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Jessye Norman accepts Canadian dollars

April 14, 2018 by norman lebrecht

29 comments.


She’s the 2018 winner of the Glenn Gould Prize.

It’s worth C$100,000.

‘We were united in our admiration for the 12th Glenn Gould Prize Laureate, the incomparable Jessye Norman,’ said jury chair Viggo Mortensen.


Comments (29)

  1. Caravaggio says:

    Well, once upon a time she had a great, regal voice. But she hasn’t done anything of artistic significance in how long? Two decades at least? Besides, she never rocked the boat, as is said, or challenged established musical conventions the way GG did. So the award is a puzzlement.

    1. Nick2 says:

      Let’s be fair. “Once upon a time” actually stretched over a very long period. This was a soprano who, when she made her 1969 opera debut at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as Elizabeth in Tannhauser, virtually shook the international music world. Her voice was described as “the greatest since Lotte Lehmann.” Over the next 35 and more years she was regarded as one of the handful of the world’s great divas. “She never rocked the boat etc.” is equally silly. Why does an artist have to rock the boat in order to deserve the appellation “great”, “incomparable” etc.? She was a lot more adventurous in much of her programming than many major sopranos and worked in other genres – as with Bill T. Jones in dance.

      1. Caravaggio says:

        The “greatest voice since Lotte Lehmann” is as absurd a statement about Jessye Norman as I’ve ever heard. And I disagree about her having an adventurous programming. In late stage career she resorted to collaborate with the likes you mentioned but none of it is of any importance whatsoever. Some of it in fact should have never been done as it was poor in execution and quality.

        1. Henning says:

          Your opinion luckily not mine…and I am not ashamed of my own name! She was a great singer and artist…well deserved recognition!

          1. Una says:

            Yes, I couldn’t agree more, and I worked with her in 1987 when I was starting out as a songer and she well established. We did A Christmas Symphony in Ely Cathedral for ITV, England, and now on DVD. My goodness, she was such a pro and I learnt a lot by watching her. Always loved her singing and her individual and distinctive sound.

        2. Nick says:

          The comparison with Lehmann is not mine as I never heard Lehmann – and, given that she retired in 1951, I find it highly unlikely that Caravaggio would have heard her either, certainly never in her prime. It is a direct quote from the critic of one of the German newspapers at the time of her debut, someone who had heard Lehmann! Equally his comments about repertoire are nonsense. Has Caravaggio actually looked at some of her programmes from various parts of the world? I was comparing her to other divas of her time. How many sang Oedipus Rex, Erwartung, the Gurre-Lieder, La voix humaine, Bluebeard’s Castle, Cassandra and a host of contemporary works which she always included in her Japan concerts – even adding the mezzo part in the Verdi Requiem under Abbado in 1982 when very much in her prime.

          Others may believe Caravaggio. I don’t. I believe the the New York Times summed her voice up very well following a Carnegie Hall recital: “If one added up all the things that Jessye Norman does well as a singer, the total would assuredly exceed that of any other soprano before the public. At Miss Norman’s recital… tones were produced, colors manipulated, words projected and interpretive points made—all with fanatic finesse.”

    2. Ellingtonia says:

      Strauss, Four Last Songs………..nothing more need the said.

      1. Una says:

        I just love those in particular.

    3. Ellingtonia says:

      Strauss, Four Last Songs………..nothing more need be said.

      1. Alan says:

        +1, my favourite version. But she did seem to drop of the musical scene rather abruptly. Does anyone know why?

      2. Bruce says:

        Isoldes Liebestod with Karajan/Vienna. One of the greatest pieces of singing I’ve ever heard.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9680zhMmIqM

    4. La Verita says:

      Excuse me? Jessie Norman could have made an entire career by just singing 5 popular operatic roles. Instead, she chose to master a wide variety of esoteric repertoire, including the 2nd Viennese school. Throughout her career, she demonstrated deep musical curiosity and skill, and she stil found time to establish and fund an arts school in her home town of Augusta, where underprivileged children receive quality arts education. In every way, Jessie Norman is a role model for what every artist should aspire to be – dedicated, diligent, intellectually curious, and generous.

