Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Jessye Norman — A Portrait
27 Jan 2009

Jessye Norman — A Portrait

A sticker on the cover of the Decca DVD Jessye Norman a portrait describes the contents as "An intimate new film portrait of the great soprano."

Jessye Norman — A Portrait

Jessye Norman

Decca 074 3251 8 [DVD]

$27.98  Click to buy

And if the font were to be copied exactly, the words would be in all capitals, with “intimate” and “great soprano” twice as large as the other words. Make no mistake, Jessye Norman, as presented in this “film by André Heller,” is a larger-than-life figure, with no pun at all intended in regard to her physique. In filmed interviews, with the interviewer only briefly glimpsed at one point, Norman comes off as thoughtful, pretentious, down-to-earth, grandiose, sad, joyful, self-centered, insecure - the list could go on. In the end, your reviewer, after having his patience taxed, found his respect and endearment for the artist enhanced by this often silly but ultimately moving film.

The format is simple. Norman faces the camera, answering an unheard question. Every couple of minutes, the scene shifts to a studio where, in a bewildering array of hairstyles and gowns, Ms. Norman lip-syncs to some of her best recordings, with the sets around her designed by the director and others, including Brian Eno and the wonderfully named Mimmo Paladino. The focus in these filmed, MTV-style interludes remains Ms. Norman, with the studio design mostly consisting of lighting and background projection, usually an abstract pattern that hopefully doesn’t clash too much with whatever outlandish get-up Ms. Norman wears. Ms. Norman emotes energetically, and only for the briefest moments can a viewer notice that her lip movements don’t quite match the vocal production.

The booklet track listing bears titles for the interview segments such as “Childhood,” “Preparation,” and most poignantly, “Loneliness.” Although Ms. Norman does make a point of announcing her inability to understand why anyone should care what consenting adults do in the bedroom, she hasn’t much to say about her own personal life, other than that she has accepted that she will be - or needs to be - alone a great deal of the time. At a few points in the interviews, she grows quite passionate about her frequent disappointment in the professionalism of others, especially unprepared conductors. The fire in her eyes suggests that an unleashed expression of her frustration would be something to behold.

One quote from the director’s booklet essay should serve to establish his point of reference in regards to Ms. Norman: “In her mythical greatness, this prima donna can only be compared of Maria Callas.” Your reviewer assumes that the writer meant nothing ironic in using the word “mythical.”

Fans who wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Heller’s sentiment will cherish every moment of this DVD. But those who will chuckle in the first minutes as Ms. Norman ponders if there is singing on Jupiter should hold on. Listen as the “great soprano” (since so she wishes to be called) talks of her family, racism, and the cost of having a top-class classical singing career. Of course, most everyone can also relish the gorgeous vocalising heard in the musical interludes, not irreparably harmed if seldom enhanced by the studio settings. By the end of the film’s 90 minutes, the sticker’s proclamation of an “intimate” portrait proves accurate. Your reviewer, for one, would hate to have missed the moment when Ms. Norman speaks of her affection for Mr. Bean.

Brava Jessye. Mr. Heller, your mythical greatness can only be compared to Mr. Bean.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):