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She declares witheringly

“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural dress size. Dress size is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern vocal pedagogy is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, vocal pedagogy produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.” [The Telegraph]

170 comments

  • 1
    kashania says:

    Jessye really ought to take on Lady Bracknell. She’d be a natural. And marrying into French aristocracy? Well, I have no words but if I did, they’d involve “life imitating art” or something like that.

    • 1.1
      Salome Where She Danced says:

      Aristocratic French Women Don’t Get Fat

    • 1.2
      PushedUpMezzo says:

      That dress is definitely more Dolly Levi than Lady B. And of course the chatelaine position at Glyndebourne is taken. Incidentally London is currently enjoying the ageless Sian Phillips’ Lady Bracknell, soon to be followed by the mind-boggling David Suchet’s debut in the role.

  • 2
    Harold says:

    I had to read the article before knowing whether this was an actual quote, or a very good imitation. I heard Ms. Norman many times from 1978 until her retirement. After hearing that she was a “dramatic soprano” I was shocked the first time I heard her at how little her voice projected, and how small her high notes were. Even in 1978, she sang flat a great deal of the time, which I found to be a major obstacle to me enjoying her singing. On record, most of these flaw are well hidden. The level of artifice in her speech was reflected (IMHO) in her singing, so while I admired the instrument, overall I found her to be all smoke and mirrors.

    • 2.1
      Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Jessye defies all classification and I think the term ‘dramatic soprano’ is as inadequate to describe her as anything else -- it certainly leads to disappointment if you go at her expecting a Dimitrova/Jones/Nilsson/Varnay instrument, but it also fails to encompass some of her greatest attributes.

      I heard Norman several times from 1995 onwards in recitals both with piano and orchestra. There were occasions where she crooned and coasted and there were others where she was in majestic, awesome form -- if it was the latter, she projected brilliantly even in unflattering acoustics like London’s Royal Festival Hall. I think the tendency towards flatness came and went, and depended a lot on the specific context of each phrase, but existed throughout her whole career.

      • 2.1.1
        La Cieca says:

        When you call Jessye Norman a “dramatic soprano,” you’re half right.

      • 2.1.2
        kashania says:

        I think very early in her career, there were dramatic soprano possibilities in her voice. But as the voice settled, it became clear that it wasn’t a dramatic soprano voice. Yes, the voice was huge up to around a high G or so. But if one was determined to describe her voice as a “dramatic” anything, it would have to be “dramatic mezzo”*. And “dramatic” more a la Flagstad than Nilsson.

        *I do think Jessye was a legit soprano for a while but the “dramatic” quality of the voice lay lower in the voice.

    • 2.2
      kennedet says:

      We must be talking about two Jessye Normans, Harold because my experience with her was the direct opposite. Her Mahler second will remain in my memory forever as one of the most moving experiences I have ever heard at a concert. There was no sign of a projection problem and there was never anything small about Ms. Norman’s voice or pitch problems.

      I fantasized and would have loved her to be classified as a Contralto and have a career as the next Marian Anderson. I have never witnessed a chest voice from any soprano like Ms. Norman. I think by now you can gather that I loved her sound in her good years. I am fascinated by her beginnings, her career at such an early age and how she has returned to her roots. Her major career, experiences, training also speaking German, Italian and French fluently does not lend itself to coming back to Georgia and aiding poor African-American young people to become artists.

      I’ll let the press and others deal with her so called divadom. She deserves her rightful credit.I am aware that there are other AAs who have also dedicated their time and expertise. Mille grazie to them all.

      • 2.2.1
        Rowna says:

        I have been a fan of hers since I heard her in 1973 at Wolf Trap, to me, an unknown. During her long and glorious career I heard her many times live. You all must remember, singers have good days and bad ones, and lots in between. What is the point of assessing her career now? It is over. She defied all the rules by not letting herself be pidgeon holed into any one category. I think had she decided, she could have been a mezzo, or specialized in big Wagner and Strauss. Instead, she sang a lot of French, dabbled in Wagner and was superb as a recitalist. Here is one of my favorite clips of her -- forgive me if I have posted it already. Anyway, Emma loves it too :)

        • 2.2.1.1
          kennedet says:

          Rowna, thank you for that very special treat. This is the kind of total artistry singers should strive for. Great singing quality, wonderful French diction and total involvement in her interpretation.

        • 2.2.1.2
          Pia Ngere-Liu says:

          I agree -- this is one of my favorite clips. The first recording I got of the 4LL was her recording on Philips -- I listened to it 5 times in a row. Still my most favorite 4LL recording.

        • 2.2.1.3
          kashania says:

          Rowna: To me, this performance, as well as showing her command of line, is a great example of her charisma. She takes such a slow tempo that the song could easily fall apart. However, through her musicality, and more importantly, her great charisma, she makes it seem like it’s the only way to deliver the song — at least for those five minutes. True grandezza.

    • 2.3
      Flora del Rio Grande says:

      Harold, could we change that to ‘cracked mirrors?’ Thanks!

    • 2.4
      mia apulia says:

      I heard her at her best several times in the 70’s and 80’s, and the high notes were not small and she was not flat, so there must have been good days and bad days, no surprise. And the good days I heard were unbelievably good.

      • 2.4.1
        Ilka Saro says:

        I also heard her a lot in New York in the 80s. What a gorgeous voice! Like having my eardrums stroke with soft, irridescent velvent. But either the natural size of her voice reduced when she went above the staff, or she simply chose not to sing “big” up there. The quality of the tone remained the same. The top had that shimmering brilliance. Many singers have more volume at the top than in other parts of their voice. In fact, many singers have difficulty producing anything BUT their biggest sound when they are at the top. Not so Miss Norman. Whether or not it was by choice, the top did not have nearly as much mere volume as the middle.

