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

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Jessye Norman
08 Jun 2010

Festive Concert with Jessye Norman

It was more the ruins than the remnants of a once-great voice that Jessye Norman brought to Israel’s new, 6500-seat outdoor opera theater at the foot of historic Masada Mountain.

Festive Concert with Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman, soprano. Raana Symphonette Orchestra. Conductor: Rachael Worby.

Above: Jessye Norman

 

The appearance of an artist whose best years lie in the past can be a moving experience in its recall of extraordinary greatness. Hearing Norman, once one of the most impressive voices of her day, at this point in her career was, however, disquieting — and disheartening.

The concert was a major event in launching the program that makes Israel Opera a major player among the world’s summer opera festivals. Yet the established format for such gala events is in itself of questionable artistic merit: one sits patiently through bits and pieces of opera — the Marchfrom Aida and a bit of orchestral Puccini — waiting to hear a modest handful of hits sung by the artist of the evening.

The music that made Norman famous — Strauss, Mahler, Wagner — is clearly no longer within her reach and thus was totally absent from the Masada program. There she turned rather to Saint-Saens and Puccini and — on the second half of an almost three-hour concert — Gershwin and Duke Ellington. For certain qualities Norman, now 65, can still be praised: pitch is no problem and — with an excess of hand gestures — she still throws herself into the music.

The sad truth, however, is that she has lost absolute control of her voice; there is no longer flexibility, and only rarely was there at Masada a hint of the beauty and richness that once made her special. To counter her diminished powers Norman chose as her partner onstage young American Rachel Worby, now at home with the Pasadena Pops, who worked in Israel with the Raanana Symphonette, an ensemble founded in 1991 largely by musicians from the then still Soviet Union.

Worby qualified at Masada as an accommodating accompanist — not as an independent conductor. She took her cues from Norman and did what she could to help the singer create an impression of great artistry. Alas, it did not work.

The new theater, so successful for the lavish production of Verdi’s Nabucco on the previous evening, was much too large for the Norman concert. The sound so superb in Verdi was anemic; the show was too small for the majesty of surroundings that reached to the very edge of the Dead Sea.

Also physically diminished, Norman failed to reach her audience emotionally in the first half of the program; there was little enthusiasm in the response to Italian hits. Things went somewhat better with Gershwin and Ellington — but not much better. Although Norman on occasion sang this music earlier, it was never at the center of her repertory, and despite the use of a husky chest voice, one could not overcome the impression that here she was poaching.

The irony of It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing was that Norman could not make it swing at all. “You can hear Ella Fitzgerald rotating in her grave,” someone commented in leaving the performance that ended with several encores, including an uncomfortably graceless Amazing Grace. One wonders about Norman’s health. Getting on and off stage was an obvious effort; several times she remained on stage in a darkened chair while the orchestra was in the spotlight and on several occasions she remained seated while singing.

The big critical question, however, concerns the “why” of this event. Why did Israel Opera invite Jessye Norman for a concert that not only heralded a new festival, but also celebrated the company’s 25th anniversary? The concert underscored a turning point in the history of an ambitious and admirable company. The concert was thus designed to give Israel Opera at Masada an instant cachet: I’m Jessye Norman and I’m here to tell you how fantastic Masada is…

In this Norman failed Israel Opera; the concert was far from sold out, and many chose to listen to the second half at the bars outside the theater. And Norman? Why did she do this? How did she see — and hear- herself?

Once a queen, always a queen?

To a star who once had it all, recent years, devoted largely to good works, have been unkind. (Compare Norman’s artistry today with that of Frederica von Stade, also born in 1945.) She remains active, doing good works, but, as one saw at Masada, Jessye Norman is no longer a presence in the world of performing artists.

The Norman conquest, so to speak, is over.

Wes Blomster

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):