieder (classical songs), avant-garde works, and even popular ballads. As a performer, she is known for her magnetic and dramatic personality, and, with her imposing physical presence, cuts an impressive figure before audiences. According. to Curt Sanburn in Life, Norman on stage creates the perception of one who veritably looms behind her lyrics.

Born into a musical family in Augusta, Georgia, at the close of World War II, she was encouraged in her youth to be a singer. Normans mother, an amateur pianist, saw that all the children in the family took piano lessons, while her father, a successful insurance broker, sang frequently in the familys Baptist church. As a young girl Norman loved singing and performed wherever she had the opportunityat church, school, Girl Scout meetings, even a supermarket opening; yet she never formally studied voice until college. I was completely sure I would be a psychiatrist, she recalled in an interview with Charles Michener for Vanity Fair.

Norman fell in love with opera the first time she heard a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast. I was nine and I didnt know what was going on, but I just loved it, she told Michener. After that I listened religiously. Soon after, Norman mastered her first aria, My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice, from French composer Camille Saint-Saenss Samson and Delilah. At 16 she traveled to Philadelphia with her school choral director for the Marian Anderson Scholarship competition and, while most of the participants were much older and she failed to win, received positive comments from the judges. On her return trip to Georgia she visited the music department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and sang for Carolyn Grant, who would later become her vocal

At a Glance

Born September 15, 1945, in Augusta, GA; daughter of Silas (an insurance broker) and Janie (a schoolteacher; maiden name, King) Norman. Education: Howard University, B.M. (cum laude), 1967; postgraduate study at Peabody Conservatory, 1967; University of Michigan, M.Mus., 1968. Politics: Democrat.

Opera and concert singer, 1969; recording artist, 1971. Opera credits include roles in Tannhäuser; The Marriage of Figaro; Deborah; Idomeneo; LAfricaine; Aïda; Les Troyens; The Damnation of Faust; Ariadne auf Naxos; Bluebeards Castle; Erwartung; Die Walküre; Don Giovanni; Hippolyte et Aricie; Gotterdämmerung; Dido and Aeneas; Oedipus Rex; Herodiade; and Les Contes dHoffmann.

Numerous concert performances with orchestras around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Stockholm Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, and Berlin Philharmonic; and numerous music festival performances, including Tanglewood, Aix-en-Provence, and Salzburg.

Selected awards: First prize in vocal competition from the National Society of Arts and Letters, 1965; Grammy Awards, 1980, 1982, and 1985; Musical Americas Outstanding Musician of the Year Award, 1982; Commandeur de IOrdre des Arts et des Lettres (France), 1984; member, Royal Academy of Music. Honorary degrees from Howard, Yale, Harvard, and Brandeis universities, the University of Michigan, and the Juilliard School of Music.

Addresses: Office c/o Shaw Concerts Inc., 1995 Broadway, New York, NY 10023.

coach. After hearing Normans voice, Grant recommended the budding soprano for a full-tuition four-year scholarship to the university when she came of college age.

Norman graduated from Howard with honors in 1967 and during her university career won many fans who heard her sing in the university choral group and local church choirs. She went on to complete a summer of postgraduate study at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, followed by her masters degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While at Michigan, Norman worked with two renowned teachers of voice, French baritone Pierre Bernaca famous teacher of the art songand Elizabeth Mannion. To finance her graduate school studies Norman auditioned for and received grants from various musical foundations and in 1968 received a scholarship from the Institute of International Education that allowed her to enter Bavarian Radios International Music Competition in Munich, Germany. When Norman was on a U.S. State Department musical tour of the Caribbean and Latin America that year she received word that she had won the prestigious European contest. Subsequently, she received offers to perform and work in Europe and moved overseas in 1969, following the path of many American singers who began their careers in the celebrated concert and opera halls of Europe.

Gained International Acclaim Early in Career

Norman enjoyed rapid success in Europe. In December of 1969 she signed a three-year contract with the venerable Deutsche Oper in West Berlin and was a sensation in her debutat the age of 23as Elisabeth in German composer Richard Wagners Tannhäuser. Norman thereafter received other primary roles with the opera company, in addition to numerous offers to sing concerts and operas throughout Europe. In 1970 she made her Italian debut in Florence in George Frideric Handels Deborah and the following year her busy opera schedule included performances in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarts Idomeneo in Rome, Giacomo Meyerbeers LAfricaine in Florence, and Mozarts Marriage of Figaro at the Berlin Festival. Later in 1971 Norman auditioned for and won the opportunity to sing the role of the Countess in a Philips recording of Figaro with the BBC Orchestra under the direction of Colin Davis. The recording was a finalist for the prestigious Montreux International Record Award competition and brought Norman much exposure to music listeners in Europe and the United States.

In 1972 Norman performed in a Berlin production of Giuseppe Verdis Aïda, a role in which she debuted later that year at the famed Italian opera stage, La Scala, in Milan. Also in 1972 she sang in a concert version of Aïda at the Hollywood Bowl in California, followed by a performance at Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C., with the National Symphony Orchestra, and an acclaimed Wagner recital at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts.