  • 3
    figaroindy says:

    Gotta love a typo that refers to the “Human Void” in this article! (La void Humaine)

  • 4
    Camille says:

    Did La Jessonda[tm] write this exclusive especially for parterre box, I wonder?

    I always thought her category was SATB, or whatever flew into her imagination at any given moment.

    Whatevs. Let her have her fun. At least she is not doing “Master Class”. Or is she?

    • 4.1
      kashania says:

      LOL re: SATB. I still think that Jessye singing all three Norns was one of the great missed opportunities, both for serious and comical reason.

      • 4.1.1
        Camille says:

        Oh, indeed, a capital idea!!

        Monsieur Camille always has thought she would have been an excellent and positively awe-inspiring ERDA. When she arose from the bowels of the earth it would have been An EVENT! I’m sure Wotan would neither have told her off and go back down into said bowels, in Siegfried, had it been she.

        Also, I found it very interesting that she caused “ructions”, as it were, with conductors, as Monsieur Camille (who saw her a great deal back in the day and is more familiar with her onstage apparitions), has always maintained that, intelligent and scrupulous musician that she is, she may have had some success if she had conducted music. I mean, who would say “NO” to her when she commanded a certain delicacy from the string section or more pizazz from the piccolo? No one would say no.

        Still sorry to have missed Roberto Devereux and I have given up making travel plans for opera as I have fallen on my sword every single, solitary time.
        Has there been any more word about Signor Filianoti’s wellbeing? I hope all goes better for the poor man.

        • 4.1.1.1
          kashania says:

          Erda could’ve been monumental. “Weiche, Wotan” indeed!

          Haven’t hears anything more about Filianoti but I fear the worst in terms of his vocal health. :(

          • Camille says:

            As I suspected, hélas.
            I will keep him in my orations. Such a lovely, lovely man and artist.

    • 4.2
      Camille says:

      Oh goodness, who WAS it that La Jessye could have/would have married???? Robert le Diable? Raoul de Nangis? That is just so tantalising. Ask œdipe to investigate for us!

      She really is kind of adorable, in a way, with all her GRANDEZZA.
      After all, she IS
      DIVA:

      • 4.2.1
        phoenix says:

        My heart skipped a beat when I saw my favorite phrase ‘I do not approve’ begin this thread, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what she meant. Something about wearing the wrong dress size? Then I started to read the article but got no further than the first paragraph -- I turned into a purple dinosaur when I saw mention of her debut as Cassandre in 1972. I saw one of those performances (I believe it was in the Autumn); I think it was with Josephine Veasey (Dido) and Jon Vickers (Énée). I was glad I went because it was interesting to watch & listen to.
        -- Now what exactly is she talking about?

        • 4.2.1.1
          Camille says:

          No one really knows, but do tell us about her Cassandreand what was so interesting. I can best you in this category, phoenix, as I heard a 1970 Aïda over the radio. Not her finest moment and it took me years to overcome the bad first impression she made on me.

          Dress sizes, THESE days, are pretty meanigless in any case and vary, country by country. In French sizing I have a vast repertory of four different sizes, according to style and couturier. In Italian sizing, two or three. It really doesn’t mean much for a long while now and makes it necessary to try most things on, something I used to never have to do very much as it was a more reliable system. Then there are the differences between the British system with that weird gap between sizes 8 and 12, or somewhere around there, where it telescopes. And the difference between French and Italian shoes. Just try it on and forget the size.

          I have never noticed sizing being any sort of strange Kiwi fruit, though. That is something only La Jessonda could come ip with, bless her Augustean Eminence!

          • phoenix says:

            Well Camille, I had only seen Troyens with Crespin (1966[?] 3 times I went back to see it with her she was so great) and I was very much under the influence of Crespin’s interpretation & vocal technique, which differed from Norman’s more refined take. There was nothing wrong with anything Norman did; the stage blocking for her was done with more taste in London than in her later appearances in the same role at the Met (see video below), but she came off as too subtle, calculated and controlled for my tastes -- I wanted the dramatic truth thrown out at me like I got from Crespin but such was not to be had. On the plus side, I appreciated Norman’s appearance as Cassandre when Veasey’s Dido came on -- Veasey was lady-like but not grand, vocally nor histrionically. The performance, however, was interesting & important to me because it was the first time I realized that we North Americans (Norman & Vickers included) have a certain instinctually recognizable quality that cannot be confused with Brits (or other foreigners) -- so Vickers’ Énée & Jesseye’s Cassandre made me feel right at home while I had to put up with Veasey.
            -- I heard an Aida too with Jesseye and it wasn’t as bad as many others I have heard try the role. My favorite recording (and I think the only one I still have with her) is l’Africaine, Muti conducting, 1971 from Firenze. At the Met I saw Norman as Cassandre, Dido, Ariadne, Madame Lidoine, Elisabeth and Sieglinde. The best was her Ariadne. The only really dreadful performance I ever her saw give was Kundry in Parsifal -- the finale of the second act, it was like she was marking time -- she stopped singing, acting, & squeezed out these miniscule, tiny sounds with no legato at all.
            -- Here she is at her best (and one of the most memorable interpretations of this I ever heard):

            • kashania says:

              Phoenix: Thanks for your memory of that Cassandre. I wonder if Jessye was restrained because she was still so young. Not too many 27-year-olds take on such a dramatic role (not nowadays anyway). Seems like you saw her in all her best roles at the Met. What about the Didon? Most people who saw that consider it her greatest triumph (though Ariadne became her signature role).

            • phoenix says:

              Norman’s Didon was wonderful -- her grief in the last act was very real -- heartfelt & expressively sung. But as so many singers have noted: Didon, although it is a longer role, is actually much easier to sing & interpret than Cassandre.
              -- I never saw another Didon sing the love duet with the magical charisma that Crespin did.

