Luminaries of the classical music world gathered on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Sunday, Nov. 24, to celebrate the life and legacy of soprano Jessye Norman, who died Sept. 30 at age 74.
One of the greatest singers of her generation, Norman received vocal and spoken tributes from Met stars including Eric Owens, Leah Hawkins, Latonia Moore, Lise Davidsen and Renée Fleming, who all performed works associated with the late soprano. Her longstanding connection to Chicago, where she appeared frequently on concert, recital and opera stages, also was saluted. Norman made her CSO debut in March 1974 in Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, and her final CSO performance came as the narrator in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, under James Conlon, at the Ravinia Festival in July 2009.
Clive Gillinson, executive director of Carnegie Hall, read a tribute from Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in Norman’s memory:
“Jessye Norman was a remarkable singer and a great musician. I had the good fortune to collaborate with her many times in opera, concerts and recordings. She first performed with me in 1970 in Florence in Handel’s oratorio Deborah, and the following year in Meyerbeer’s opera L’Africaine. Her voice was unique for the depth and beauty of its timbre— her soul immense!”
Also representing the CSO was Sheila Jones, director of community stewardship, and founder of the CSO’s African American Network, who attended the memorial concert and reception afterward. In addition, Owens, an honorary advisory committee member of the AAN, sang Wotan’s farewell from Wagner’s Die Walküre. (He will appear as Wotan in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production Wagner’s Ring next spring.)
With this memorial, Norman joined a select group of artists who have been honored in death at the Met. Composer Giacomo Puccini and singers Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti and Beverly Sills all had memorials or special concerts held in their memories; some have even had their funerals held there, including 19th-century conductors Leopold Damrosch and Anton Seidl and tenor Richard Tucker in 1975.
In his remarks, Met general manager Peter Gelb linked Norman to the house’s illustrious past as well as to another storied New York venue, Yankee Stadium, known as “The House That Ruth Built.” “Of course Jessye wasn’t alone in filling this hallowed hall with her glorious voice. She was joined by rather important voices, from Leontyne Price to Luciano Pavarotti, but in her operatic prime in the ’80s and the 90s, her majestic vocal chords reigned supreme in the dramatic soprano and the mezzo range. Like Babe Ruth, who swung for the fences, Jessye swung for standing room in the family circle, and she always connected.”
TOP: Leah Hawkins and Latonia Moore, with Gerald Martin Moore at the piano, along with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, led by Donald Palumbo, perform a tribute Nov. 24 to Jessye Norman at the Metropolitan Opera. | Photo: Ricard Termine/Met Opera