Normans triumphs of 1972 continued when she returned to Europe in the fall and debuted at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, England, as Cassandra in Hector Berliozs Les Troyens. She also made her debut at the prestigious Edinburgh Music Festival that year. As a result of these victories, much acclaim and excitement awaited her first ever New York City recital the following year when she appeared as part of the Great Performers series at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. Normans performance, which included songs by European masters Wagner, Strauss, Brahms, and Satie, was hailed by Donald Henahan in the New York Times as one of extraordinary intelligence, taste and emotional depth.

Took Temporary Leave of Opera

In the mid-1970s, wanting to more fully develop her vocal range, Norman made the decision to stop performing operas temporarily to concentrate on concert performances. She told John Gruen in the New York Times of her desire to master a broad repertoire. As for my voice, it cannot be categorizedand I like it that way, because I sing things that would be considered in the dramatic, mezzo or spinto range. I like so many different kinds of music that Ive never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range.

The decision to take a half-decade leave from opera prompted criticism in concert circles. I was considered difficult to deal with because I said No so much, she noted in Vanity Fair. But my voice was changing and it needed time to develop. It takes years to get that understanding of how your voice works, years before youre able to divorce yourself from that horrible word we call technique and are able to release your soul.

Over the years Normans technical expertise has been among her most critically praised attributes. In a review of one of her recitals at New York Citys Carnegie Hall, New York Times contributor Allen Hughes wrote that Norman has one of the most opulent voices before the public today, and, as discriminating listeners are aware, her performances are backed by extraordinary preparation, both musical and otherwise. Another Carnegie Hall appearance prompted these words from Bernard Holland in the New York Times: If one added up all the things that Jessye Norman does well as a singer, the total would assuredly exceed that of any other soprano before the public. At Miss Normans recital... tones were produced, colors manipulated, words projected and interpretive points madeall with fanatic finesse.

Norman returned to the operatic stage in 1980 in a performance of Strausss Ariadne auf Naxos in Hamburg, Germany, and in 1983 made her debut with New York Citys Metropolitan Opera Company in its gala centennial season opener of Les Troyens. Norman shone among the star-studded cast, as Henahan wrote in his review. Miss Norman ... is a soprano of magnificent presence who commanded the stage at every moment, he declared. As the distraught Cassandra she sang grippingly and projects well, even when placed well back in the cavernous sets.

Although Norman has had great success performing in full-scale opera productions, her formidable physical stature has somewhat limited the availability of stage roles to her and she has increasingly directed her opera singing to condensed concert versions. One of the standards in her repertoire is Liebestod (Love of Death), the finale from Wagners Tristan und Isolde, in which a despondent and soon-to-expire Isolde sings to her dead beloved, Tristan. Henahan reviewed Normans performance of Liebestod at the 1989 New York Philharmonic season opener: Although she has never sung the complete role on any stage, she has handled this fearsome 10-minute challenge with increasing vocal authority and dramatic insight.... Hers is a grandly robust voice, used with great intelligence and expression.

Inspired Lavish Ovations

Normans performances have sparked seemingly endless ovations from audiences throughout the worlda reported 47 minutes in Tokyo in 1985 and 55 minutes in Salzburg the next year. Another pinnacle of her career came in 1987 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood; her program of Strauss songs, which featured the final scene from Strausss opera Salome, prompted both critical acclaim and more than ten minutes of applause from the audience. Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times on the power of that particular performance: Ms. Normans voice seems to draw from a vast ocean of sound.... No matter how much volume Sieji Ozawa requested from his orchestra during the fiery scene from Salome, it seemed little match for her voice. Yet, as always, what made the sopranos performance particularly remarkable was the effortlessness with which she could hover over long, soft notes.... And there is also the quality of sound she produces: even the loudest passages are cushioned by a velvety, seductive timbre.

Over the years Norman has not been afraid to expand her talent into less familiar areas. In 1988 she sang a concert performance of Francis-Jean-Marcel Poulencs one-act opera La Voix humaine (The Human Voice), based on Jean Cocteaus 1930 play of the same name, in which a spurned actress feverishly pleads to keep her lover on the other end of a phone conversation. Although Henahan noted in the New York Times that Normans characteristic...style puts great emphasis on tragic dignity, and that the role perhaps called for less restraint, he nonetheless admired her as among those artists driven to branch out into unlikely roles and whole idioms that stretch their talents interestingly, if sometimes to the breaking point.

Other of Normans diverse projects have included her 1984 album With a Song in My Heart, which contains numbers from films and musical comedies, and a 1990 performance of American spirituals with soprano Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall. Norman told William Livingstone in Stereo Review that one of her objectives as a performer is to communicate, to be understood in many ways and on many levels. In 1989 she was invited to sing the French national anthem La Marseillaisein Paris during the celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Norman, who sings nearly flawless French (in addition to German and Italian), was particularly honored by the opportunity. It makes you feel really good that people at home think you are worth their interest, but its incredible to be so warmly received in a foreign country, she told Livingstone. I love watching the faces of the people who are listening as I sing these songs and know that they understand.

In the New York Times interview with Gruen, Norman described the reverence with which she approaches her work. To galvanize myself into a performance, I must be left totally alone. I must have solitude in order to concentratewhich I consider a form of prayer. I work very much from the text. The words must be understood, felt and communicated.... If you look carefully at the words and absorb them, youre half-way home already. The rest is honestyhonesty of feeling, honesty of involvement. If a performer is truly committed, then the audience will be the first to know and will respond accordingly. Of course, love is the thing that propels us all. Its what carries us along thats the fuel!