            • Camille says:

              Oh many thanks for all your memories — I think as well that Crespin was and is unbeatable in this part — and I’d long had the intention of listening to her Sélika, as I thought it might suit her voice well but I don’t know, so…

              The Aïda I heard was rrom Hollywood Bowl, summer 1970, or it could be ’71. I seem to recall Levine conducting but am jo longer 100% certain.

              The most interesting to me about Jessye is that she has both great strengths—and great weaknesses. How she designs a couturier gown for herself out of these opposites is that which I find most fascinating. That takes both musical intelligence, skill, and adroitness. She does not always succeed and it often tilts the scale, but when it does, it does. And it is no mean achievement.

              Thanks for the memories, phoenix. Assuming Crespin was at San Francisco in the golden olden daze……

            • Camille says:

              And that Met Elisabeth, which I heard a few years ago via Sirius and did not anticipate liking, just floored me for its excellence. I would not have it believed it had I not heard it. I was never that fknd of either the Sieglinde nor the Ariadne, though.

              gracias, amigo!

            • messa di voce says:

              On records, Norman is surprisingly good as Euryanthe, which is pure soprano (Hempel sang it at the Met).

            • kashania says:

              OK, one more post. :)

              Camille: Yes, the Aida was with Levine at the Hollywood Bowl. It was her American debut.

              Phoenix: Interesting post about Cassandre being more difficult. The way I see it, Didon requires more variety both vocally and dramatically. Cassandre is very one-note. The whole role is her prophesying doom (albeit gloriously). And the musical demands are similar throughout.

              Didon has to be a gracious queen at first, then a woman in love, and finally an emotionally wounded figure who grieves and dies in the most grand manner. The music is more varied too, going from declamatory singing to floating long lines (those high ending of the phrases in the love duet). Even in the final scene she has to switch back and forth between dramatic outbursts and the serene “Adieu, fiere cité”.

              I wish there was more recorded evidence of Crespin as Cassandre and Didon. She was born to those roles. If I recall, the recording that I heard once wasn’t as great as I expected. To have experienced her live!

            • Camille says:

              Perhaps phoenix feels it is “easier” as it has more range as a character and is more feminine and congenial a role rather than the insistent johnny one note of doom and despair that is Cassandre’s unhappy lot. The music tends to reflect that, as a lot of Cassandre is right in the middle of the voice and talky. The second aria, “Non, blank blank blank” (can’t remember the title right now), usually goes for naught. It’s all really about acting. Or acting out, maybe. Very tough and I think that’s why L’Anto acci has succeeded only too well in this role.

              I don’t know. It’s really had to determine. Maybe I will go next year to San Francisco to hear it, but am not sure if it’s worth it. I have seen two of the protagonists already and Antonacci I have seen bits of on film. I will wait to hear from the left coast.

            • Camille says:

              Lordy, honey, was that ever lovely!! What a pleasant surprise and change from that Aïda I heard. Her voice sounded so supple and expressive and not arch.

              What a revelation! Always loved La ShirlDeva’s take on this but she gives her a run for her $$$&!!!

              Thanks so much. Oh, and the visuals--to die for.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              On L’Africaine:

              Ms. Norman was larger than life, and when she stepped onstage the audience seemed surprised — but as soon as she opened her mouth to sing the aria ‘Figlio del sol, mio dolce amor,’ the audience’s reaction shifted to unanimous, amazed admiration. She had, if I may, a voice of pure chocolate, of such intense, warm, mellow beauty that it’s unlike any I’ve heard since. Unfortunately the horrendous old Italian translation didn’t do the beautiful finale justice […] [Muti, First The Words, Then The Music, 50-51]

              He has a good story just preceding that, of Roman Vlad persuading him (with a piano demonstration) that Meyerbeer’s opera was worth doing at Florence. This apparently required a bit of a selling job, as Muti had not been very interested in Meyerbeer.

          • phoenix says:

            It’s the way the two roles are written. Cassandre, a high falcon role that (if sung as written) requires a great deal sustained vocal dynamics in the upper range of the voice around the passagio.
            -- Most of the role of Didon lies in mid-range with the dramatic challenges for Didon usually declamatory and not of a sustained nature -- but the finale of Act 3 is an exception.
            -- Berlioz makes more extensive lyric demands from Didon, which become the test of a great Didon: her poetic skill in delivering those lyric passages.
            -- Often cuts are made in Act 5 to the final Énée-Didon duet, the ‘Va, ma sœur, l’implorer’ scene with Anna, as well as to Didon’s declamatory call to arms ‘Dieux immortels! il part! Armez-vous, Tyriens! — but I am never sure whether or not these cuts are made to benefit the singer or are the conductor’s efforts to tidy up the entire package.
            -- I remember a singer writing that when she first rehearsed the role of Didon for performance, she wrestled between mezzavoce and pianissimo for the final phrase of Didon’s Je vais mourir aria: ‘ma carrière est finie!…’ and she even considered asking the conductor to lower it -- but after much practice, finally she was satisfied with what she could do with it.

        • 4.2.1.2
          mia apulia says:

          I assumed she was referring to the recent Octavian silhouette contretemps

          • Flora del Rio Grande says:

            Kashie and Peter: I don’t remember the Steber/Cassilly Berlioz with much pleasure, so what you say is esp. interesting. Wasn’t it one of those
            Friends of French Music things and Robert Lawrence conducted — oops!
            That will set anything back. It was after 1962 (Steber’s crack up year
            at the Met), and Eleanor was a bit strained. However, that was a long
            time ago and I may be mis-remembering.

            • peter says:

              Flora, it was recorded at the end of 1959 and early 1960. Steber very much still had it together.

        • 4.2.1.3
          armerjacquino says:

          I couldn’t figure out exactly what she meant. Something about wearing the wrong dress size?

          Phoenix, the quote at the head of this post isn’t from the interview. It’s from THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, with the word ‘ignorance’ replaced by ‘dress size’.

