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IN MEMORIAM | Jessye Norman, International Opera Icon, Dead At 74

By Stephan Bonfield on September 30, 2019

Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman, 1945-2019 (Photo: Carol Friedman)

One of the most significant sopranos of our era has died.

Jessye Norman died today in New York at the age of 74. According to publicist Gwendolyn Quinn, Norman died this morning at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital “from septic shock and multi-organ failure secondary to complications of a spinal cord injury she had sustained in 2015.”

Her passing is an enormous loss. Social media posts immediately exploded with an outpouring of tributes and remembrances for one of the greatest female voices in recording history, possibly of all time.

 

 

A singer who projected a rainbow of tone with astonishing ease, she came to be known for a diversity of roles after her 1968 debut with the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Wagner’s Tannhäuser as Elisabeth bringing a regal power and presence to the stage, whether she sang the title role in Verdi’s Aida, Judith in Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle or Cassandre in Berlioz’s Les Troyens.

It would not be long before she would establish herself as the signature heroine of Wagner opera, particularly her Sieglinde, perhaps the greatest realization of the role in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In some ways, equally famous was her commanding performance and instrumental colour of Strauss’s Ariadne from Ariadne auf Naxos.

She was also considered a trailblazer, following in the footsteps of other African-American singers such as Marian Anderson, Dorothy Maynor, Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Reri Grist alongside contemporary greats Harolyn Blackwell and Kathleen Battle.

She worked and recorded with some of the greatest conductors of her time, including Herbert von Karajan, Sir Colin Davis, Riccardo Muti, Kurt Masur and Seiji Ozawa. But best of all for her fans, she distinguished herself with her versatility and command of multiple repertoires including acclaimed recitals and recordings of German lieder, American art songs and spirituals.

She displayed a natural ability to know a score inside and out for all its inherent interpretive possibilities. Her ability to listen to an orchestra and align to the music kept her in demand with conductors for decades.

She won five Grammy Awards, the Kennedy Center Award and in 2009, the National Medal of Arts Award.

Last February, Norman was in Toronto to receive the Glenn Gould Prize, of which she was the first woman and the first opera singer to be a laureate. During her stay, our colleague Joseph So interviewed her for Ludwig van Toronto.

READ THE INTERVIEW WITH JESSYE NORMAN.

All our condolences to Jessye Norman’s family and to those who, like us, admired her immense talent.

Requiescat in pace, Jessye Norman.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Stephan Bonfield

Stephan Bonfield

Stephan Bonfield writes about opera and music for Ludwig Van where he reviews primarily the TSO, chamber music, Baroque and contemporary opera and assorted other genres.  He is ballet and dance critic for the Calgary Herald where he also covers Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity every summer, including the Banff International String Quartet Competition.  He is a public speaker about opera, music and dance in Canada.
Stephan Bonfield
Stephan Bonfield

Stephan Bonfield

Stephan Bonfield writes about opera and music for Ludwig Van where he reviews primarily the TSO, chamber music, Baroque and contemporary opera and assorted other genres.  He is ballet and dance critic for the Calgary Herald where he also covers Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity every summer, including the Banff International String Quartet Competition.  He is a public speaker about opera, music and dance in Canada.
Stephan Bonfield
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