Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Music Review

Jessye Norman: More Range, Diction, Control Than Ever

April 03, 2001|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Way back in 1982, Jessye Norman told an interviewer that she would still like to be singing song recitals when she reached the age of 60. That once-distant milestone is now a mere 4 1/2 years away--and from the evidence of her masterful program late Sunday afternoon in Santa Barbara's packed Arlington Theatre, she's right on schedule.

Indeed, Norman's richly upholstered pipes--conveniently classified as soprano but in truth, roaming all over the female vocal spectrum--remain in tremendous shape from top to bottom, allowing for a slight widening in vibrato. She retains absolute control over the musical line, molding each song into a unified, cumulative whole, and her diction is, if anything, even sharper than one remembers.

Also intact are the theatrical elements of a Norman recital--the slow, majestic walk with the interesting gown billowing behind; the imperial presence; the long stare at the audience at the outset; the lengthy pauses between songs. A stubborn purist might wonder if her large voice and expansive persona are a bit much for a recital of mostly intimate lieder. But this was hardly an intimate hall, and Norman effectively puts the music over without trampling on it.

The sequence of eight Schubert lieder that occupied the first half of the program made continuous dramatic sense, with lighter-weight nature landscapes giving way to the lovelorn sentiments of "Gretchen am Spinnrade" and ultimately, the driving narrative drama, "Der Erlkonig." Norman made the latter seem like a quasi-operatic precursor of Wagner, coloring her voice to characterize both the father and son, intoning the final devastating words softly yet with huge impact. (She'll further explore the theatrical implications of Schubert lieder in October when she sings "Winterreise" in Paris in a Robert Wilson-produced staged version.)

With Mark Markham continuing to contribute clearly etched piano accompaniments, Norman turned to five lieder by Richard Strauss, firmly welding together the line of "Seitdem dein Aug," riding the waves of "Cacilie" with hardly any upper-register strain. In theconcluding Poulenc sequence, Norman turned on the portamentos, exuding urbane exuberance in "Voyage a Paris," lingering over "Les chemins de l'amour."

Finally, three encores later, the Populist Norman burst forth, sashaying right off the stage to the strains of the spiritual "On My Journey Now to Mount Zion," only to return to lead an audience sing-along of same.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|