Jessye Norman - The Unreleased Masters. © 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd

CD Spotlight

Overwhelming Performances

Previously unreleased recordings by Jessye Norman, heard by GERALD FENECH

'Unmissable for all opera buffs.'


Released with the support of Jessye Norman's family and estate, this box set pays tribute to one of the exceptional vocal performers of recent times, one of the most wide ranging and committed artists, and certainly one of classical music's great personalities. Born in segregated Georgia (USA) in 1945, Jessye Norman became one of the most celebrated opera singers and recitalists in the world, with her four-decade discography amassing five Grammys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Norman's continuous pursuit of excellence, combined with a relentless work ethic and schedule, meant many recording projects of extremely high standards were never finalized in her lifetime. As Costa Pivalachi, the long standing head of Philips and Decca Classics, writes in the booklet note:

A perfectionist, Jessye was hardest on herself and she struggled to get everyone to help her achieve the highest possible standards. Some recordings took years to reach the public and some were never released, although this set rectifies some of these omissions.

The immense emotional range of Jessye's voice is demonstrated by a remarkable 1998 recording of highlights from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

Listen — Richard Wagner: Isoldes Liebestod (Tristan und Isolde Act III)
(4852984 CD1 track 12, 0:00-0:53) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Accompanied by Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Ms Norman uses studio dubbing to perform both the roles of Isolde and Brangane.

Listen — Richard Wagner: Westwärts schweift der Blick (Tristan und Isolde Act I)
(4852984 CD1 track 2, 1:42-2:40) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Norman's 1982 recording of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs is frequently regarded as one of the greatest of all time. Now, on this new release, listeners can hear a fascinating alternative 1989 recording of the work, this time with James Levine and the Berliner Philharmoniker, paired with a 1992 recording of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder.

Listen — Richard Strauss: September (Vier letzte Lieder)
(4852984 CD2 track 2, 0:00-0:53) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

The final disc of this three-CD set contains a 1994 live recording of Norman with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Spanning repertoire from Classical and Romantic eras and the twentieth century, the programme of cantatas is bound together by the theme of ancient queens, containing Franz Joseph Haydn's Scena di Berenice, Hector Berlioz's Cléopâtre and Benjamin Britten's Phaedra.

Listen — Britten: You monster! You understood me too well (Phaedra)
(4852984 CD3 track 12, 0:00-0:52) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Jessye Norman won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich in 1968 and made her operatic debut the following year at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. She soon became one of the most in-demand opera and concert singers in the world, and her artistry reached audiences outside the classical world, performing at the inaugurations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, for Queen Elizabeth II for her sixtieth birthday celebrations, and La Marsellaise for world leaders on the two hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. In 2003, the singer also established the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in Augusta, Georgia, to provide tuition-free arts education for underprivileged youths.

The integrity and depth of Norman's performances were best characterized by the New York Times:

This is an amazing voice, a catalogue of all that is virtuous in singing.

All praise to Decca Classics for giving opera lovers this unique opportunity to enjoy some overwhelming performances for the first time from one of opera's greatest voices.

Listen — Haydn: Berenice, che fai? (Scena di Berenice)
(4852984 CD3 track 1, 3:45-4:45) ℗ 2023 Universal Music Operations Ltd :

Spectacular historicity in excellent sound quality and luscious presentation. Unmissable for all opera buffs.

Copyright © 9 June 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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