Selected discography

Beethoven, Ludwig van, Symphonie No. 6, op. 68: Pastoral, Deutsche Grammophon, 1981.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, London, 1987.

Berg, Alban, Lulu Suite [and] Der Wein, CBS Masterworks, 1979.

Berlioz, Hector, Les Nuits dété, Philips, 1980.

Berlioz, Les Nuits dété [and] La Mort de Cléopâtre, Deutsche Grammophon, 1982.

Berlioz, Roméo et Juliette, Angel, 1986.

Bizet, Georges, Carmen, Philips, 1989.

Brahms, Johannes, Lieder, Deutsche Grammophon, 1983.

Brahms, A German Requiem, Angel, 1985.

Bruckner, Anton, Symphonie nr. 8 c-moll [and] Te Deum, Deutsche Grammophon, 1981.

Bruckner, Te Deum [and] Helgoland [and] Psalm Deutsche Grammophon, 1983.

Debussy, Claude, LEnfant prodigue [and] La Demoiselle é, Pro-Arte, 1982.

Faure, Gabriel Urbain. Penelope, Erato, 1982.

Gluck, Christoph Willibald, Alceste, 1982.

Haydn, Joseph, La vera constanza, Philips, 1977.

Hadyn, Armida, Philips, 1979.

Mahler, Gustav, Das Lied von der Erde, Philips, 1982.

Mahler, Symphony 2: Resurrection, CBS, 1984.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, The Marriage of Figaro, Philips, 1971.

Offenbach, Jacques, Les Contes dHoffmann, Angel, 1988.

Purcell, Henry, Dido and Aeneas, Philips, 1986.

Ravel, Maurice, Songs of Maurice Ravel, CBS Masterworks, 1984.

Schubert, Franz, Lieder, Philips, 1973.

Schubert, Lieder, Philips, 1985.

Schumann, Robert, Frauenliebe und Leben, op. 42 [and] Liederkreis, op. 39, Philips, 1976.

Strauss, Richard, Four Last Songs, Philips, 1983.

Strauss, Lieder, Philips, 1986.

Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, Philips, 1988.

Stravinsky, Igor, Oedipus Rex, Orfeo, 1983.

Verdi, Giuseppe, Un giorno di regno, Philips, 1974.

Verdi, Il corsaro, Philips, 1976.

Wagner, Richard, Tristan und Isode [and] Five Poems by Mathilde Wesendonk, Philips, 1975.

Wagner, Wesendonk Songs, Angel, 1986.

Wagner, Lohengrin, London, 1987.

Wagner, Scenes from Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser, Der fliegende Holländer, Gotterdämmerung, EMI, 1988.

Wagner, Die Walküre, Deutsche Grammophon, 1988.

Weber, Carl Maria von, Euryanthe, Angel, 1975.

Other

Christmastide, Philips, 1987.

Jessye Norman Live, Philips, 1988.

Jessye Norman Sings Duparc, Ravel, Poulence, Satie, Philips, 1977.

Lieder (various composers), Philips, 1988.

Lucky to Be Me, Polygram, 1992.

Sacred Songs, Philips, 1981.

Spirituals, Philips, 1979.

(With Kathleen Battle) Spirituals in Concert, 1991.

With a Song in My Heart, Philips, 1984.

Sources

Books

Greenfield, Edward, Robert Layton, and Ivan March, The New Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and Cassettes, Penguin, 1988.

The International Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 10th edition, edited by Oscar Thompson, Dodd, 1975.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1992.

Ebony, March 1988; July 1991.

Life, March 1985.

Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1986; April 27, 1992.

Musical America, January 1991; July 1991; September/ October 1991; November/December 1991.

Music and Musicians, August 1979.

Newsweek, December 6, 1982.

New York, April 1, 1991; April 29, 1991; May 20, 1991.

New Yorker, April 1, 1991; May 20, 1991.

New York Times, January 21, 1973; January 23, 1973; December 15, 1982; September 18, 1983; September 27, 1983; November 24, 1983; January 26, 1986; August 25, 1987; February 20, 1988; March 6, 1989; September 22, 1989; March 19, 1990; February 11, 1992.

Opera News, June 1973; February 18, 1984; February 16, 1991; July 1991.

Stereo Review, October 1989; February 1991; July 1991; August 1991; September 1991.

Vanity Fair, February 1989.

Washington Post, August 7, 1972.

Norman was profiled in the documentary film Jessye Norman, Singer: Portrait of an Extraordinary Career, Malachite Productions, 1991.

Michael E. Mueller

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Norman, Jessye

Jessye Norman

Opera and concert singer

Graduated From Howard With Honors

Took Temporary Leave of Opera

Ten Minutes of Applause

Selected discography

Sources

American soprano Jessye Norman is hailed as one of the worlds greatest opera and concert singers and performers. Since the early 1970s she has starred at leading opera houses, concert halls, and music festivals throughout Europe, North America, and three other continents, and has also enjoyed a prolific recording career with over 40 albums and several Grammy Awards to her credit. Normans voice has been resoundingly praised for its mastery of expression, technical control, and sheer power, while her diverse song repertoire spans standard and obscure operas to German lieder, avant-garde works, and even popular ballads. As a performer, she is known for her magnetic and dramatic personality, and, with her imposing physical presence, cuts an impressive figure before audiences. According to Curt Sanburn in Life, Norman on stage creates the perception of one who veritably looms behind her lyrics.