          • manou says:

            …and here is the original photograph of Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell

            http://i1.ytimg.com/vi/rNCliKCN9gY/maxresdefault.jpg

            La Cieca’s photoshop skills are second to none.

          • phoenix says:

            mucho thanks aj & manou for the explanation.
            -- Ignorant & unintellectual as I am, I don’t know anything about The Importance of Being Earnest -- Wilde for me is Irish, Salome, Dorian Grey and the quote (I don’t know where it comes from) “her hair turned quite gold from grief”.
            -- But I think it would be helpful if the management put in print somewhere the origin of the quote instead of putting [The Telegraph] immediately below the quote -- I assumed the quote was the beginning of the article itself. But after I finally read the entire Telegraph article, I realized that Wilde’s quote from Being Earnest was much more earnest & thought-provoking that what La Norman had to say in the article.

            • armerjacquino says:

              The quote you cited is also from the IMPORTANCE.

              ‘They say her hair turned quite gold from grief’
              ‘It certainly has changed its colour. From what cause I, of course, cannot say’

            • phoenix says:

              -- The article somehow presents Norman as a somewhat bitter old lady, looking for a hook to hang her Dissatisfaction-Hat on. Of all the singers I remember from my youth, with the exception of Callas, Norman had the greatest success as a virtual icon over two continents. She is the last one I thought would wind-up bitter. She, unlike Callas, had one of the longest and most successful careers in recent history. Is she not growing old gracefully. Who can forget her sweet smile & perky enthusiasm. Why did the interviewer play the politico-race card with her? Is that a custom in Britain with mixed-race people?
              -- aj & manou: Is this a good version of Wilde’s Earnest to watch? it’s very old -- from the post WW2 Rank Organization:

            • kashania says:

              Phoenix: You must do yourself a favour and read Earnest. I can’t imagine a play that is as much fun to read — perfect for the summer! If you can arrange it, get a few friends together and do a dramatic reading. I’ve personally had great fun with Algernon, Jack and Lady B (especially the latter of course).

              Detestable girl! But I require tea!

            • phoenix says:

              Thanks kash! I put the ebook up on my favorites bar.

            • manou says:

              The film version is the Ur-performance of TIOBE -- although it might sound slightly dated nowadays.

              Yes -- great fun and very very light.

            • phoenix says:

              Thanks again manou!

          • Flora del Rio Grande says:

            Thank you Peter for improving my memory; you are a bearer of
            good news. I’ll scratch around among my old LPs where I should
            find that disc somewhere. Yes there were still good things in
            the old dear in 1959 or so. She lasted longer on the concert
            platform than the opera stage — many do.

      • 4.2.2
        WindyCityOperaman says:

        Wasn’t La Jessye the inspiration and (I thought) the original choice for the titular character in Beineix’s film? Interesting how Wiggins career didn’t go anywhere. I really liked this movie when it first came out.

        I just ordered Jessye’s book via Amazon and plan to read it while on vacation.

        • 4.2.2.1
          MontyNostry says:

          I actually saw Wiggins Fernandez sing Luisa Miller (in concert) before Diva came out and made her famous. I also saw her in a concert at MIDEM in 1994, in which she outshone Katia Ricciarelli, but not Jose van Dam, who sang ‘Quand la flamme de l’amour’ from La Jolie Fille de Perth -- rather wonderfully.

          • Krunoslav says:

            Wiggins got to the dress rehearsal stage of a Paris TRAVIATA and was then given a plane ticket. It seems to me she did some NYCO performances maybe Musetta?

            I saw her once live: a public lunchtime concert-in an Oakland, California plaza circa 1988, with piano and with tenor Keith Ikaya-Purdy, whose tenor got pretty metallic in his later European career. At that juncture la Wiggins was unexceptional except to see.

            • Camille says:

              Fairly certain I read that it was Micaela in Carmen, which she sang at NYCO but don’t recall any other roles.

            • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

              Cami: WWF definitely sang Musetta at NYCO shortly after the film came out in America. I saw her, and went backstage with my “Diva” soundtrack LP to get it autographed. She seemed very touched that I enjoyed the film so much. (I still have that LP.) Last I heard she was still singing some concerts of gospel music. She is now about 65.

            • MontyNostry says:

              She did a Carmen Jones in London, I think, but also did an Aida with Welsh National Opera.

            • kennedet says:

              I remember Wilhelmenia as a very young man in Philadelphia. She always had a God given natural voice. She attended AVA and once told me a story about NYCO and Beverly Sills. It seems her manager sent her to sing for Ms. Sills who never attended the audiiton. After several no-shows Wilhelmenia refused to sing until Ms. Sills appeared. Evidently she got her wish because she did perform there. I lose track but someone here will know the details.I also dated her but she was very much in love at the time with Mr. Fernandez. No regrets. I heard her as Donna Anna at Chatauqua years ago and she remembered me as the first person to take her for a date in a car. “Memories light the corners of my mind”.Thanks for allowing me to reminisce.

            • damekenneth says:

              Kennedet, to you mean to say that Wiggins-Fernandez is an M to F? (Your comment: “I remember Wilhelmina as a very young man in Philadelphia…” ) Were you dating her before the surgery then?

        • 4.2.2.2
          Muscato says:

          The movie was marvelous at the time -- a multiple must-view at the local arthouse -- but I’ve not seen it since and wonder how it would hold up. In memory, she was very effective, although we laughed at her French (“Qui êtes-vous?!” in imperious tones). I had an album of spirituals she recorded; pleasant enough, but I think the star quality was mostly in that white dress…

          • MontyNostry says:

            “Je ne suis pas les Beatles.” I last saw Diva about 15 years ago and it was still terrific.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Here it is complete -- albeit with a rather messy voiceover dub … into Russian.

            • MontyNostry says:

              And this is a fascinating and penetrating reportage on the woman who plays the hooker in the movie -- I actually saw her on stage at the Folies!

