Jessye Norman: A Soprano Who Does it Her Way

Airs Friday at 6 pm and Wednesday at 10 pm

Thursday, May 15, 2014 - 04:00 PM

 Jessye Norman in the WQXR studio. Jessye Norman in the WQXR studio. (Kim Nowacki/WQXR)

Jessye Norman has thrilled millions around the world with her vocal artistry in the opera house, and on the recital stage. She's also coped with racism and kept audiences guessing with unusual career turns. Now, the grandiloquent soprano from Augusta, Ga. has written a book called Stand Up Straight and Sing, chronicling her nearly 50-year career in the opera world and beyond.

In this one-hour special with host Naomi Lewin, Norman talks about singing Wagner's grand soprano heroines, starting with her professional opera debut as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser in Berlin in 1969. This bold move paid off with a contract and a longtime association with German houses and later led to a pivotal recording of the "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde with Herbert von Karajan.

Norman also talks about her performances of Strauss and Berlioz, American spirituals and Broadway standards. There are encounters with fellow divas Marian Anderson and Kathleen Battle, thoughts on music education, and the tale of getting an unusual phone call from Bill Clinton. Listen to the full special above and share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Bonus Audio: Norman discusses her encounters with racism in the opera field. She starts by discussing her singing partnership with Kathleen Battle:

Playlist:

Richard Wagner: Die Walkure: Sieglinde: Du bist der Lenz, nach dem ich verlangte
Jessye Norman, soprano
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
James Levine, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 423 389
 
Richard Wagner: Tannhauser: Dich, teure Halle
Jessye Norman, soprano
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Klaus Tennstedt, conductor
Angel/EMI 67830
 
Richard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder: Beim Schlafengehen
Jessye Norman, soprano
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Kurt Masur, conductor
Decca 289 479 2436
 
Traditional: Great Day (Arranged by Thomas H. Kerr, Jr.)
Jessye Norman, soprano & Kathleen Battle, soprano
James Levine, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 429790
 
Hector Berlioz: Les Troyens
Jessye Norman, soprano
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
James Levine, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 916 609
 
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod
Jessye Norman, soprano
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 423613
 
Jacques Offenbach: La Belle Helene: La, vrai, je ne suis pas coupable
Jessye Norman, soprano
Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse
Michel Plasson, conductor
EMI 65576
 
Traditional: Amazing Grace
Jessye Norman, soprano
Christopher Bowers-Broadbent
Philips 432 546
 
Franz Schubert/Scott/Storck:  – Ave Maria, Op. 52 No. 6
Jessye Norman, soprano
Philips 432 546
 
Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II: Music in the Air: The Song is You
Jessye Norman, soprano
Boston Pops
John Williams, conductor
Philips 450 702

Richard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder: September
Jessye Norman, soprano
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Kurt Masur, conductor
Decca 289 479 2436

Produced by:

Margaret Kelley, Naomi Lewin and Ryan Lohr

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Comments [5]

George Dorris

Just a reminder that as in the playlist, but not as announced, "The Song Is You" is by Jerome Kern, not Richard Rodgers, with whom Oscar Hammerstein worked after a long collaboration with Kern.

May. 21 2014 11:18 PM
Judy from New York, NY

I just listened to the Jessye Norman interview. What a voice! Thanks so much for this, Naomi Lewin. I have her "Liebestod" and "Die Walkure" on CD, and I will be picking up more of Jessye's recordings in the future.

May. 21 2014 11:06 PM
akena

This leaves me in tears. E.V.E.R.Y T.I.M.E !!! ===> Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod
Jessye Norman, soprano
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon 423613

May. 20 2014 06:02 PM

An extended interview like this excellent and music-filled one with Jessye Norman is reason enough to support WQXR! One of the best shows I've ever listed to. Thank you Naomi Lewin

May. 20 2014 10:14 AM

Just listened to Naomi Lewin's terrific interview with Jessye Norman. The final song Ms.Norman sang, "The Song is You" is not by Rodgers and Hammerstain but by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.

May. 17 2014 11:08 AM

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