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Jessye Norman: A Voice To Make You Tremble


Ever since I first heard soprano Jessye Norman live (in Ann Arbor in 1985) I've been evangelizing about her. So why stop now? Especially since she celebrates her 65th birthday today.

If you've never heard her sing, click on the video above. It just may turn out to be life-changing moment. If you already know her, here's further proof of the immense grandeur of her voice — as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon, and yet intimate.

Norman is one of those artists who seem to be on some other plane entirely. That's led to some to call her "aloof" and "mannered," but Norman has nearly always done things her way — meticulously crafting an unconventional career. ¬†Aside from choosing her operatic roles with extreme care, she collaborates with avant-gardists and dancers, and this year performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Her latest album, Roots: My Life, My Song, finds her backed by a jazz group in a live performance of standards from the American songbook, as well as twists on a couple of classical classics. You can hear her talk about it on Morning Edition, and hear some of the new record.

The video above comes from Andre Heller's documentary (Portrait) about the notoriously private singer, wherein she becomes surprisingly candid. This scene, though, is a simple, otherworldly staging (by Brian Eno) of her singing "Beim Schlafengehen" (using her famed 1982 recording), one of Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs.

And it will — if you have an ounce of feeling — make you tremble.