            • MontyNostry says:

              Whoops

            • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

              I have it on DVD -- in French with optional subtitles -- and it holds up surprisingly well (although some of the humor -- like a pun on “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” -- may be understood only by us of a certain age). But some sequences -- the walk through Paris at dawn with the faux Satie playing -- are just unforgettable.

          • Krunoslav says:

            I remember seeing it with my sister, a screenwriter and playwright. She said, “Ok, from hear on, art direction is going to trump plotting.”- Some truth in that…

          • kennedet says:

            damekenneth, you pointed out my error with syntax. Thanks. I meant “when I was a very young man” and I don’t mean Wilhelmenia had a sex change. Whew!!

  • 5
    m. croche says:

    Having seen her partial rendition if Cage’s Songbook, I still hold out hope that one day La Norman will give us her “Pierrot Lunaire”.

    • 5.1
      • 5.1.1
        Camille says:

        WHO is THAT? Angela Lansbury??? I mean Dame Angela, of course.

        I can’t believe it took Good Queen Bess all these long years to finally make her a Dame!! What was she waiing???? For her to finally win an Emmy for Murder, she wrote???

        • 5.1.1.1
          Camille says:

          Waiting for, that is.

          Abort.

          Abandon.

          Fail.

          Safe.

          Salvami da me stessa.

        • 5.1.1.2
          • Camille says:

            Yes. Exactly how I feel in most daze these days.

            “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

            – Violetta Valéry, Act V. Rediscovered Regie version from the “Napoli” version, ca. 1856.

  • 6
    rysanekfreak says:

    I saw her Kundry at the Met. She was not a soprano, not a mezzo, and not dramatic.

    She was a French art song recitalist posing in a costume.

    In “Les Troyens,” her suicide as Cassandre was perhaps the most ludicrous death scene I’ve ever witnessed.

    • 6.1
      La Cieca says:

      And there was that delicious moment at the beginning of act two of Parsifal when she was elevatored onto the stage, wearing a black silk caftan and matching turban, and a standee loudly whispered, “Oh, no, she arrived at the theater too late to get into costume!”

      • 6.1.1
        Camille says:

        A TURBAN for Zweiter Akt????
        “Das ist nicht wahr!”

        Omg I am so sorry now I wasn’t there to behold the marvel.

        • 6.1.1.1
          Camille says:

          I have to go lie down in the dark and take valerian drips, THAT’S how upset hat Second Act Turban has rendered me.

          Addio.

      • 6.1.2
        kashania says:

        OMG, why wasn’t that filmed??? LOL

        (Though the production was filmed a season or two later with Meier — the greatest Kundry of our time, so no complaints I suppose).

        • 6.1.2.1
          Krunoslav says:

          ” the greatest Kundry of our time”

          Metropolitan Opera House
          April 14, 1986

          PARSIFAL {252}

          Kundry………………Gail Gilmore [Debut]”

        • 6.1.2.2
          Porgy Amor says:

          (Though the production was filmed a season or two later with Meier — the greatest Kundry of our time, so no complaints I suppose).

          Fortunately, not the only visual souvenir of Meier’s Kundry.

          Conrad L. Osborne had a good quip in his review of the Met VHS/LD version: “Meier […] is far more stage wise and aware of histrionic responsibilities […] and because she’s more interesting to watch than the others, [Brian] Large uses her to tell the story with reaction shots and Avedon portraits — a huge obligation.”

          He was more impressed by the Barenboim/Kupfer Parsifal of around the same time, talking of Meier’s Kundry as well as the rest of it.

          Re: Jessye’s Kundry. I have no live experience, and trust the accounts, but I find everyone’s singing very beautiful indeed on the DG recording. On that level, the recording is hard to beat. Of course, it is Levine Wagner, and worse, Levine Wagner freed of any concern about a live performance dragging on past some overtime deadline, so one often wants to poke it with a stick to see if it is still moving. I sometimes have said that the first time I listened through, I kept getting fooled that a disc was ready to be changed.

      • 6.1.3
        kashania says:

        This is the only picture I can find of that Kundry (I’m assuming it’s from that Met premiere of the Schenk production):

        http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_t2OkCguKEws/SHfgt4N2lmI/AAAAAAAABLE/g8NwsBswkZA/s400/Parsifal.bmp

        It looks like it would be Act II but I guess not…

        • 6.1.3.1
          Camille says:

          Oooooh, I would not call that an echt turban but a headdress, of sorts. Or some sort. It’s kind of cute, any old way

          What concerns me more now is whether or not that fellow in the clinch is going to survive her grip, or not.

          Thank you 4 the foto.

    • 6.2
      phoenix says:

      • 6.2.1
        rysanekfreak says:

        The Cassandre suicide I saw involved slowly leaning back on dozens of large pillows.

        • 6.2.1.1
          Clita del Toro says:

          Well, that’s better than Jane Eaglen remaining standing during the final scene of Walküre (at LOC).

        • 6.2.1.2
          phoenix says:

          rysanekfreak, at least she finally went down in the one you saw. In the Met video above she hunches over & with firm grip she leans onto a table -- did you ever?

    • 6.3
      peter says:

      And Rysanek was such a subtle actress as well.

      • 6.3.1
        Clita del Toro says:

        Rysanek was not always subtle, but she was fabulous and exciting! What more could a gurl want? Subtle acting as in Opolais and Netrebko?

    • 6.4
      kashania says:

      It’s the *deaths* that got small!

  • 7
    Will says:

    I’m surprised nobody has yet mentioned Jessye the Singing Girl Scout Cookie Delivery Lady (IF you were willing to purchase X number of hundreds/thousands of boxes, that is).

    I remember a radio broadcast of a concert by one of our great symphony orchestras when she sang, in order, Elgar’s Sea Pictures (contralto), Ravel’s Scheherazade (French mezzo, which can mean anything), and Strauss’s Four Last Songs (soprano). It was during the glory years — she DID have them — and it was a pretty impressive achievement.

