Opera singers hold a special interest for me. As a singer, it brings me endless pleasure to experience the sheer power of the operatic trained voice but as a person, it is doubly wonderful when the being that emits that glorious sound is equally dynamic. Jessye Norman is one of those singers. Having catepolted to stardom in Europe in 1969 making her operatic début at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as Elisabeth in Richard Wagner’s Tannhaeuser, Norman has made her life as limitless as her voice which over the years has defied categorization. She likes it that way. “Pigeon holes are only comfortable for pigeons,” she perportedly once resoponded to an German reporter who asked her at age 23 to define her type of singing. “I like so many different kinds of music that I’ve never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range,” she explained in a New York Times article by John Gruen.
She has performed opera all over Europe and the United States and has always chosen work which she felt maximized her vocal talents and personal style regardless of genre. “I sing what I love.” Norman reflected in a recent interview on her love for the American Masters, from American musical theatre, spirituals, blues and jazz. “I sing what I would enjoy hearing. I sing music that speaks to my spirit,” noted the four-time Grammy winner.
Tonight at 8:00pm, the tall statured Diva, appears at the Paramount Theatre in Charlottesville in a show sponsored by Virginia and Edwin Barber, and John and Harriet Gardner aptly titled “A Tribute to the American Masters”. The performance features long-beloved standards including Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm and But Not For Me, as well as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain and Harold Arlen’s tear jerker, A Sleepin’ Bee. Norman also pays homage to some of her favorite singers like Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Odetta, and Ella Fitzgerald. Her closing set is pure Ellington, including Don’t Get Around Much Anymore and Summertime.
This will be my first time seeing Norman in person and I can barely wait to hear her unique talent up close and personal.