Born into a musical family in Augusta, Georgia, Norman early on found encouragement to be a singer. Her mother, an amateur pianist, saw that all the children in the family took piano lessons, while Normans father, a successful insurance broker, was a frequent singer in the familys Baptist church. As a young girl Norman loved singing and performed wherever she had the opportunityin church, school, Girl Scout meetings, even a supermarket opening; yet she never formally studied voice until college. Norman fell in love with opera the first time she heard a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast and soon mastered her first aria, My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice, from Saint-Saenss Samson and Delilah. At 16 Norman traveled to Philadelphia with her school choral director for the Marian Anderson Scholarship competition and, while most of the participants were much older and she failed to win, received positive comments from the judges. On her return trip to Georgia she visited the music department of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and sang for Carolyn Grant, who would later become her vocal coach. After hearing Normans voice, Grant recommended the budding soprano for a full-tuition four-year scholarship to the university when she came of college age.

Graduated From Howard With Honors

Norman graduated from Howard with honors in 1967 and during her university career won many fans who heard her sing in the university choral group and local church choirs. Norman went on to complete a summer of postgraduate study at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, followed by her masters degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While at Michigan Norman worked with two renowned teachers of voice, French baritone Pierre Bernaca famous

For the Record

Born September 15, 1945, in Augusta, GA; daughter of Silas (an insurance broker) and Janie (a schoolteacher; maiden name, King) Norman. Education: Howard University, B.M. (cum laude), 1967; postgraduate study at Peabody Conservatory, 1967; M.Mus., University of Michigan, 1968. Politics: Democrat.

Opera and concert singer, 1969; recording artist, 1971. Opera credits include Tannhauser; The Marriage of Figaro; Deborah; Idomeneo; LAfricaine; Aida; Les Troyens; The Damnation of Faust; Ariadne auf Naxos; Bluebeards Castle; Erwartung; Die Walkure; Don Giovanni; Hipppolyte et Aricie; Gotterdammerung; Dido and Aeneas; Oedipus Rex; Herodiade; and Les Contes dHoffmann.

Numerous concert performances with orchestras around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Stockholm Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, and Berlin Philharmonic. Numerous music festival performances around the world, including Tanglewood, Aixen-Provence, and Salzburg.

Selected awards: Grammy Awards, 1980, 1982, and 1985; Outstanding Musician of the Year Award, Musical America, 1982; Commandeur de lOrdre des Arts et des Lettres (France), 1984; member, Royal Academy of Music. Honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, Howard University, Yale University, Harvard University, Brandeis University, and the Juilliard School of Music.

Addresses: Office c/o Shaw Concerts Inc., 1995 Broadway, New York, NY 10023.

teacher of the art songand Elizabeth Mannion. To finance her graduate school studies Norman auditioned for and received grants from various musical foundations and in 1968 received a scholarship from the Institute of International Education that allowed her to enter Bavarian Radios International Music Competition in Munich, Germany. When Norman was on a U.S. State Department musical tour of the Caribbean and Latin America that year she received word that she had won the prestigious European contest. Subsequently, she received offers to perform and work in Europe and moved overseas in 1969, following the path of many American singers who began their careers in the celebrated concert and opera halls of Europe.

Norman enjoyed rapid success in Europe. In December of 1969 she signed a three-year contract with the venerable Deutsche Oper in West Berlin and was a sensation in her debutat the age of 23as Elisabeth in Wagners Tannhauser. Norman thereafter received other primary roles with the opera company, in addition to numerous offers to sing concerts and operas throughout Europe. In 1970 she made her Italian debut in Florence in Handels Deborah and the following year her busy opera schedule included performances in Mozarts Idomeneo in Rome, Meyerbeers LAfricaine in Florence, and Mozarts The Marriage of Figaro at the Berlin Festival. Later in 1971 Norman auditioned for and won the opportunity to sing the role of the Countess in a Philips recording of Figaro with the BBC Orchestra under the direction of Colin Davis. The recording was a finalist for the prestigious Montreux International Record Award competition and brought Norman much exposure to music listeners in Europe and the U.S.

In 1972 Norman performed in a Berlin production of Verdis Aida, a role in which she debuted later that year at the famed Italian opera stage, La Scala, in Milan. Also in 1972 she sang in a concert version of Aida at the Hollywood Bowl in California, followed by a performance at Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C., with the National Symphony Orchestra, and an acclaimed Wagner recital at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts.

Normans triumphs of 1972 continued when she returned to Europe in the fall and debuted at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, England, as Cassandra in Berliozs Les Troyens. She also made her debut at the prestigious Edinburgh Music Festival that year. As a result of these victories much acclaim and excitement awaited her first-ever New York City recital the following year when she appeared as part of the Great Performers series at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. Normans performance, which included songs by Wagner, Strauss, Brahms, and Satie, was hailed by Donald Henahan in the New York Times as one of extraordinary intelligence, taste and emotional depth.

Took Temporary Leave of Opera

In the mid-1970s, wanting to more fully develop her vocal range, Norman made the decision to stop performing operas temporarily to concentrate on concert performances. She commented to John Gruen in the New York Times on her desire to master a broad repertoire. As for my voice, it cannot be categorizedand I like it that way, because I sing things that would be considered in the dramatic, mezzo or spinto range. I like so many different kinds of music that Ive never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range.