    I love most of all Jessye in 1989 up on a float pumping out La Marseillaise wrapped in the Tricolor like a giant heraldic mumu. Oh, for a modern day Gericault to have painted that scene!

    • 7.1
      kashania says:

      She once did a concert at Ravinia (with Levine) singing all the following on the same program:

      Mozart: Concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te?”

      Ravel: Scheherazade

      Berlioz: La mort de Cleopatre

      Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder

      Wagner: Isolde’s Transfiguration

      • 7.1.1
        MontyNostry says:

        I think I remember hearing that concert on the radio. Major excitmement at the time!

        • 7.1.1.1
          kashania says:

          I only know of it because the Isolde is on YouTube. It’s not the strongest of her various versions I’ve heard her do but it’s still very good. And one can excuse some thickness of tone after such a strenuous program.

          She did some truly huge things in the 70s and 80s. By the 90s, the performances became more variable and the voice didn’t respond as well, especially in live opera (including that Met Kundry). Recitals and studio recordings suited her best post-1990.

      • 7.1.2

        i would kill to hear that “Ch’io mi scordi”

    • 7.2
    • 7.3
      Tubsinger says:

      I’da killed to hear her do that program. Nobody ever does the Sea Pictures very often, and she probably killed those contralto notes, the way I heard her in the Mahler Resurrection (twice). My fond memories of her as the Angel in Gerontius, that one time in Boston, has already bored the Parterriat many times. I wish there were more pirate recordings of her singing rep she didn’t record commercially--such as the Elgar, and both roles in Troyens. I was hoping that the Royal Opera series of house recordings might get her permission to release at least part of her debut in ’72 in the Berlioz, but I’ve read here that she is not given to granting the release of her live recordings (and, evidently, many of her studio ones). I heard her twice in Ariadne, including the famous telecast, and thought that was a great role for the way her voice lay at the time.

      • 7.3.1
        kashania says:

        Tubsinger: the Met Troyens (with Jessye doing both roles) broadcast plays on Sirius occasionally and is available as a pirate. I got my copy at Academy Records in NYC. The recording includes a live La mort de Cleopatre with Muti and an interview.

        You’re right about the release of recordings. Apparently, she held up the Boulez Bluebeard for some three years. Ridiculous, really!

        OK, I’ve posted enough on this thread. She was my first diva and I get carried away.

        • 7.3.1.1
          ianw2 says:

          No! There is never enough! I like to play this and wear a blanket like the Tricolore cape every time I’m about to fly to France. It is very fetching.

          • BillyBoy says:

            That matches the contemporaneous description: dressed in a French flag the size of a tennis court. And FABULOUS.

        • 7.3.1.2
          BillyBoy says:

          Lord the night she sang both roles and fell on a misplaced bit of scenery as she stepped forward for the final aria. No one gasped — this was serious stuff. What would happen? Well the big lady just leaned forward and was easily back on her feet. How did that happen? She took another step forward and brushed her skirt with a hand so that it fell properly.

          Then she sang like a goddess. I mean diva.

          Best single performance ever.

          • phoenix says:

            I remember that performance -- I went with my friend & co-worker Florian and we thought it was part of the regie -- she was so overcome with grief.
            -- Yes, she was quite unique and unforgettable.

          • damekenneth says:

            Wasn’t it for a Saturday matinee that Norman stepped into both roles Cassandre and Didon)? I seem to remember it as a radio broadcast, “somewhere in my youth and childhood.”

            • kashania says:

              Yes. Earlier in the week, Troyanos (who was singing Didon) had fallen ill mid-performance. So, the Met called Jessye up after she had already gone home for the evening, telling her that they were holding the curtain and asking if she would come back and sing the final act. By Saturday, Troyanos was still sick and Jessye had a day or so notice, so she was prepared to go on and sing both roles. In the recording I have, the ovations go on forever, and they bring Jessye back for three solo bows at the end. And good old Peter Allen keeps finding things to say as the ovations go on and on. And of course, the ovation after “Adieu fiere cité” is amazing — lasting some three minutes.

    • 7.4
      KennethC says:

      Speaking of glory years,let’s not forget Norman’s glorious Tove (Gurrelieder), which fortunately is preserved in a live recording with the equally glorious Tatania Troyanos and James McCracken (Werner Klemperer, no less, as the Speaker). And then there’s Norman’s magnificent recording of Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer, which sadly I never heard her perform live. Oh, yes, the Vier Letze Lieder, my absolute favorite recording of the songs.

  • 8
    messa di voce says:

    No one’s mentioned her “Bohemian Girl:”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbRYEvZVoag

    • 8.1
      MontyNostry says:

      That was included in a royal gala at the special request of the Queen, apparently. Jessye is wearing her costume from the Martinoty production of Ariadne that was first seen at Covent Garden in 1985 -- Battle was Zerbinetta. The role was later sung in that production by both Tomowa-Sintow and Janowitz.

    • 8.2
      mia apulia says:

      god-awful splendid, and moving besides, thank you

  • 9
    Camille says:

    Kashania, never apologise for your first love. Nor forget.

    This is about perfect and some of my favourite Chausson, whom we just discussing the other day.

    love,
    Camille

  • 10
    arepo says:

    Interesting thing about this thread is that, unless I missed it, not one single post says anything about her new book. And isn’t that really the reason she was interviewed in the first place?
    So maybe no one here read it? Well I did and disappointingly found it to be more of a treatise on family values and how parents and relatives influenced her life. It is fraught with religious sayings and upbringing and discusses at length having to live with black prejudice.
    This last is possibly the only part of the book where I truly felt her pain but otherwise found it to be lacking in what I was hoping to read more of — her connection with opera and the Met and actual goings-on of performances with different singers (not necessarily catty backstage stuff — more like interesting anecdotes about her compatriots and dealings with general managers and such).
    Strangely, what I mainly got from the book was an undercurrent of anger, both from the black prejudice she had to endure (and who would not be?) and from being annoyed with conductors/directors/singers who insisted they wanted something their way when she clearly disagreed with it, and voiced her indignation.
    She said she wanted this book to be different from other opera singers’ books and she surely did accomplish her task … clearly.

