Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

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):