Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

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):