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Jessye Norman banned: three discs compile recordings that the diva refused to publish


Universal publishes unpublished works that the legendary American opera singer did not want to come to light and that include an extensive selection of 'Tristan and Isolde', by Wagner

The American soprano Jessye Norman (Augusta 1945-New York, 2019) must not have been easy at all in the recording studio.

Her demands delayed important releases on Deutsche Grammophon such as her recording with Pierre Boulez of

Béla Bartók's

Bluebeard's Castle .

And that legendary intransigence generated rumors about records that she made and later she did not accept to publish, like a supposed


, by Richard Strauss, with Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic.

More information

Claudio Monteverdi's sun radiates in Madrid

That Elektra


never existed, as Cyrus Meher-Homji now makes clear, in

Jessye Norman: The Unreleased Masters


But Universal Music Australia's vice president of classical and jazz has revealed other previously unpublished songs by the diva in this triple CD that arrived yesterday, Friday, in stores and platforms.

The release opens with an unfinished recording of Wagner's

Tristan and Isolde

, which the singer did not want to finish and she refused to release.

And that decision reopens the controversy over the control of the posthumous legacy of an artist in the hands of his heirs.

Norman always considered the Wagnerian Isolde as a “forbidden fruit”.

He had sung the second act of the opera in 1981, at a concert at the Tanglewood festival, with the mythical Tristan by Jon Vickers.

But her performance ran counter to the legendary model of Birgit Nilsson, according to critic John Rockwell in

The New York Times

: an immense singer but with a warm, sweet upper range, more inclined to lyrical expression than dramatic flaunting.

That opinion coincides with the famous oxymoron of Jens Malte Fischer, in his classic book

Grosse Stimmen: Von Enrico Caruso bis Jessye Norman

(Great voices: from Enrico Caruso to Jessye Norman): "A gigantic soprano of velvet metal."

Between March 19 and April 1, 1998, the singer recorded a wide selection of

Tristan and Isolde

, in Leipzig, with the Gewandhaus and Kurt Masur.

The German orchestra was not going through its best moment, having been left adrift and without a principal conductor.

And Masur's relationship with Norman wasn't good either.

The diva faced her ghosts in the narration and Isolde's curse, from the first act, for which she did multiple takes, sound engineer Wolf-Dieter Karwatky recalls.

But she didn't quite connect with German


Hanna Schwarz, as Brangania, in the first act.

And even less with the poor and impersonal Tristán of the tenor Thomas Moser, in the second.

Album cover of 'The Unreleased Masters' by Jessye Norman.DECCA

The recording includes the curious participation of a young Ian Bostridge as a sailor.

However, the tension and disagreements between Masur and Norman grew with the passing of the days.

In the end, it was decided to add the


(Death of Love), which was a specialty of the diva, after having sung and recorded it with Colin Davis (Philips), Klaus Tennstedt (EMI/Warner Classics) and Herbert von Karajan (DG ).

But the results were not satisfactory either.

Soon after, producer Cord Garben presented Norman with a 66-minute edit to release on CD, and the diva refused to give her approval.

Does it make sense to publish this unsuccessful recording now?

She was a unique singer with a large phonography that includes milestones as contralto (


Rhapsody with Riccardo Muti, in Philips), as


(her Jocasta in Stravinsky's

Oedipus Rex

, with Colin Davis, in Orfeo), as lyric soprano (her famous recording of Strauss's

Four Last Lieder

with Masur in Leipzig) and even as a dramatic soprano (her stunning version of


Erwartung with James Levine at Philips).

The answer to the question appeared a few days ago, in

The New York Times

, where the diva's brother, James Norman, assured that this launch will help his philanthropic interests, such as the arts school for underprivileged children that bears his name in his native Augusta.

Jessye Norman sings at a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, in Washington, DC, on July 31, 2013.Win McNamee (Getty Images)

Actually, the other two discs in the


are much more interesting.

The second was recorded, between 1989 and 1992, with the Berlin Philharmonic and James Levine.

It includes his best performance of Felix Mottl's orchestration of Wagner's

Wesendonck Lieder

, which Norman has agreed to publish.

And it opens with Strauss's

Four Last Lieder

, where his voice sounds more refined and with a much more sumptuous orchestral coat than in his mythical Leipzig recording.

But the diva detected a passage in one of the songs that she was not convinced about and paralyzed the editing of the entire album, according to Costa Pilavachi, former head of A & R at Philips, recalls.

The third disc is an old project devised by Norman herself with the Boston Symphony and Seiji Ozawa, in 1994. It was about combining three cantatas and lyrical scenes related to queens of antiquity, such as Berenice, Cleopatra and Phaedra, in works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Hector Berlioz and Benjamin Britten.

An amazing sample of her versatility as a singer in three different eras, styles and languages.

Both Haydn's

Scena di Berenice

and Britten's


are new to her discography, and both records were accepted by the singer.

The problem came with the diffuse sound take of the orchestra in

La mort de Cléopâtre

by Hector Berlioz.

That has now been corrected with an excellent remastering that better surrounds the singer.

Norman had already made a magnificent recording of this work, in 1981, under the direction of Daniel Barenboim.

Thirteen years later, her voice has lost freshness and gained drama.

And the orchestra contributes terrifying details, like that intense beat of the double basses, in the final

misurato recitative

, while the protagonist leaves this world without losing an iota of dignity.

Jessye Norman in New York in 2013. Neilson Barnard (Getty Images)

Today the scope of Norman's legacy can be known quite precisely, since all his documents are available at the Library of Congress in Washington, in the so-called

Jessye Norman Papers


Some 67,000 items between letters, contracts, programs, scores, photographs and recordings, which include copies of the


now published by Universal.

But there is more and any edition of her posthumous legacy should be subjected to a critical evaluation that neither the record company nor the singer's estate are willing to undertake.

We will see how long it takes for other frustrated records to appear on the market, such as his irregular filming of

Winter Trip

, by Schubert, from 2001, staged by Robert Wilson and with costumes by Yves Saint-Laurent.

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2023-03-25

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