Over the years Normans technical expertise has been among her most critically praised attributes. In a review of one of her recitals at New York Citys Carnegie Hall, New York Times contributor Allen Hughes wrote that Norman has one of the most opulent voices before the public today, and, as discriminating listeners are aware, her performances are backed by extraordinary preparation, both musical and otherwise. Another Carnegie Hall appearance prompted these words from New York Times contributor Bernard Holland: If one added up all the things that Jessye Norman does well as a singer, the total would assuredly exceed that of any other soprano before the public. At Miss Normans recital tones were produced, colors manipulated, words projected and interpretive points madeall with fanatic finesse.

Norman returned to the operatic stage in 1980 in a performance of Strausss Ariadne auf Naxos in Hamburg, Germany, and in 1983 made her debut with New York Citys Metropolitan Opera Company in its gala centennial season opener of Les Troyens. Norman shone among the star-studded cast, as the Timess Henahan wrote in his review. Miss Norman is a soprano of magnificent presence who commanded the stage at every moment, he declared. As the distraught Cassandra she sang grippingly and projects well, even when placed well back in the cavernous sets.

Although Norman has had great success performing in full-scale opera productions, her formidable physical stature has somewhat limited the availability of stage roles to her and she has increasingly directed her opera singing to condensed concert versions. A standard in her repertoire has become Liebestod (Love of Death), the finale from Wagners Tristan and Isolde, in which a despondent and soon-to-expire Isolde sings to her dead beloved, Tristan. Henahan reviewed Normans performance of Liebestod at the 1989 New York Philharmonic season opener: Although she has never sung the complete role on any stage, she has handled this fearsome 10-minute challenge with increasing vocal authority and dramatic insight. Hers is a grandly robust voice, used with great intelligence and expression.

Ten Minutes of Applause

Another pinnacle of Normans career came in 1987 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood; her program of Strauss songs, which featured the final scene from Strausss opera Salome, prompted more than ten minutes of applause and ovations. Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times on the power of her performance: Ms. Normans voice seems to draw from a vast ocean of sound. No matter how much volume Sieji Ozawa requested from his orchestra during the fiery scene from Salome, it seemed little match for her voice. Yet, as always, what made the sopranos performance particularly remarkable was the effortlessness with which she could hover over long, soft notes. And there is also the quality of sound she produces: even the loudest passages are cushioned by a velvety, seductive timbre.

Over the years Norman has not been afraid to expand her talent into less familiar areas. In 1988 she sang a concert performance of Poulencs one-act opera La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice), based on Jean Cocteaus 1930 play of the same name, in which a spurned actress feverishly pleads to keep her lover on the other end of a phone conversation. Although Henahan noted in the Times that Normans characteristic style puts great emphasis on tragic dignity, and that the role perhaps called for less restraint, he nonetheless admired her as among those artists driven to branch out into unlikely roles and whole idioms that stretch their talents interestingly, if sometimes to the breaking point.

Other of Normans diverse projects have included her 1984 album, With a Song in My Heart, which contains numbers from films and musical comedies, and a 1990 performance of American spirituals with soprano Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall. Norman commented to William Livingstone in Stereo Review that one of her objectives as a performer is to communicate, to be understood in many ways and on many levels. In 1989 she was invited to sing the French national anthemLa Marseillaisein Paris during the celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Norman, who sings nearly flawless French, in addition to German and Italian, was particularly honored by the opportunity. It makes you feel really good that people at home think you are worth their interest, but its incredible to be so warmly received in a foreign country, she told Livingstone. I love watching the faces of the people who are listening as I sing these songs and know that they understand.

Norman described to New York Times contributor Gruen the reverence with which she approaches her work. To galvanize myself into a performance, I must be left totally alone. I must have solitude in order to concentratewhich I consider a form of prayer. I work very much from the text. The words must be understood, felt and communicated. If you look carefully at the words and absorb them, youre half-way home already. The rest is honestyhonesty of feeling, honesty of involvement. If a performer is truly committed, then the audience will be the first to know and will respond accordingly. Of course, love is the thing that propels us all. Its what carries us alongthats the fuel!

Selected discography

Beethoven, Ludwig van, Symphonie No. 6, op. 68: Pastorale, Deutsche Grammophon, 1981.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, London, 1987.

Beethoven, Fidelio.

Berg, Alban, Lulu Suite [and] Der Wein, CBS Masterworks, 1979.

Berlioz, Hector, Les nuits dete, Philips, 1980.

Berlioz, Les nuits dete [and] La mort de Cleopatre, Deutsche Grammophon, 1982.

Berlioz, Romeo et Juliette, Angel, 1986.

Bizet, Georges, Carmen, Philips, 1989.

Brahms, Johannes, Lieder, Deutsche Grammophon, 1983.

Brahms, A German Requiem, Angel, 1985.

Brahms, Symphony No. 3 in F; Alto Rhapsody.

Bruckner, Anton, Symphonie nr. 8 c-moll [and] Te Deum, Deutsche Grammophon, 1981.

Bruckner, Te Deum [and] Helgoland [and] 150 Psalm, Deutsche Grammophon, 1983.

