Jessye Norman – Opera Singer and Recitalist Extraordinaire

Jessye Mae Norman (born 72 years ago on September 15, 1945) is for ever to be remembered the world over as an American opera singer and recitalist extraordinaire. A dramatic soprano, Norman is associated in particular with the Wagnerian repertoire, and with the roles of Sieglinde, Ariadne, Alceste, and Leonore. Norman has been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and is a NAACP Spingarn Medalist. 

Apart from receiving several honorary doctorates and other awards, she has also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, and is a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Throughout her career, Norman has spent much of her time giving recitals and concerts. In addition to performances in opera, Norman has given regular recitals encompassing the classical German repertory as well as contemporary masterpieces, such as Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and the French moderns, which she invariably performed in the original tongue. This combination of scholarship and artistry contributed to her consistently successful career as one of the most versatile concert and operatic singers of her time. Often cited for her innovative programming and fervent advocacy of contemporary music, she has earned the recognition of “one of those once-in-a-generation singers who isn’t simply following in the footsteps of others, but is staking out her own niche in the history of singing.”

Since the early 1990s Norman has lived in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, in a secluded estate known as “The White Gates” which was previously owned by television personality Allen Funt. In 1990, Norman performed at Tchaikovsky’s 150th Birthday Gala in Leningrad.

Starting in the mid-1990s, Norman began to move away from soprano stage roles and migrated to mezzo soprano roles.

Norman no longer performs ensemble opera, concentrating instead on recitals and concerts. It is worth listening to her unparalleled rich soprano voice in this inspiring rendition on YouTube with organ accompaniment of The Holy City, Jerusalem:

Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang,
Methought the voice of angels
From heav’n in answer rang.
Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!
And then methought my dream was chang’d,
The streets no longer rang,
Hush’d were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.
Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!
And once again the scene was chang’d;
New earth there seemed to be;
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea;
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.
Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o’er!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna for evermore!

Norman serves on the Boards of Directors for Carnegie Hall, the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, City-Meals-on-Wheels in New York City, Dance Theatre of Harlem, National Music Foundation, and Elton John AIDS Foundation. She is a member of the board as well as a National spokesperson for the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, and spokesperson for Partnership for the Homeless. Norman serves on the Board of Trustees of Paine College and the Augusta Opera Association.

Afterword:
I got to know Jessye, during the time I was the Assistant Manager of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, New York (1975-78). A highlight for me was when I interviewed her live at the local classical radio station WXXI prior to her appearance with the RPO at a sold-out concert held in the Eastman Theater. Before we got on the air, we shared our respective fond memories of living and staying in the British capital. And I still remember the full-bodied way she said during our warm-up chitchat that “I simply  l-o-v-e London!”  Also, I happened to have gained my Licentiate Performer as a concert pianist at the Royal Academy of Music early on in my profession (1951), while she became a member of that venerable institution later on in her stellar singing career.

References:
Wikipedia; My written and recorded memorabilia.

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