‘Jessye Norman demanded a lot of herself’

On the weekend of her funeral, report producer Martha de Francisco reminisces on a studio life with Jessye:

Shut-up reminiscences of a singular recording artist –
Jessye Norman

by report producer Martha de Francisco

My first encounter with Jessye Norman was on the Musikverein Corridor in Vienna in 1983, as we ready to report Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with Lorin Maazel and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with the Vienna State Opera Refrain for CBS Masterworks. From the onset of her voice singing “O Röschen rot” in “Urlicht” the musical influence of that magical voice and the depth of her efficiency made a long-lasting impression on me as a younger musician and recording skilled. It marked the start of my life-long appreciation of Jessye Norman’s superb artistry and it established the premise for a fruitful collaboration on her unforgettable recordings.

Her rendition of La Marseillaise within the Berlioz setting with L’Ochestre de Paris and the Chœur de l’Orchestre de Paris underneath Semyon Bychkov for the 200th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille in 1989 marked a milestone in my early profession as a Philips producer. I produced the recording at Salle Pleyel in Paris. Photos of Jessye Norman wrapped within the tricolore through the bicentenary celebrations, singing probably the most palpable embodiment of French music within the spirit of liberté, égalité, fraternité are etched in my reminiscence.

The recording of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, in a line-up of the best vocal stars comparable to Edita Gruberova, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady with Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchestra, supplied me the chance to admire Jessye Norman’s immense musicality and the ability of her voice from the close-up perspective of a report producer. We recorded the opera for Philips on the Neues Gewandhaus in Leipzig in 1988. Jessye’s Ariadne was magnificent, majestic and profoundly human. Throughout an extended break between our recording classes, I used to be an confederate as Jessye escaped to go to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Saint Thomas Church the place we listened to a live performance of cantatas sang by the Thomaner boys’ choir. Sitting with Jessye Norman proper subsequent to Johann Sebastian Bach’s grave, feeling her emotion and mine as we listened to this music collectively whereas being conscious of the composer’s bodily presence in entrance of us, was a singular expertise that I hold deeply in my coronary heart.

Of private and religious significance in Jessye Norman’s recording profession are two productions I used to be entrusted with as recording producer for Philips. One was Within the Spirit, a Christmas live performance that we recorded in numerous church buildings round New York in 1996 for which Jessye put collectively a musical program and invited neighborhood choirs to accompany her on a religious journey via music.

December 1990 noticed the discharge of the recording and filming of Jessye Norman at Notre Dame, a serious musical occasion that came about throughout a freezing Parisian winter. The Cathedral was at capability and the Christmas live performance was conveyed to a crowd gathered on the sq. of Notre Dame who adopted the live performance stay over a big display and large loudspeakers. Few of those that later listened to the CD or noticed the movie on tv world wide, had been conscious of the complexities that adopted, as modifications needed to be launched to the recording schedule. Jessye was on the middle of constructing all of it work, and I keep in mind her concerned in a cellphone convention with Jacques Lang, minister of tradition, capably main the negotiations in her impeccable French, which led us to getting the Cathedral to stay closed for an additional morning of recordings the day after the live performance. I admired not solely Jessye’s musical prowess, but additionally, her capacity to make unattainable issues occur.

She demanded a lot of herself and it was simply truthful that she would demand equal professionalism from these round her. It was a beautiful privilege to see Jessye in collaboration together with her musical companions, celebrated conductors and pianists, her fellow singers, Opera corporations, orchestras, symphonic or lay individuals’s choirs, youngsters’s choirs, report label representatives and recording groups. She loved the best diploma of esteem and veneration.

A selected spotlight was for me to witness the shut inventive partnership between two musical titans, Jessye Norman and James Levine, which I skilled firsthand in our recording of their Salzburg recital in 1991, in addition to whereas recording Schönberg’s Erwartung with the New York Philharmonic in 1993. These are unforgettable experiences.

I really feel lucky to have witnessed Jessye’s human depth as we had been struck by the passing of a standard buddy after sickness. I vastly admired the trustworthy buddy Jessye Norman, a world star, who would journey to Amsterdam to spend time with our dying buddy, his household and associates, grieving collectively, providing all of us her heat and comfort.

Among the many happier reminiscences in the midst of the years are evenings at her house optimizing the mixes of our newest recording, which ended within the kitchen, cooking a easy pasta dish collectively and telling witty tales, earlier than returning to our listening.

My closing encounter with Jessye was throughout her final go to to Bogotá in 2010 the place we reminisced on our widespread reminiscences round her Philips recordings, music and friendship. That closing recital, which I witnessed accompanied by my household in Colombia, continues to be resonating in my inside ear.

Farewell, expensive buddy. I discover solace in recognizing your spirit immersed in profound discourse with the composers within the recordings you left us, your nice present to the world.

October 2, 2019

Martha de Francisco was one in all Jessye Norman’s recording producers for Philips (1986-2000).

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