      1. david Hilton says:

        It is true about Miss Norman’s mastery of a wide range of repertoire, including I would add parts that weren’t even hers! She was mocked in a previous conversation on this site for having fallen on her posterior after missing a step on stage in a performance of Berlioz’s “Les Troyens”. I was at that performance (at the Met in New York). And what the commenter failed to note was that the fall occurred in the final act of Les Troyens and Jessie Norman was singing Cassandra in that production. In other words, a role that had finished two hours earlier! What happened is that Norman finished her Cassandra and went home. But as the evening progressed Tatiana Troyanos, the Dido, became indisposed and had to withdraw. The performance was stopped for around 45 minutes while the Met went and found Madame Norman who returned and sang the final two acts of Les Troyens, as Dido, with Placido Domingo, in a wonderful performance. In this context it is not at all surprising that she might not have been perfectly aware of the stage movements required. It is amazing enough that she sang her colleague’s role as beautifully as she did. Including singing seated after the fall which occurred in the most haunting part of Dido’s final scene. Needless to say, the audience’s ovation at the end — by then it was 1am in the morning — was deafening. A thrilling night.

        1. La Verita says:

          I also attended that performance. I don’t recall the 45 minute delay, but I certainly recall the sonorous “thud” when she fell. Levine just kept the music going, while she stood up, dusted herself off, and then launched herself into that long, difficult aria with total command & grace. Per an insider at the Met, the fall wasn’t her fault: She was descending 2 steps from a platform to the stage level – the 1st step wasn’t fastened properly, and she fell back on her posterior, breaking her fall with her hands. BTW, Ms. Norman had been alternating the 2 roles during that run of Les Troyens, so of course she knew the stage movements.

          1. david Hilton says:

            Thanks for that additional information. I did not realise that Jessye Norman had been alternating the roles in that production of Les Troyens, so that certainly makes a difference.

      2. Una says:

        Yes she did.

  2. Doug says:

    Why is an American chair of the jury for a Canadian prize? And why is another Anerican the recipient? I can think of several Canadians equally deserving if not more so.

    1. Anon says:

      It’s not a price for Canadians. It’s a price for musicians.

  3. Victor Trahan says:

    What a strange and ridiculous heading !!!! Demeaning and insulting.

  4. Alex says:

    I love Jessye Norman, but this prize is pointless and absurd. Seems like an organization just trying to boost its own importance by giving awards to celebrities without any particular ties to Glenn Gould. Actual social impact and relevance of this program = 0. With this $100K, they could be giving out ten $10,000 scholarships to promising young Canadian musicians who actually need the money. Much more useful.

    1. Bruce says:

      There are several of those prizes in the classical music world, e.g. the $1M Birgit Nilsson prize (winners: Domingo, Muti, the Vienna Phil). None of them need the money, and it doesn’t look like it’s meant to be used to further less-established artists. It’s just “here’s a million dollars as a reward for being famous. Congratulations!”

      Still, it’s nice for Jessye. If you’re not singing (much) any more, you’ve still got to pay the bills somehow.

      1. Caravaggio says:

        A long retired singer needing to pay her bills qualifies as excuse to squander an award?

        1. La Verita says:

          Give her a chance to announce what she intends to do with the award money. Geez…

        2. Una says:

          Given her very unassunlming generosity, I doubt it will be squandered in any way.

        3. Nick2 says:

          More nonsense! Caravaggio’s extremely biased and unfounded views are expounded earlier in this thread.

    2. Emil says:

      In fact they are. Each prize winner gets to choose a “protege” who gets 15000$. The latest one is Timo Andres, an American composer.

  5. V.Lind says:

    I’m a bit mystified as to Viggo Mortensen’s role in all this. What exactly are his qualifications to chair a jury to choose the winner of a prize commemorating a classical musician, presumably someone chosen from the same ranks?

    1. M. Carnie says:

      Viggo’s a bit of a polymath. You might also be inclined to question why he would be involved as the reader in an elaborate e-version of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, but apparently Faber & Faber (Eliot’s publisher) didn’t. Mortensen has his own small publishing house, occasionally puts out his own music recordings (not to my taste, but some like them), and has at least half a dozen volumes of published poetry. He acts confidently in 4 languages (English, Spanish, French, Danish) and has smatterings of numerous others The prize itself (if you look at both the description and the range of the jury) is not intended solely for classical musicians, but can be awarded to anyone in the arts, though they’ve tended for the most part to keep it to musicians of various genres. My own question about Viggo’s involvement was more to do the fact that he’s on record as loathing the notion of judging artists (this especially has come up around the times of his own Oscar nominations). His answer, in the local interviews surrounding the prize, was “curiosity and wanting to learn about the nominees”.

      I think it’s a bit of an odd duck of a prize myself, but we Canadians only make ourselves look provincial if we insist the only good use of private money associated with the estate of an internationally famous artist has to be nationalistic. If it were Canadian government money, then I’d have a problem.


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