Chausson, Ernest, Poeme de lamour et de la mer: op. 19 [and] Chanson perpetuelle: op. 37 [and other selections], Erato, 1983.

Les chemins de lamour, Philips, 1977.

Christmastide, Philips, 1987.

Debussy, Claude, Lenfant prodigue [and] La damoiselle elue, Pro-Arte, 1982.

Faure, Gabriel Urbain, Penelope, Erato, 1982.

Gluck, Christoph Willibald, Alceste, 1982.

Haydn, Joseph, La vera costanza, Philips, 1977.

Haydn, Armida, Philips, 1979.

Jessye Norman Live, Philips, 1988.

Jessye Norman Sings Duparc, Ravel, Poulenc, Satie, Philips, 1977.

The Last Night of the Proms, Philips, 1969.

Lieder (various composers), Philips, 1988.

Lucky To Be Me, Polygram, 1992.

Mahler, Gustav, Das Lied von der Erde, Philips, 1982.

Mahler, Symphony 2: Resurrection, CBS, 1984.

Mahler, Symphony No. 6 in A Minor; Songs of a Wayfarer.

Mahler, Symphony No. 7 in E Minor; Kindertotenlieder.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Die Gaertnerin aus Liebe, Philips.

Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro, Philips, 1971.

Offenbach, Jacques, La belle Helene, Angel, 1985.

Offenbach, Les contes dHoffmann, Angel, 1988.

Purcell, Henry, Dido and Aeneas, Philips, 1986.

Ravel, Maurice, Sheherazade, Philips, 1980.

Ravel, Songs of Maurice Ravel, CBS Masterworks, 1984.

Sacred Songs, Philips, 1981.

Schonberg, Arnold, Gurre-Lieder, Philips, 1979.

Schubert, Franz, Lieder, Philips, 1973.

Schubert, Lieder, Philips, 1985.

Schumann, Robert, Frauenliebe und Leben, op. 42 [and] Liederkreis, op. 39, Philips, 1976.

Spirituals, Philips, 1979.

Strauss, Richard, Four Last Songs, Philips, 1983.

Strauss, Lieder, Philips, 1986.

Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, Philips, 1988.

Stravinsky, Igor, Oedipus Rex, Orfeo, 1983.

Tippett, Michael, A Child of Our Time, Philips, 1975.

Verdi, Giuseppe, Un giorno di regno, Philips, 1974.

Verdi, Il corsaro, Philips, 1976.

Wagner, Richard, Tristan and Isolde [and] Five Poems by Mathilde Wesendonk, Philips, 1975.

Wagner, Wesendonk Songs, Angel, 1986.

Wagner, Lohengrin, London, 1987.

Wagner, Scenes From Tristan and Isolde, Tannhauser, Der fliegende Hollander, Gotterdammerung, EMI, 1988.

Wagner, Die Walkure, Deutsche Grammophon, 1988.

Weber, Carl Maria von, Euryanthe, Angel, 1975.

With a Song in My Heart, Philips, 1984.

Sources

Books

Greenfield, Edward, Robert Layton, and Ivan March, The New Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and Cassettes, Penguin, 1988.

Hunt, Adam Paul, Jessye Norman, Singer: Portrait of an Extraordinary Career, 1991.

The International Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 10th edition, edited by Oscar Thompson, Dodd, 1975.

Periodicals

Ebony, March 1988; July 1991.

Life, March 1985.

Musical America, January 1991; July 1991; September/October 1991; November/December 1991.

Music and Musicians, August 1979.

Newsweek, December 6, 1982.

New York, April 1, 1991; April 29, 1991; May 20, 1991.

New Yorker, April 1, 1991; May 20, 1991.

New York Times, January 21, 1973; January 23,1973; December 15, 1982; September 18, 1983; September 27, 1983; November 24, 1983; January 26, 1986; August 25, 1987; February 20, 1988; March 6, 1989; September 22, 1989; March 19, 1990.

Opera News, June 1973; February 18, 1984; February 16, 1991; July 1991.

Stereo Review, October 1989; February 1991 ; July 1991; August 1991; September 1991.

Washington Post, August 7, 1972.

Michael E. Mueller

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Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman

The repertoire of American-born singer Jessye Norman (born 1945) encompassed an uncommonly wide range, from Monteverdi to Boulez. Her rich soprano voice, however, was sometimes plagued by problems of voice production.

Jessye Norman was born on September 15, 1945, in Augusta, Georgia. Her father, an insurance broker, and her mother, a schoolteacher, encouraged her musically, so she was singing in church choirs from the age of four. Apart from her great love of singing, her childhood was by all accounts typical. Her first step toward a singing career, taken at the suggestion of her high school chorus teacher, was to enter the Marion Anderson vocal competition in Philadelphia at age 16. Though she did not win the competition, as a result of her singing she did gain a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. There she studied voice with Carolyn Grant. After graduating from Howard she continued her singing studies with Alice Duschak at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and with Pierre Bernac and Elizabeth Mannion at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Norman fell in love with opera the first time she heard a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast. "I was nine and didn't know what was going on, but I just loved it" she told Charles Michner of Vanity Fair magazine. "After that I listened religiously."