    • 10.1
      phoenix says:

      What does she intend to accomplish by complaining to her readers about old wounds that she refuses to let heal? At least she had parents (real biological ones) & family that apparently supported her.
      -- ‘undercurrent of anger’ tells me that she is not only trying to play the martyr but she is also seeking revenge. Many of us had to endure mixed-race prejudice and beatings growing up in our own childhood homes & living conditions wherein ‘family values’ didn’t even function -- does it sound like interesting reading to you?
      -- Unless she is a totally arrogant, self-centered 24/7 control freak, it is impossible for her not to have had fun some stories & memoires by now to tell. Perhaps ‘Volume 1’ is only the beginning -- will something entertaining actually show up in ‘Volume 2’ & ‘Volume 3’?
      -- Only fools are buying into her revenge aria because she is another ‘winner takes all’. The price of her book is blackmail -- extortion paid her for all she has suffered through -- yes, we really do owe it to her, don’t we? She, the most successful American diva of the 1970’s & 80’s -- but of course that isn’t going to be enough. She will never get enough compensation for suffering mixed race prejudice as well as having to endure such dreadful conductors, singers, directors as she had to put up with.
      -- On the plus side, I think she is an excellent candidate for the 2014 Katherine Jackson award.

      • 10.1.1
        kennedet says:

        Phoenix, I have not read the book but I do know that Jessye Norman opened an after school program for economically disadvantaged students in Augusta, Georgia. She is preparing young poor people to have the skills that she has developed through educating them. That can be a very positive way of dealing with racial prejudice. Also,supportive parents can teach a child to deal with racism but they can’t erase it.

        Sometimes when people write their biographies they share feelings that are very dear to them. It doesn’t mean they want to seek revenge by making others feel guilty by using blackmail and extortion tactics in order to sell the book. Your accusations are very strong. It’s ironic but the only overreaction I sense is yours.

  • 11

    Jessye is one of those singers for whom the esoteric term “Falcon” is actually well applied, at least in my opinion.

    She never was a dramatic Soprano, though she did sing some of that rep, but she also was not necessarily a mezzo, though she did sing some of that rep too. The fact that she did a lot of French (and thus Falcon) roles would almost beg that classification be applied.

    • 11.1
      Cocky Kurwenal says:

      I disagree. My own pet theory is that she was actually a contralto. But it’s a fruitless exercise trying to apply a label at this point, it isn’t as if she’s going to take advice and start exploring new roles as a result. She sang what she sang, how she sang it.

      • 11.1.1
        Regina delle fate says:

        Well, my experience of Jessye in Opera bears out what you write Cocky: Ariadne, both Dido(n)s, Cassandre and Jocasta in Oedipus Rex on stage. I missed her RO Tannhäuser-Elisabeth and her Sieglinde at the Met. And I think she had long dropped Aida from her rep by the time I saw her on stage. How many other roles did she sing? In the theatre, I mean, not recording studio.

        • 11.1.1.1
          Cocky Kurwenal says:

          Off the top of my head, Emila Marty, Kundry, Elle, whatever her name is in Erwartung, and Judith. No doubt I’ve missed plenty.

          • Hippolyte says:

            Norman’s two great 18th century heroines: Gluck’s Alceste (which I believe she only sang in Chicago where I saw it) and Rameau’s Phedre (in Hippolyet et Aricie at Aix).

            • kashania says:

              The Phedre from Aix has recently shown up on YouTube. She was doing this role around the same time as Cassandre/Didon. I’ve watched around half of this and is she is glorious voice.

            • Hippolyte says:

              The Aix Hippolyte is remarkable, not just for Norman’s sovereign Phedre but also for Jose van Dam’s superb Thesee.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Alceste, Countess Almaviva, Mme Lidoine.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Where did she perform the Countess? It sprang to mind but I wasn’t sure she’d done it on stage. Was it in her early Berlin days, or did she keep it in her repertoire later on as well?

            • kashania says:

              Yep, in Berlin. Not sure if she sang it again later. She also sang Elsa at some point (I thought she had only recorded it). Also Purcell’s Dido (staged) and Idamante (in concert).

          • m. croche says:

            whatever her name is in Erwartung

            The character’s name is “Die Frau”. Though it might be fun to choose another one for her. Wilhelmina Worrypants?

          • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

            Uh, the character in “Erwartung” is called Eine Frau or The Woman.

          • Regina delle fate says:

            Die Frau in Erwartung. Did she actually sing this in the theatre as opposed to concert hall. I should’ve remembered Emilia Marty and Kundry. Again I was unaware of Elle in the theatre.

        • 11.1.1.2
          Cocky Kurwenal says:

          Wikipedia has a list, but doesn’t differentiate between those that were studio only, erroneously claiming she performed them all. The one surprise, for me, was Donna Elvira. I am sort of wildly approving and skeptical all at the same time over that one.

          • grimoaldo says:

            Do you know where there is a “reliable source” that lists the roles she performed onstage Cocky and I will fix that. Or if you know yourself you can fix it, that list is not sourced right now anyway and as you say it is wrong. Or anybody else here tell me which roles she sang onstage and which only on recordings and I will fix it.

            • grimoaldo says:

              I changed that list to say “some only on studio recordings”. I suppose if you record a role you have “performed” it, in a sense.

          • armerjacquino says:

            The Elvira was very early- beginning of the 70s at the Hollywood Bowl.

    • 11.2
      la vociaccia says:

      I think we covered this. She was SATB.

