Hitting the High Notes

Expression - Friday, April 02, 2004

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... Bernard Holland,

New York Times 

A plaza is named after her in Georgia; so, appro­priately, is an orchid. At the bicentennial of the French Revolution, it was she and not a French soprano who was invited to perform the Marseillaise. She sang at the inauguration of President Clinton. At the 1996 Olympics, it was her voice that symbolised the union and harmony of nations.

This May, Jessye Norman, who is arguably the greatest soprano of the last half-century, will perform at the Thailand Cultural Centre. Brought to Thailand as a guest of the International Peace Foundation, her performance, entitled 'A Voice For Peace', is in the cause of world peace. It also celebrates the auspicious 72nd birthday of Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand and helps to raise money for the Queen's Support Foundation, an important charity. One of the main sponsor's of the event is Toshiba Thailand along with Thai Airways and Tourism Authority of Thailand with active support from the Bangkok Opera and the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra Foundation.

Jessye Norman's singing career began at the age of four, when she started performing in church. She was born in Augusta, Georgia, and her musical education took place at Howard University, Peabody Conservatory, and the University of Michigan.

Like many American opera singers at the time, she first began to shine in Europe. At the age of 23, she made her debut at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin, singing the demanding role of Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhauser. But she soon proved that she could master not only the Wagnerian repertoire but also such roles as Aida, which she first sang at La Scala in Milan. With the German and Italian traditions firmly in her grip, she then conquered the French style with a famed interpretation of Cassandra in Berlioz's opera Les Troyens. She has starred at all the major opera houses from Covent Garden to the Met, and with virtually every major orchestra in the world and won Grammy awards for her performances.

But Jessye Norman is not just for the 'blockbuster' operas of Wagner and Verdi. She is perhaps the most versatile of all sopranos. She is a master of the music of the Second Viennese School. She's sung, for instance, what many consider to be the definitive performance of Schoenberg's Erwartung, an opera that bristles with difficulty and has only a single character.

Jessye Norman's concerts world-wide are almost always sold out, and this will be a gala occasion indeed. You've thrilled to the sound of her voice on many recordings; this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear her live, here in Bangkok.