To finance her graduate studies, Norman entered the 1968 International Music Competition of the German Broadcasting Corporation in Munich and took first prize. She learned of her honor while on a U.S. State Department musical tour of the Caribbean and Latin America. This prestigious award accorded her immediate wide recognition and engagements throughout Germany leading to a December 1969 debut with the venerable and prestigious Deutsche Oper in Berlin as Elizabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser. She signed a three-year contract shortly thereafter, and enjoyed rapid success in Europe.

From her student days Norman had been selective about her repertoire, heeding her own instincts and interests more than the advice of her teachers or requests of her management. This tendency put her at odds with the Deutsche Opera and compelled her to seek out musical works on her own that she felt were more suitable to her vocal skills. Her search took her to Italy where, in the spring of 1970, she sang in a lesser-known Handel oratorio, Deborah, at the Teatro Communale in Florence. In April of 1972 she made her debut at Milan's famous opera house, La Scala, in the title role of Verdi's Aida. Her first well-publicized American performance took place that summer in a concert performance of the same role at the Hollywood Bowl. Later in 1972 she further established herself in the United States with an all-Wagner concert at the Tanglewood Festival in Lennox, Massachusetts, and a recital tour of the country. That September she made her London debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, as Cassandra in Berlioz's Les Troyens.

During the years 1973-1975 she performed throughout the Western world—in Spain, Holland, Germany, Scotland, Italy, England, France, and Argentina, as well as the United States, often performing works outside the standard repertoire, including Franck's oratorio Les Béatitudes and Schoenberg's song cycle, Die Gurrelieder.

In 1975 Norman moved to London and had no staged opera appearances for the next five years. While she gave as the reason for her withdrawal the need to fully develop her voice, others felt that this was a period of concern for her weight and thus her stage image. She told John Gruen of the New York Times, "As for my voice, it cannot be categorized—and I like it that way, because I sing things that would be considered in the dramatic, mezzo or spinto range. I like so many different kinds of music that I've never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range." She remained internationally active as a recitalist and soloist in works such as Mendelssohn's Elijah.

In October of 1980 Norman returned to the operatic stage in the title role of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Hamburger Staatsoper in Hamburg, Germany. In 1982 she appeared in her American stage debut with the Philadelphia Opera as Dido in Purcell's Dido and Aneas and as Jocasta in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. Her belated debut at the Metropolitan Opera took place in September of 1983, the opening night of its 100th anniversary season, again as Cassandra. She was invited to sing at the January 21, 1985, inauguration of President Reagan, an invitation which she debated as an African American, as a Democrat, and as a nuclear disarmament activist. But she did accept and sang the folk song "Simple Gifts."

Although she was concerned about her stage image, Norman often managed to convert her size to a positive advantage by choosing physically more static roles that called for stately and dignified bearing.

Among the numerous honors bestowed upon Norman were the following: Musical America's musician of the year, 1982; honorary doctorates from Howard University (1982), Boston Conservatory (1984), and University of the South (1984); and Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, 1984. She also received awards for her recordings of R. Strauss, Four Last Songs; R. Schumann, Frauenlieben und Leben; Schoenberg, Die Gurrelieder; and Negro spirituals.

New York Times writer Allen Hughes wrote that Norman "has one of the most opulent voices before the public today, and, as discriminating listeners are aware, her performances are backed by extraordinary preparation, both musical and otherwise." Her performances sparked endless ovations from audiences all over the world. In 1985 it was reported that a Tokyo audience applauded for 47 minutes, and the next year an audience in Salzburg Austria applauded for 55 minutes. "Ms Norman's voice seems to draw from a vast ocean of sound…. Yet … what made the soprano's performance particularly remarkable was the effortlessness with which she could hover over long, soft notes…. And there is also the quality of sound that she produces: even the loudest passages are cushioned by a velvety seductive timbre," wrote Michael Kimmelman.

Norman's work in the 1990s included singing at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1993, taking part at a gala for the New York Philharmonic in 1995, and appearing at concerts throughout the world.

Norman once described the reverent approach that she took to her work in the New York Times: "To galvanize myself into a performance, I must be left totally alone. I must have solitude in order to concentrate—which I consider a form of prayer. I work very much from the text. The words must be understood, felt and communicated…If you look carefully at the words and absorb them you are halfway home already. The rest is honesty—honesty of feeling, honesty of involvement. If a performer is truly committed, then the audience will respond accordingly. Of course, love is the thing that propels us all. It's what carries us along— that's the fuel!"

In March 1997, Jessye Norman was honored by New York's Associated Black Charities at the 11th Annual Black History Makers Awards Dinner for her contributions to the arts and to African American culture.

Further Reading

Little biographical material is available on Jessye Norman in readily accessible publications. Several articles appeared in Opera News between 1980 and 1985. Of these, the issue of December 24, 1983, contains a good review by R. Jacobson of her New York debut. The February 18, 1984, issue includes a revealing interview by Martin Mayer; her New York debut was also covered in the New York Times by John Gruen, September 25, 1983; Vanity Fair did an in-depth study of her in February 1989. She is listed in the International Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians (1975); and in the 1988 The New Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and Casettes. She was also profiled in the documentary film Jessye Norman, Singer: Portrait of an Extraordinary Career Malachite Productions, 1991. □

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Norman, Jessye

Jessye Norman

Born: September 15, 1945
Augusta, Georgia

African American opera singer

Jessye Norman is an African American opera singer. Her rich soprano voice covers an uncommonly wide range, from classical to modern compositions.