  • 12
    Cocky Kurwenal says:

    Any Londoners who wish to discuss Fach and repertoire with Jessye personally can do so on 19th July:

    http://www.roh.org.uk/news/meet-jessye-norman-at-the-roh-on-19-july-2014

    I love the way the announcement sort of vaguely gives the impression she’ll be singing 2 performances of La Boheme that day.

    • 12.1
      MontyNostry says:

      Why, my deuhhh chap, you didn’t know she had taken Alcindoro into her repertoire?

      • 12.1.1
        oedipe says:

        The 2pm Bohème needs all the help it can get (in addition to the half price tickets that were put on sale by the house).

        • 12.1.1.1
          Regina delle fate says:

          Well, as I said, Oedipe, Ermonela, despite her many RO appearances, is not really a star. I’m going to that performance as it happens.

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            I’m off to the opening night of Norma that day, but might swing by for a glimpse of Jessye first.

        • 12.1.1.2
          Regina delle fate says:

          Also there’s far too much opera on in June/July over here. A so-so-cast 40th anniversary revival of the 1974 Bohème -- Ricciarelli/Domingo/Wendy Fine/Peter Glossop when it was new -- was always going to struggle. I wonder if they hoped people would book it by mistake thinking they would be seeing Ange and Grigoletto.

          • manou says:

            There certainly is a lot of opera -- but do try to fit in The Turn Of The Screw at OHP. Chilling and unforgettable.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Everything at OHP is chilling!

            • MontyNostry says:

              You need a pashmina like the Kensington ladies, Cocky dear.

            • manou says:

              I went on Thursday -- warmest evening of the year.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              First time I sang there was in Queen of Spades, in which I had a heavy shirt, trousers and boots, plus overcoat, hat, scarf and gloves. I will never forget the first tech, when it was 29 degrees. There were performances though where I felt very grateful to be so wrapped up. The last time I sang there, I was costumed in shorts and a t-shirt, and naturally it was freezing cold for the whole of June that year. Fortunately, as an audience member, I can make my own choices, but it nearly always seems colder than I think it’s going to be, and my teeth end up chattering. Hope the weather for the 2 performances of Norma I’m seeing will be as balmy as it was for Manou.

          • MontyNostry says:

            But Regina, it’s a ‘classic’ production. Still, they call the current Tosca a ‘classic’ production too (for which read: ‘revived at every opportunity, even if it’s rather mediocre’.)

            • armerjacquino says:

              It’s a problem for opera houses, this, isn’t it? No point replacing the Copley BOHEME with another straight-down-the-line traditional production- waste of money. And yet something a bit more regie-ish might not sell as well. So we end up with things like the Jonathan Kent TOSCA, which is basically the Zeff production seen from the other end of the room. As someone pointed out to me the other day, this is how the Met ended up paying for two consecutive near-identical productions of TRAV, from the same director.

            • MontyNostry says:

              I think the trouble with that Jonathan Kent production is not that it is traditional, but rather that it is just not very good -- especially in Act II with everyone constantly sort of lined up across the front of the stage and moving sideways to get to each other. Act III is much better, though. I don’t know what you do with Bohème. That Copley production is distinctly whiskery (I found it all vaguely embarrassing when I saw it last year, though it is full of solid stagecraft, of course), but I can’t see a Herheim cancer ward version packin’ ’em in year after year.

            • La Cieca says:

              Well, actually the Met ended up with two Traviatas from the same director because the General Manager of the Met, who was trained in the scenery department of the company, was unable to look at set renderings and form an accurate impression of what the completed sets would look like. So he fired the Flimm/Wonder team, presumably paid them off, pulped the sets and costumes that had already been built, and then was left with the prospect of having to present a new Traviata with less than eight months’ lead time and most of the budget already spent. So he had to turn to Alberto Vilar, and the only director/designer who was both available and attractive to Vilar was Zeffirelli.

              When people talk about Peter Gelb’s failures at the Met, I keep waiting for the story of a new production of a standard opera that ends up limping into the theater minus the announced conductor, director, designer, tenor, baritone… and without either the first announced soprano or the one chosen to replace her. (The production that arrives, by the way, should be one of the most expensive in Met history, and one uniformly savaged by the critics.)

              Just to recap: Volpe planned to create a new Traviata as a vehicle for Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, with Vladimir Chernov as Germont, production by Juergen Flimm, designs by Erich Wonder, and conducted by Simone Young. What he delivered was Patricia Racette, Marcelo Alvarez, Haijing Fu, Franco Zeffirelli sleepwalking, and james Levine slumming for the first four performances before handing off the show to Carlo Rizzi. And all this for $4 million, in addition to what had already been wasted on the aborted Flimm/Wonder staging.

    • 12.2
      Guestoria Unpopularenka says:

      She’ll be singing the role of Schaunard.

      • 12.2.1
        kashania says:

        You’re all wrong. She’s singing Musetta down an octave down and replacing “Quando me vo” with “Lucky to be me” (complete with a wide accompanying smile).

        • 12.2.1.1
          kennedet says:

          kashania, the next sound you here will be sirens coming to arrest you for obstruction of character. Get your opera frocks assembled. You are sentenced to 90 days of hearing Ms. Norman sing Stormy Weather for soloist only with a SATB arrangement, written by la vocaccia from your jail cell. Take that!

      • 12.2.2
        Camille says:

        No, Guessie. I have heard from reliable sources it’s Parpignol.
        She’s bringing her Girl Scout Cookies instead of the toys this time out, too!

    • 12.3
      armerjacquino says:

      I also love the way they keep reminding us it was written by a WORK EXPERIENCE STUDENT.

      • 12.3.1
        MontyNostry says:

        …. “a tuition-free performing arts programme”. Looks like work experience is pretty tuition-free too.

  • 13
    Clita del Toro says:

    I heard that she was learning Preziosilla.

  • 14
    Krunoslav says:

    Mama McCourt, Amelfa, Lauretta, Aminta.