Early years

Jessye Norman was born on September 15, 1945, in Augusta, Georgia. Her father, Silas, was an insurance broker and her mother, Janie, was a schoolteacher. There were four other children in the family. Music was very important in the family, and all the children took piano lessons at a young age. Her parents encouraged Jessye musically, and she began singing in church choirs at the age of four.

Norman's first step toward a singing career, taken at the suggestion of her high school chorus teacher, was to enter the Marion Anderson vocal competition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at age sixteen. She did not win the competition, but her singing did gain her a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Norman fell in love with opera the first time she heard a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast. "I was nine and didn't know what was going on, but I just loved it," she told Charles Michner of Vanity Fair magazine.

Debuts

Norman, to finance her graduate studies, entered the 1968 International Music Competition of the German Broadcasting Corporation in Munich, Germany, and took first prize. This famous award gave her immediate wide recognition and engagements throughout Germany leading to a December 1969 debut with the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Germany. Norman had always been selective about her repertoire (a list of operas prepared for performance). She followed her own instincts and interests more than the advice of her teachers or requests of her management. This tendency put her at odds with the Deutsche Oper and forced her to seek out musical works on her own that she felt were more suitable to her vocal skills.

Norman's search took her to Italy, where she sang in Florence in the spring of 1970. In April of 1972 she made her debut at Milan's famous opera house, La Scala, in the title role of Verdi's Aida. Her first well-publicized American performance took place that summer in a concert performance of the same role at the Hollywood Bowl. Later in 1972 Norman further established herself in the United States with an all-Wagner concert at the Tanglewood Festival in Lennox, Massachusetts, and a recital tour of the country. That September she made her London, England, debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Travels

During the years from 1973 to 1975 Norman performed throughout the Western worldin Spain, Holland, Germany, Scotland, Italy, England, France, and Argentina, as well as the United Statesand often performed works outside the standard repertoire.

In 1975 Norman moved to London and had no staged opera appearances for the next five years. While her reason for the withdrawal was that she needed to fully develop her voice, others felt that this was a period of concern for her weight and thus her stage image. She told John Gruen of the New York Times, "As for my voice, it cannot be categorized. I like so many different kinds of music that I've never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range."

In October of 1980 Norman returned to the operatic stage in the title role of Richard Strauss's (18641949) Ariadne auf Naxos at the Hamburger Staatsoper in Hamburg, Germany. In 1982 she appeared in her American stage debut with the Philadelphia Opera as Dido in Henry Purcell's (16591695) Dido and Aeneas and as Jocasta in Igor Stravinsky's (18821971) Oedipus Rex. Her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera took place in September of 1983. She sang at the January 21, 1985, inauguration of President Ronald Reagan (1911), an invitation that she debated as an African American, as a Democrat, and as a nuclear disarmament activist. But she did accept and sang the folk song "Simple Gifts."

Although Norman was concerned about her stage image, she often managed to convert her large size to a positive advantage by choosing roles that called for stately and dignified bearing.

Honors and recent work

Among the numerous honors bestowed upon Norman were: Musical America 's musician of the year, 1982; honorary doctorates from Howard University (1982), Boston Conservatory of Music (1984), University of the South (1984), and Harvard University (1998). She was given the honor of being named Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government, 1984. She also received awards for many of her recordings.

Norman's work in the 1990s included singing at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1993, taking part at a gala for the New York Philharmonic in 1995, and appearing at concerts throughout the world.

In March 1997, Jessye Norman was honored by New York City's Associated Black Charities at the eleventh annual Black History Makers Awards Dinner for her contributions to the arts and to African American culture. Norman made her first appearance in Russia in 2001. She sang at the "Tribute in Light" memorial ceremony in New York City to honor those people who died in the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

For More Information

Gruen, John. New York Times (September 25, 1983).

International Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians. 1975.

Jacobson, R. Opera News (December 24, 1983).

"Jessye Norman." Contemporary Black Biography. Vol 5. Detroit: Gale, 1993.

"Jessye Norman." Notable Black American Women. Detroit: Gale, 1992.

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Norman, Jessye

Jessye Norman, 1945–, American soprano, b. Augusta, Ga. Making her early reputation in Europe, Norman won the Munich competition in 1968, debuted in Tannhäuser in 1969 with the Berlin Opera, and was a great success as Aïda at Milan's La Scala and London's Covent Garden in 1972. She made her American debut in 1982 as Jocasta in Oedipus Rex and her Metropolitan Opera debut the following year as Cassandra in Les Troyens. A majestic diva and extremely successful recording artist, she is praised for her enormous vocal power, tonal warmth, and clarity of diction. One of the most acclaimed musical artists of the late 20th cent., Norman commands a broad operatic repertoire and also frequently performs concerts of lieder, spirituals, oratorios, and a variety of other works.

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Norman, Jessye

Norman, Jessye (b Augusta, Georgia, 1945). Amer. soprano. Won Munich int. mus. comp. 1968. Opera début, Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 1969 ( Elisabeth in Tannhäuser). Débuts: Florence 1971; La Scala 1972; CG 1972; Amer. (Hollywood Bowl) 1972; Salzburg Fest. 1977; NY Met 1983. Noted Lieder singer and interpreter of such works as Berlioz's Les nuits d'été. Settled in Eng.

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